If Marcelo dreamt of making his debut for Brazil, he probably envisaged a backdrop more glamorous than a dreary Tuesday evening in North London. White Hart Lane will now forever be in the memory of the Real Madrid left back as the ground where he first laced those boots up to step out for the Seleção. I was there that night in 2006 to see the Brazilian supporters out in full force and a game that Brazil were worthy of a 2-0 win.
John Toshack’s side included the likes of Robert Earnshaw, Craig Bellamy, Ryan Giggs and 17-year old wing back Gareth Bale making his second international cap for The Dragons. Brazil was a side in transition. Dunga had just taken over from Carlos Alberto Parreira (now back in the set-up with Scolari) who stepped down from the job after Brazil were knocked out by Raymond Domenech’s Les Bleus at the quarter-finals stages of the 2006 World Cup.
There were a few things that stood out from the surprisingly competitive international friendly at the Lane. In the dugout Dunga was sporting another of his fantastically colourful shirts that I imagine left a greater impression on the Brazilian supporters than his management spell ever did. On the pitch though there was a young full back without his now customary big hair, wearing the iconic gold shirt like he had been for years. Scoring with a long distance strike to crown the perfect debut, Marcelo played with a swagger and a confidence that already showed he wanted that jersey on a more permanent basis.
Marcelo was still a Fluminense player at the time but Real Madrid pounced to sign him at the first opportunity in the next winter transfer window. The move really shouldn’t have come as a surprise. What better way to replace Roberto Carlos with a player who could be his natural successor for club and country? Marcelo quickly racked up the appearances despite briefly falling out of favour under Juande Ramos who preferred the more defensively-minded Gabriel Heinze. Despite the tendencies to be involved further up the pitch at the expense of leaving the kind of space the opposition could really expose, the Brazilian under Mourinho’s Madrid reign became an integral part of one of the most devastating counter-attacking teams in European football.
Dunga was not won over by Marcelo’s talents to include him in his 2010 World Cup finals squad over Michel Bastos and Gilberto. The World Cup ’94 winner is now no longer at the helm. Felipe Scolari is back and faces a task not too dissimilar to the one he had on his hands when he took the job in 2001. Back then Brazil were a mess and were struggling to make it to the finals in Japan and South Korea. Brazil don’t need to worry about qualification this time round but the national side is suffering from an identity crisis. Scolari is trying to fix this and has one goal in mind, to build a team that can lift the Jules Rimet trophy on home soil.
The Confederations Cup competitive or not, has been a valuable part of the re-building process. BBC pundits have dominated their post-match analysis discussions about the influence of Neymar but the notion that Scolari is building his team around Neymar is misguided. Big Phil is clearly using his class of 2002 to shape the team of 2013 and the early signs are promising.
Defensive midfielders Paulinho and Luiz Gustavo take it in turns to drop deep creating a three-man defence that served Scolari so well at the 2002 World Cup. Fred has been the focal point for the attack just as Ronaldo once did doing his best work inside the box. Neymar, Oscar and Hulk have formed an attacking triumvirate that provides the movement and creativity, but also have the capability to support the lone striker. Then there’s Marcelo and Dani Alves. Like Roberto Carlos and Cafu, the two wing backs provide the width, but it’s clear that the Madrid man is being given more attacking freedom than the Barcelona right back in Scolari’s side.
From an attacking point of view the tactic seems to be working. Marcelo was involved in everything that was good about Brazil in the 4-2 win against Italy, crucially providing the excellent lofted pass for Fred’s well taken goal. Question marks still persist over his willingness to get back into position, but Scolari clearly sees the influence Marcelo can have on the game out wide and dropping in to more central areas.
The blueprint for Brazilian World Cup success will no doubt go through many changes over the next twelve months. One of the Three R’s, Ronaldinho could find his way back into the international reckoning and the attacking make-up of the side looks far from decided. At the back though, things have a more settled feel about it. Barring injuries, it could be the defence that lines up in Sao Paulo on June 12th. The Real Madrid left back is building a convincing case to be as important to the Brazil 2014 cause as Roberto Carlos was for Scolari when Brazil were crowned world champions in 2002.