Football History · Managers · South America · Transfer Market

Building the perfect team: the Spirit of 1970

This Kaká business got me thinking about team building. This whole “galáticos” concept has been making the rounds for decades. Even the Real Madrid of the 1950s with Alfredo DiStéfano, Ferenc Puskás and Paco Gento was built on that concept. But if one team is to blame more than any other, I think it’s the 1970 Brazilian World Cup squad, And the biggest problem with them is that they won.

Getting the best players in the world no matter the cost and then recouping the investment based on their success, and the marketing of that success, sounds good in principle. In reality, it doesn’t necessarily work that way. There are several factors that can cause problems:

* the players do not get along personally
* the players do not get along in footballing terms (differing styles)
* the players are too used to being the dominant member of the squad and cannot share the limelight
* the coaching staff doesn’t provide an appropriate scheme to make use of the talent
* injuries, suspensions or any other type of absences prevent the team from developing any continuity

Often, it’s several of these factors together that bring about the downfall of the super-team. In the case of Brazil ’70, two of these factors were so overwhelmingly positive that they overcame the other two.

The sense of team spirit and the coaching staff’s understanding of the talent at their disposal created a monster, literally, as Brazil crushed the opposition all the way to, and including, the FIFA World Cup final against Italy, a rare 4-1 drubbing in the tournament’s final match.

But the most unusual thing about the team was not it’s hugely talented roster, which included Pelé, Jairzinho, Gerson, Rivelino, Tostão, it was the fact that all of these players were what in that time was referred to as No. 10’s (creative centre-forwards).

Mario “Lobo” Zagallo, Brazil’s manager at that time, deployed his various No. 10’s in different positions across the pitch, with Pelé getting the benefit of his fame and experience and occupying his natural position.

Shockingly it worked, and no one complained. It’s hard to believe that would happen nowadays, can you imagine getting Kaká, Diego, Ronaldinho and Juninho Pernambucano in the Brazil squad all together and convicing them that they all need to share? It would never happen. Just getting Kaká and Ronaldinho playing together proved to be a problem at the last World Cup, with ‘Dinho completely disappearing from the game once he was asked to drop back or into the wing.

But that doesn’t stop Brazil or anyone else from trying. People like Florentino Pérez at Real Madrid figure that the best players equal the best team. Unfortunately the equation is not that simple. Even the Brazil of the 1970s had Carlos Alberto and Clodoaldo doing tough work behind the No. 10s (though it didn’t stop either of them from scoring as well).

Add to that, the hard work put in by the Big 5 in terms of defence. Tostão was an influential in his marking as he was in attack. Try asking Robinho to mark somebody these days. Everyone seemed to be playing out of position. Centre back Wilson Piazza was actually a midfielder for his club side in Brazil.

Finally, Brazil had a tremendous amount of motivation in 1970. A poor showing in 1966 had left the country hungry for more success, and a third World Cup win would mean not only that they would have the most of any country at that time, but also that they could permanently keep the Jules Rimet Trophy. Add to that a very player-friendly coach in Zagallo and a dash of dictatorial pressure from Brazil’s central government and it all adds up to one of the most unique, unusual and beautiful displays of football in the history of the game.

If Real Madrid gets all the players it wants, we’re possibly going to see Kaká, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, and Franck Ribery in the team, trying to find a way to coexist. I have a hard time seeing any of those four finding the motivation to step back and let someone else be the focal point for a while.

But even if it doesn’t work, it certainly won’t be the last time someone tries to build a super-team chock-full of attacking talent. After all, there’ll be plenty of people to blame on the pitch for bad results. It certainly wouldn’t be the fault of the person who put them together,

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One thought on “Building the perfect team: the Spirit of 1970

  1. Zagallo’s system was great in that it wasn’t really a system; it was loose enough that all those ultra-creative players could feed off one another’s energy and simply out-class their opponents through pure skill.

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