Edson Arantes do Nascimento, Pele

Does Brazil lack a “big star”? Pelé doesn’t see Neymar at that level


It wasn’t so long ago that some people were making the case for Neymar as one of the best players in the world. After the Brazilian attacker was thrown into European waters this season, however, those advocates have gone silent. Given the former Santos star’s lack of production in with Barcelona, it’s going to be very difficult to claim anybody in South America deserves to be in the conversation with Europe’s elites.

For Brazilian legend Pelé, however, Neymar’s plight highlights a different problem. From our friends at Soccerly:

[Pele] attended a conference on sporting management in Sao Paulo, where he talked about the Brazilians. The former Santos player told reporters: “We don’t have a big star that we can say ‘this one is missing on the team’. We talk about Neymar but this is his first World Cup.

“But as a team, this is the first time in history that we are better in defense than in attack. Brazil has always been the team that wins, that scores goals, that has the goalscorers. It’s the first time we have difficulty finding strikers.

“There are various players that I would like to see in the squad but the team has been set up very well, with just some problems in attack.”

I know Pelé’s become increasingly inclined to say anything whenever there’s a mic around, but certainly 2014 won’t be the first time Brazil’s better in defense than attack. If we go all the way back to 2010, we see Dunga’s team build to defend and counter, a philosophy that relied Luís Fabiano and an already declining Kaká. Playing two defensive midfielders, Dunga’s approach was an inherently conservative one – a plan employed in stark contrast to the myth of a free-flowing Brazil.

Pele has a lot invested in that myth. It’s part of his legacy. He’s the biggest star from the nation that’s reputed to play the world’s most entertaining style, even it that reputation has long been a lie. In reality, Brazil are pragmatists. They play to win, not entertain.

Perhaps that’s why Pelé is harping on this on “big star” issue, though it doesn’t matter. In last summer’s Confederations Cup, Brazil proved they should be considered one of the favorites come June.

Pelé may not see a star in Luiz Felipe Scolari’s squad, but that’s unlikely to have a bearing on the Seleçao’s success this summer.

Agent: “There’s no hatred” between Bale, Ronaldo

Gareth Bale & Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid CF
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Gareth Bale doesn’t at all dislike Cristiano Ronaldo — or vice versa — despite what may seem a lukewarm on-field relationship between the two Real Madrid superstars, insists Jonathan Barnett, agent of Bale.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Instead, Barnett insists that the two men with very different personalities have a healthy relationship, and competition, that pushes each Galactico to be the best player he can be.

Barnett, on Bale’s relationship with Ronaldo — quotes from the Guardian:

“They don’t go out eating every night together, but it’s fine. There’s no hatred there. Gareth is a quiet guy. They’re complete opposites. But I think Gareth can learn a little bit from Ronaldo as well, interacting maybe a little bit. But he wants his own life and he lives it. Gareth is a great footballer, he doesn’t want anything more. He has some very good endorsements but his whole life is to be the best footballer in the world. I don’t think he wants to be the best model in the world or the best underwear seller. That’s not him.”

That’s a hilarious closing quote from Barnett, but he knows exactly how some folks are going to interpret it: “Bale thinks Ronaldo loves himself too much.”

[ MORE: Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott ]

There’s nothing better for the ultimate success of a team than healthy, friendly competition between teammates who are spectacularly talented as Ronaldo and Bale. The former will only be around to perform at his current level for so much longer, but at what point does the latter officially take the torch and supplant Madrid’s biggest star, and how accepting will he be of passing that proverbial torch?

Olivier Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott

Olivier Giroud, France
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Is it just me, or does the press really only ever get noteworthy quotes from players during international breaks?

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I suppose it’s not surprising, given Premier League players get away from the mean ole British press, go back to their respective homelands and speak with journalists they’ve likely known since their early playing days, thus feel more comfortable opening up about key issues.

Anyway, today we have Olivier Giroud essentially calling himself out for having lost the starting striker’s job at Arsenal because he’s been outplayed of late by Theo Walcott. As discussed before, this is bad news for Giroud because he’s now falling down the depth chart for France with next summer’s European Championship on the horizon.

[ MORE: Aguero admits he wants Guardiola link-up ]

Giroud, on losing his place at Arsenal — quotes from the Guardian:

“At Arsenal, I am in competition with Theo for the striker position. But he is doing well at the moment, so there is no reason to change.

“Whether it was at Tours, Montpellier or Arsenal, I have never experienced a situation like this, I have often played from the start. I need to take positives and to harden myself mentally. It is something new for me.

“I was in [Walcott’s] place in previous seasons at Arsenal. I imagine what he must have been thinking. But I feel that the coach believes in me.”

Giroud goes on to cast into doubt his own confidence, stating in very certain terms he needs “to believe more in [his] abilities.” Giroud’s always come across as a bit of an existentialist, but it’s always strange to hear players publicly call themselves out — particularly their confidence — as if that’s not going to increase the pressure currently weighing down on them.

[ MORE: Rodgers reportedly chosen to take over at Aston Villa ]

The next eight months are going to be monumentally important in Giroud’s career, as the 29-year-old attempts to prove he’s worth keeping around at Arsenal and deserving of a place in the national team squad for next summer’s EUROs, which are to be played in France.