Dunga gets breathing space from Brazilian press gang
IN Brazil, they demand style as well as success from their football team. A manager who eschews a sharp suit for a woolly jumper is not the kind of character you would associate with the Samba Boys.
Dunga, however, is doing things his own way. His fashion sense, or lack thereof, has been seized upon as a microcosm of his football philosophy: functional and without swagger. That was Dunga as a player, the defensive midfielder who captained the 1994 World Cup winners. The managerial version has concentrated on building a team that is difficult to penetrate; much to the dismay of the purists in the Brazilian circus who demand that little bit more.
A rare thing happened in Soccer City on Sunday night, though, in the aftermath of a comprehensive win over the Ivory Coast. For once, the entourage that follows this Brazilian team everywhere were singing off the same hymn sheet.
The controversial dismissal of Kaka had unearthed a common enemy in the form of French referee Stephane Lannoy. Dunga, who has spent the majority of his time in South Africa arguing with journalists, was now fielding sympathetic queries. There was unity.
A smooth display, with no shortage of flair, left minimal scope for criticism of the Brazilian contribution. This time, the spotlight was on the opposition and the officials.
Not that he was willing to forget who his foes were. With qualification for the second round assured, a Brazilian TV reporter, Alex Escobar, asked if the players would be given a rest. Dunga snapped that if he did give them free time, then people like Escobar would be on their trail. "That would not be rest," he asserted. "It would be more like work."
Between 300 and 400 reporters follow the Brazilian team everywhere. Nothing goes unnoticed.
Mostly, they have been on the offensive against Dunga, whose decision to exclude Ronaldinho and Pato and adopt a shape based around holding midfielders Gilberto Silva and Felipe Melo has favoured hard work and pragmatism at the expense of entertainment.
Former players have been the loudest critics, with Socrates, the captain of the 1982 Brazilian side, infamously describing Dunga's methodology as an "affront to our culture".
Of course, Tele Santana's Spain '82 entertainers wowed the world and ultimately came away with nothing. When Dunga skippered Brazil in 1994, they delivered the goods, yet the foundations were in the compact defensive unit that conceded just three times in seven games. They needed a penalty shoot-out in the final to triumph.
With their mean defence, the class of 2010 have been compared with that team, which isn't really a compliment. Dunga is so entrenched that he believes his detractors would prefer if he failed.
"We have some 300 reporters from Brazil who are hoping we don't win so they can say they were right when they said we got lucky for the Copa America and Confederations Cup victories," he said recently, as he reflected on his turbulent tenure.
"You guys hit me, you attack me from morning to evening and if I answer back, you tell me I'm out of line," he said ahead of their opening victory against North Korea.
The insipid display at Ellis Park against the Koreans ramped up the criticism, so there was something ominous about how the Brazilians responded against superior opposition in the shape of the Ivorians.
They played the best football of the tournament in the early stages of the second half, passing with precision. With full-backs Maicon and Michel Bastos raiding forward, Robinho and Kaka roaming with intent, and Luis Fabiano looking the part, the chorus of 'oohs' and 'aahs' was more in keeping with the traditional behaviour of a Brazilian audience.
Dunga felt vindicated. "It's always tense in the first game. Now that it's more relaxed, it's easy for the players. The second game in the competition is always more entertaining," he said.
"It was a very physical game though," he added, as he warmed up for a rant at the standard of refereeing. "There were many fouls committed and all of us who love beautiful football and desire beautiful football always ask that the game is controlled."
Inevitably, there were giggles at the mention of "beautiful football", but it wasn't the right evening for the respective definitions to be discussed. Dunga was on the moral high ground.
The response in Brazil was generally positive, although the big-selling newspaper 'Folha de Sao Paulo' led yesterday on the possibility of their manager facing sanction for his swearing about the referee and the Ivorians, in addition to giving considerable prominence to his scrap with Escobar.
They even considered if he could face sanctions similar to Diego Maradona, who was banned for two months for telling his detractors to "suck it" in the wake of Argentina's qualification.
Nonsense talk, of course, despite FIFA's claim they would investigate his comments. But at least it got Dunga and Maradona into the same sentence.
For now, that's progress, but it's where the similarities end. Unlike Diego, the man dressed in wool will always be a mystery to the majority of his flock.