Tim Vickery column: Germany can teach Brazil and Premier League
"The Premier League is out," said former Bayern and Germany great Paul Breitner on a recent visit to Brazil, "and the Bundesliga is in."
Breitner now works as an ambassador for the club and on his trip to Brazil he said many things of great relevance to the local audience.
Much of his argument has to do with the perils of success. Winning can become a habit, but just as easily transforms itself into an excuse for mental complacency.
In the case of the Premier League, for example, Breitner argues that the competition grew soft on its money and its capacity to sign big-name players.
German football, he argues, grew complacent on its triumphs between 1972 and 1990, and became lazily locked into a dependence on a sweeper system which soon became outdated.
Good results - winning the 1996 European Championship or reaching the 2002 World Cup final - masked the fact that the quality of play was in decline.
It was only after the disaster of a first-round exit at Euro 2004 that minds were concentrated on the task of turning things around.
How quickly they have managed to do it.
A key part of the mix has been the humility to study and bring in the best of what they see around them - Bayern's decision to appoint Pep Guardiola as next year's coach is an acknowledgement of the debt they already owe to Barcelona.
Breitner is calling on Brazilian football to show similar modesty.
Back in November, Breitner said that Brazilian football had been staring at its own belly button for 20 years. Since then he has observed further evidence for his theory.
He watched the friendlies played this year by Luiz Felipe Scolari's men against England - a 2-1 defeat - and a 2-2 draw with Italy, and came to the conclusion that Brazil were playing the football "of the past", mainly because it was so slow.
The Italy match, for example, contained a perfect counter-attacking goal, Neymar and Oscar swapping passes at speed in a lightning move from one end to the other. There was nothing slow about that and it is the kind of move that Brazil do better than anyone.
So what might Breitner be referring to when he talks about "slow" football?
One thing, in Scolari's 4-2-3-1 formation, might be the lack of defensive application of the line of three. Their delay in getting behind the line of the ball means that the defence keeps coming under pressure.
But chiefly I believe he is referring to the lack of speed with which the ball is circulated from centre field.
Scolari himself gave an eye-opening declaration on this subject recently. "This story of goalscoring central midfielders is very pretty for the press, but it's not pretty for the coach or the team. When you have attacking full-backs, like ours, you have to have protection."
It is a powerful statement on the direction that Brazilian football took post-1982. The need to cover the rampaging full-backs obliged the central midfielders, once the most creative players in the team, to become guard dogs.
Scolari makes a distinction between goal-scoring and protective central midfielders. There is no place in the formula for passing central midfielders. Therein lies the explanation for the lack of a Brazilian Xavi, Andres Iniesta or Bastian Schweinsteiger - they have not been trying to produce one.
Dorival Junior, one of Brazil's brightest young coaches, argues that a dependence on attacking full-backs has meant that the art of passing the ball through the middle of the field has - temporarily - been forgotten in his country's game.
There was plenty of evidence for his theory in last Wednesday's 2-2 draw between Brazil and Chile in Belo Horizonte.
In a match limited to players based in the two countries, Chile were much shorter of full strength than Brazil. But they were the better team, dominating midfield, closing down Ronaldinho's space, working their triangles, switching play to the opposite flank.
The hosts were booed by their own crowd after a performance which would have left a further furrow on the brow of Breitner.
Of course, one of football's great triumphs is the fact that the game can be interpreted in many different ways. Winning is all about finding the blend to get the best out of the available talent.
Scolari and his sidekick Carlos Alberto Parreira have the perfect answer to criticism. They can lift up four fingers and a thumb, each one standing for one of Brazil's unmatched five World Cup wins. Parreira coached the side to number four in 1994, Scolari to the fifth eight years later. Come next July they may need a second hand to indicate the number of times their country has won the trophy.
Alternatively, failure will also have consequences - where the voice of critics like Breitner will take on extra importance.
Comments on the piece in the space provided. Questions on South American football to firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll pick out a couple for next week.
From last week's postbag:
Q. To make a portion of their payroll, Vasco da Gama have sold the highly touted centre-back Dede to Cruzeiro. With so much apparent interest from European clubs, why was he sold for such a paltry amount?
A. Vasco's financial situation is so dire that they needed an injection of cash now, rather than waiting for August. Dede was convinced that this was the only way that club workers would get paid. Vasco's debts mean that the transfer is suffering a legal challenge and the desperation of the seller always drives the price down.
It would certainly seem like a sideways move, and with his speed, size and aerial power Dede would surely be able to adapt and be an asset to a big European club. Whether he is ready for the cultural adaptation is not so clear - and Dede himself seems aware of this.