Oscar - a midfielder in the full sense of the word
Little more than a month into the season, new signing Oscar is already a Stamford Bridge sensation.
I must confess that I took a bit longer to be won over by him - before making up for lost time by coming to the conclusion that he could be the most important player Brazilian football has produced in a while.
I was at one of his very first matches for Internacional, a 3-0 defeat to Fluminense in the Maracana stadium in August 2010. He was brought on after 35 minutes, made a mess of everything he tried and was himself replaced after 57. It hardly matched the hype that was already surrounding him.
Three months later I saw him get a place in the starting line-up against Botafogo. He made little impression and was substituted once more. But before the game I talked to Inter's director Fernando Carvallo, one of the best talent spotters in the Brazilian game. Forget any early impressions, he said. This boy is the genuine article.
Oscar is already attracting attention for his all-round midfielder's game. Photo: Empics
If such a knowledgeable source had high hopes, then Oscar was clearly worth a third glance, a fourth and a fifth.
Early in 2011, he started to impress playing for Brazil in the South American Under-20 Championships. The individual plaudits went to Neymar and Lucas Moura, but it was noticeable that Oscar was at the heart of many of the good collective things his side were producing.
But could he cut it with the seniors? He quickly showed he could, scoring three times for Internacional in their Copa Libertadores campaign.
Then came his triumphant World Youth Cup campaign. With both Neymar and Lucas promoted to the full Brazil side, there was more responsibility for Oscar to carry. For all his frailty and sloped shoulders, he bore it well.
He scored all three goals in the final against Portugal. But at least as impressive was his all-round game - and as he has continued to progress over the subsequent year, it is his versatility which catches the eye as much as his ability to score goals - like the one against Juventus last week that sent the Stamford Bridge faithful crazy.
Oscar can drop back and mark. Stronger than he looks, he can win the ball, orchestrate possession from deep, feed the strikers and get beyond them to shoot at goal. Bright and mobile, two-footed and talented, he is a midfielder in the full sense of the word - and it is precisely that which makes him so interesting.
The glory days of Brazilian football - those three World Cup wins between 1958 and '70 - came after they had come up with the idea of the back four, dropping an extra player to the centre of the defence to provide extra security.
A football team is like one organic unit - making changes in one part will inevitably have an effect on another. In this case the burden was borne by the central midfielders. Since the initial idea was to retain two wingers and two strikers, the pair in the middle found themselves with acres of space to cover. So both of them had to be all-rounders, able to attack and defend.
In 1958 and '62 the central midfield pairing was formed by Didi and Zito. 'The Ethiopian Prince,' Didi was the brains of the team, cutting opponents apart with his elegant passing. But he also had to work hard when Brazil lost possession, getting behind the line of the ball and closing down space.
Alongside him, Zito was the enforcer, the hard man who screened the centre-backs. But he could also make an attacking contribution, as he showed when scoring the goal that effectively won the 1962 World Cup. Brazil and Czechoslovakia were level at 1-1 when he both started and ended the move that put his side ahead, running the length of the field to head home at the far post.
Eight years later in Mexico, it was a similar story, with Gerson and Clodoaldo in the roles of Didi and Zito.
Brazil were a goal down in the semi-final against Uruguay. Gerson, the latter day Didi, was not the greatest athlete - he was struggling to find space against the tight Uruguayan marking - so he took a decision. He dropped back to cover and sent Clodoaldo, Zito's replacement for club and country further forward. It was an inspired switch - just before half-time Clodoaldo scored the equaliser.
The classic 4-2-4 system did not last long. Even in 1958 Mario Zagallo was funnelling back from left wing to help out the overworked midfield duo. But for a while afterwards, 4-2-4 influenced the way that Brazilian midfielders developed. The 1982 pairing of Falcao and Toninho Cerezo were also all-rounders.
Then it all changed. Brazil became increasingly dependent on attacking full-backs. Someone had to cover for them. And having purely defensive midfielders in a 4-4-2 meant that there was also space for purely attacking ones. The age of the specialist was born.
For years Brazil's midfield included Gilberto Silva - now winding down his career where he started it, at centre-back - and Kaka, who in reality is a support striker. Even while it was winning trophies, a midfield without midfielders could never capture hearts by producing the flowing football of old.
For all the frequent disappointing results Brazil have had over the last two years, and for all the jeers aimed at coach Mano Menezes, there are grounds for optimism. The midfielder is back. Oscar is proof. So too is Romulo.
If Oscar is an attacking midfielder who can also defend, Romulo is the opposite. Both were on target last week in the Champions League - Oscar, of course, for Chelsea against Juventus, and Romulo for Spartak Moscow against Barcelona - on his 22nd birthday. If this really is the rebirth of the all-round Brazilian midfielder, then we all have something to celebrate.
Comments on the piece in the space provided. Questions on South American football to email@example.com and I'll pick out a couple for next week.
From last week's postbag:
I am always interested when British footballers move abroad. The trend has steadily decreased, so the recent transfer of goalkeeper Mark Cook from Harrogate to Universitario of Peru has fascinated me and I would love to hear your insight into this. I see he made his debut recently and was slightly shaky from what I saw online, but the goal was decent and he could do little about it. What has been the reaction to his arrival in South America and how do you feel he will adapt?
I'm all in favour of British players moving abroad - it's a great way to broaden their education. There are easier places than South America to do it, though! The Mark Cook case is interesting precisely because it is so rare - which means that he sticks out so much.
For the debut match you mentioned - where he did nothing wrong - one of the Peruvian papers sent a reporter into the stands to hear what was being said. There were reports of anger directed at him, at the fact that he was taking the place of a local, and plenty of uncomplimentary remarks about the ungainly way he moves.
He does look as if he could command his area better than the club's other keepers. But fundamental in this position is communication with the defence. He doesn't speak the language and it was clear in that debut game that the centre-backs were reluctant to pass back to him.