Gerald Sinstadt: Forget the blend, star quality is the key to more Brazilian glory
NEXT Wednesday, in an American Football stadium that survived when hurricane Sandy blew through New Jersey, Brazil will play Colombia.
This will be the 1,000th international for the purveyors of the beautiful game. Don't be surprised if it isn't the best of the thousand.
In September, someone calling himself Black Matt wrote a blog about "all the problems still plaguing this team". He listed seven before arguing that the solution would be a change of formation.
After seeing his Stoke City likened to Everton recently, Tony Pulis now finds himself, at least in the eyes of one amateur critic, aligned with the coach of Brazil.
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Others will claim that if the players are good enough the formation defines itself. That surely was true of Brazil from 1958 to 1970.
Memory's enchantment increases over time, but nothing shakes my belief that I was extraordinarily lucky to see a number of their games in that golden age.
In Sweden in 1958 one could discern a formation: 4-2-4. That made sense because Brazil had two destructive wingers, as quick as they were skillful.
On the left Zagalo, destined to become a World Cup-winner as both player and manager. On the right, with a twisted spine and legs strangely misshapen since childhood, the dazzling Garrincha, destined for a life of tragic decline.
Between them was Vava, a centre-forward's centre-forward, strong and single-minded. He was capped only 20 times but scored 15 goals, two in the final in Stockholm and another in Chile four years later.
At the back, the Santos brothers were immense in protecting a midfield of only two.
But as the tournament unfolded, the burden shifted. The 17-year-old Pele – unfit at the start – recovered to join Didi (of the "falling leaf" free kick) in what was virtually a five-man forward line.
The Sweden they beat in the final were not simply a team lifted by being at home (they did play outside the capital, which is more than England did in 1966).
The focal point of the side were three men who had led Sweden to the 1958 Olympic title. Gunnar Gren, Gunnar Nordahl and Nils Liedholm – the trio immortalised as Gre-No-Li – later played formidable roles for AC Milan.
Unsurprisingly, the 1958 final produced seven goals: Sweden 2 Brazil 5, a sumptuous feast in which the tastiest morsel was a goal by the teenage Pele which I have still not seen surpassed.
After the King of Sweden had presented the Jules Rimet trophy he cheerfully accepted an invitation to join a team photo. "Come here, King" was alleged to have been the call.
For a finale, the players circled the stadium twice, bearing first a Brazilian and then a huge Swedish flag. Happy innocent days.
I didn't get to Chile in 1962, but four years later I was at Goodison Park when Portugal, brutally and cynically, kicked Pele out of the match. He vowed never to play in another World Cup. We can be grateful he changed his mind.
In Mexico in 1970, with Zagalo now in charge, a new Brazil took shape. The maturing Pele was joined by the giant Carlos Alberto in defence, Clodoaldo and Gerson in midfield, Jairzinho and Rivelino in attack. And, praise be, there was Tostao.
The tale is told that as a six-year-old playing for his primary school he scored 47 goals in one game. Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney, eat your heart out. Tostao was a professional at 15. But in 1959 he was hit in the face by a football, suffering a detached retina.
Though the damage was never more than partially repaired, he returned for the World Cup finals.
I recall a superb pass that set up Clodoaldo for an equaliser against Uruguay in the semi-final.
And there was more extravagant skill from Pele at the end, selling the goalkeeper an outrageous dummy but just failing to score. A miss more memorable than many hits.
Before the next tournament Tostao's eye problem recurred and he retired, aged only 27, to become a doctor.
In 378 matches for Cruzeiro he scored 249 goals. To the eye surgeon who had operated on him in the United States, Tostao gave his Brazil shirt and World Cup-winner's medal.
The 1974 team in Germany, where there were two group stages and no semi-finals, lost to Poland for third place.
Rivelino and Jairzinho remained from the old guard. Paulo Cesar, Valdomiro and Dirceu had arrived. But the magic was not quite there. Nor has it been since, not to a degree that could bear comparison with the past.
When they take to a field far from home on Wednesday, their supporters will look longingly for signs of promise for 2014.
Chelsea's David Luiz, Ramires and Oscar will all be at the MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, with Daniel Alves from Barcelona, Kaka from Real Madrid and Neymar from Pele's old club, Santos.
So are they men for a new golden age? Or merely 11 players in search of a formation?