When Brazilians think of Belo Horizonte, a depressing image and scoreline crosses their mind, especially in recent World Cup memory. But as Dunga’s replacement, Tite, walked across the touchline last November in a World Cup qualifier against Argentina, things felt different. The team selection was slightly altered, and memories of the biggest humiliation in Brazilian history were about to be replaced with joy, but more importantly, hope.

On the other hand, opposition manager Edgardo Bauza was in a different situation, one where Argentina’s future looked grim. He had called for an “emergency meeting” a couple of days prior to their South American clash against the Seleção. “I’m worried because the qualifying is still not assured and must still be won,” Bauza said, his concerns very real.

Argentina were coming off a shocking 1-0 defeat to Paraguay at home and were sixth in the CONMEBOL standings. Four matches and one win read Bauza’s record in charge. Tite, however, in charge of Brazil for the same amount of matches, had won all four and it was about to be five. Yes, there was plenty to be hopeful about for Brazilians.

This feeling became more apparent after Brazil had scored their third and final goal of the night against Bauza’s men. Marcelo, with his head up, whipped a cross into the penalty area that was misjudged by Argentina’s Marcus Rojo, and the Manchester United defender was left scrambling as Renato Augusto made a sprawling pass for Paulinho to finish, leaving Sergio Romero for dead between the sticks.

The celebration in the stadium reached new levels; here were Brazil’s greatest South American rivals, with Lionel Messi and his brigade, and they were being led to the slaughterhouse. Paulinho ran toward Renato Augusto and they both embraced near the corner flag with smiles as wide as the Rio de Janeiro skyline.

As the side in yellow celebrated, in came Tite. He ran down the touchline as if his side had just left the ghosts of their 7-1 defeat to Germany in the past and locked them away forever. He looked as if he knew that this is how Brazilian football should be, how it always should look – with players boasting more swagger in their step than they know what to do with, with a barrage of Canarinhos winning the ball back and always threatening the opposition’s penalty box.

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In addition to this feeling of new-found hope amid their celebrations, there was something unusual taking place in the stands – they were chanting Tite’s name. According to South American football expert, Tim Vickery, this is rare by Brazilian standards: “Success is seen as the merit of the individual flair of the players. The coach usually comes in for special attention only when someone is blamed for disappointments,” wrote Vickery for World Soccer last year.

If this is the case, then Brazil are not just entering new territory in terms of how they’re coached, but they’re also entering a period of time where Brazilians are now seeing the importance of having a boss who understands the modern game and can apply their classic flare with up-to-date training methods and ideals.

However, more importantly, Tite deserved the recognition that the fans were giving him; he’s taken a team that was knocked out in the group stage of the Copa Centenario last summer and was uncertain of their journey toward Russia 2018, and has turned them into a slick Samba football machine.

Prior to his stretch of eight consecutive wins in official matches, Tite made the decision of adding Paulinho, the Tottenham flop turned Guangzhou Evergrande midfielder, to the squad, and had to deal with a number of critics because of it. But eight solid performances later and those same doubters have since turned silent as the 28-year old has proven to be decisive.

In addition to that game-winning goal against Argentina, Paulinho recently managed to score a hat-trick in Brazil’s 4-1 triumph over Uruguay in Montevideo. The former Corinthians manager, who helped the Brazilian club to a Copa Libertadores title in 2012, had seen something in Paulinho and decided to ignore the controversy that came with it.

It is this attitude combined with his willingness to go back to what works and what needs minor tweaking that’s brought this turnaround in results. After the 7-1 embarrassment against Germany, Dunga was brought in as Luiz Felipe Scolari’s replacement, and the team underwent a defensive makeover. And while Brazil definitely looked more secure at the back, and the thought of another 7-1 defeat looking highly unlikely under Dunga, Brazil’s essence of creation and passing game was gone.

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Their flashy prowess was now missing. It seemed as though many had simply written off Brazil as a team in need of major change, a team that was past their glory. Instead of minor change, many thought Brazil’s whole footballing infrastructure needed a new blueprint for success. The latter criticism may still be warranted, but did the actual national team really need a total makeover?

“Tite arrived and made adjustments,” said Neymar in a recent press conference. “The players are not really different – it’s the way of playing.” Compared to Scolari’s Brazil, the Brazil team that has just gone on a South American tour of destruction is very different, but compared to Dunga’s, Neymar is right, it’s not an entirely different squad.

In addition to adding Paulinho, and with the likes of Philippe Coutinho and Gabriel Jesus stepping up, what has the 55-year-old manager actually done? Well, for starters he’s studied – a lot. “He has undoubtedly achieved excellence in his native land in no small part as a consequence of time spent observing the best elements of European football,” Tim Vickery explained. “In particular, he wanted to see how the top teams attained midfield superiority, and the result of his research was quickly apparent when he returned to Corinthians in 2015.”

Tite’s Corinthians side of 2015 won the Brasileiro and used a 4-1-4-1 formation that relied on organised defending, playing on the break if necessary, but most of all, passing. That is the key ingredient to their new success, and other former managers are taking notice. “Dunga bet on winning the ball and attacking with the physical condition of his players,” said legendary ex-Argentina coach César Luis Menotti to Globo Esporte. “This one [Tite] has moved the defensive line 20 meters higher and brought the lines together.  Without forgetting the difference in quality of the players, they look like the Brazil of 1970.”

Menotti’s words ring true: Tite’s side has certainly found a winning formula. In short, they’re looking like a side where every player on the pitch knows what is expected and how to approach every opponent. But the team still revolves around Neymar; they just do so in a different way.

After a recent 3-0 win over Paraguay, Tite explained the Barcelona star’s new role to FourFourTwo: “The collective empowers the individual. If the ball arrives to Neymar, they mark [him], but the other side is more exposed. Coutinho creates chances. Enter Fagner, enter Paulinho. We take Neymar to one side, let him be isolated and make room for another. If they mark two, somewhere there are going to be people free. [We have to] find these alternative areas.” 

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International football recently has seen Neymar’s ability to beat multiple defenders. However, he won’t always cut inside. There are moments where the Brazilian superstar will run the extra circle around his marker just to give time and space to one of his team-mates to find a position to receive a pass. He’s also scored in six games under Tite’s guidance; couple that with his recent performance against Paris Saint-Germain and you see a player who is on track to be the greatest footballer in the world.

Neymar’s brilliance aside, Tite’s time in charge has also seen the defence transform into a calm and composed unit. Casemiro, the star pivot for Real Madrid, sits just ahead of Marquinhos and Miranda and they’ve rarely looked troubled under Tite – they’ve conceded just twice. All of the changes above point to a side that is peaking. We may be seeing a transformation toward a modern yet enjoyably familiar Brazil.

Brazilians often say, “Os ingleses o inventaram, os brasileiros o aperfeiçoaram”, which translated to English means, ‘The English invented it, the Brazilians perfected it’. This old adage rang true in the lives of many for years, the Canarinhos’ yellow and blue kits becoming synonymous with grace and stylistic freedom.

Joga Bonito, the revered phrase that put a name to the style, was the apex of skill and technical play. You’d watch and you’d marvel, and somehow the numerous amounts of goals through flicks and tricks looked unplanned. The great Brazilian sides of old made it look like they were in a school yard at times, just enjoying their time with the round ball. Brazil, when at their best, didn’t look like they were students of the game or children bred from Xs and Os – they looked like they came from another dimension where you were only as good as your last dribble or flick.

Although not nearly in the same accomplished class – at least on paper – as other world triumphing Seleção outfits, the Tite-led Brazil side that beat Argentina 3-0 last year, and recently beat Uruguay 4-1, gave neutrals and football romantics that feeling again – that nostalgic spectacle. It remains to be seen if Tite can turn these CONMEBOL improvements into international trophies – the tournament in Russia 2018 will not be an easy one – but many are hopeful that the issues under Dunga and Scolari are a thing of the past and that cohesion is being formed under the former Corinthians manager.

It looks as though Joga Bonito is still here – in patches at least – but it now has a modern, tactical feel. It has moved with the times. The results speak for themselves and with players like Coutinho, Neymar, Casemiro and Gabriel Jesus only projected to get better, Brazil finally look like they’re ready to return to a World Cup final. They have all the ingredients – a world-class attack, a world-class pivot, a cast of technical players’ in-tune with their roles, and a phenomenal manager. The good times have rolled in qualification and it looks as though there’s something special in store for us at Russia 2018 

By Carlo Valladares    @C_V_News