“Ole, ole, ole, ole … Tite! Tite!”
As the chant rolled around Arena das Dunas in sunny Natal on Thursday, the subject of adoration from 30,000 Brazil fans retreated from the sideline back to the bench. Adenor Leonardo Bacchi, universally known as Tite, isn’t yet comfortable in his position as coach of Brazil, but Brazilians are already comfortable with him.
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Brazil coaches aren’t hailed very much by some of the most demanding football fans on the planet, but many believe Tite, after only three games in charge, is making their national team great again.
The evidence is skimpy after World Cup qualifying wins over Ecuador and Colombia, and beating Bolivia 5-0 in Natal.
Of Tite’s recent predecessors, Dunga’s first six matches were five wins, including 3-0 over hated Argentina, and a draw. In his second year, he won the 2007 Copa America. Luiz Felipe Scolari lost his first match in both of his tenures, but in his second years, he won the 2002 World Cup and 2013 Confederations Cup.
Tite calmed the nation at his appointment when he said Brazil didn’t lack talented players, the team just needed some balance to win again, and start expunging the memory of the 7-1 semifinal loss to Germany in the 2014 home World Cup semifinals.
“We will strike that balance by assembling a team with great players who are placed in the same positions they are placed in their clubs,” he said in his first news conference. So far, he has kept his word.
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Neymar plays on the left wing, as he does for Barcelona. Dunga and Scolari wanted Neymar to be a playmaker, sometimes even a forward. But the new coach, a fan and pupil of Carlo Ancelotti, the Italian coach at Bayern Munich, doesn’t like improvisation.
That policy might give the 55-year-old Tite some good headaches as soon as winger Douglas Costa is back from injury. Also recovered from injury is Paris Saint-Germain defender Thiago Silva, but not yet a starter.
Brazil’s improvement also comes from Tite being a fan of triangulations, unlike Dunga and Scolari. “I want at least two clear options forward for every player who has the ball,” he has insisted.
If Tite’s club career is a guide, it’s unlikely Brazil will concede goals because of midfield gaps like those seen in the 2014 World Cup and in recent Copa Americas. In Tite’s three games, Brazil has netted 10 goals, many due to its passing game, and allowed only one. His tactics are working.
Tite likes players who buy into the team, who leave their egos at home, and can take on multiple roles; hence the selection of Beijing Guoan midfielder Renato Augusto. It means Brazil is not continuing to look for a No. 10 playmaker who becomes the focus of the attack. Tite also rejects the idea of a bulldozing No. 9, like Scolari’s Fred, who will be useful just by scoring goals.
The new coach likes mobile players such as Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho, who was often overlooked by Dunga.
But Tite is also a fan of psychology. With encouragement and unrelenting belief, he led Sao Paulo giant Corinthians and their fans over their mental barrier regarding the Copa Libertadores to earn the club its first South American crown in 2012. He intends to do the same to help Brazil players past the scars from the 2014 World Cup.
During practice in Natal, he insisted players should fight for their position with dignity and collective grace. That resonated with the stars.
When Tite replaced Chelsea’s Willian in the starting lineup with Coutinho, local media wondered how Willian would take it. During the Dunga era, any change in the team often cause over-the-top reactions. But hours later, Willian and Coutinho walked around the pitch goofing with each other, a scene the coach drew to everyone’s attention. “That is what I want, fellows,” he said. “A tough battle for a position, and friendship off the pitch.”
At the post-practice news conference, Tite noted Willian made the decision to drop him for the Bolivia game even tougher because of the way he responded at practice.
Moments like that, Brazil right back and veteran Dani Alves said after the game against Bolivia, gave the players more confidence in Tite’s ambitions: “We feel that the atmosphere here has changed for the better,” Dani Alves said.
Brazil next plays away in Venezuela on Tuesday in World Cup qualifying, and could become the South American leader. But supporters have something better to anticipate. On Nov. 10, Brazil plays Argentina in Belo Horizonte. That’s where the Brazilians were embarrassed by Germany. Will the Tite effect last that long?
“If I could, I would drive there just to see it,” Natal cab driver Carlos Campora said as he drove away from the Arena das Dunas in the first hours of Friday. “In short, Tite is making us believe again. That alone already makes him special.”