|Nani's Reaction Upon Reading Our Review Below|
What happened to the Brazilians? I watched the International Friendly between Brazil and France this past week and it got my brain to thinking (yes, it happens from time to time) - how is it that there are no Brazilian superstars? There are lots of very, very good Brazilian players in the game right now and even some who might be considered among the very best at their positions in the world. That said, there isn't a Brazilian player who demands you say "WOW" as a result of his performances. On the eve of Ronaldo's retirement, we are left wondering who the heir to the recent run of attacking superstars - Romario, Ronaldo, and Ronaldinho might be.
If you start listing the world's best attacking players you have to go a long way before you'd get to a Brazilian based on performance (as opposed to reputation). The list of the best attackers has to start with Messi and that other Ronaldo fellow and then you start talking about Sneijder, Drogba, Ibra, Xavi, Iniesta, and others before you'd get to the first Brazilian on your list. So what happened? Kaka was supposed to be the headliner of his generation but he's been pretty invisible for about 18 months now. Robinho was supposed to be the "next Henry" combining pace, shooting, passing, and dribbling ability but he's been through just about every big club in Europe and no one really seems to want him. Pato was supposed to be the "next big thing" after those two but his last two seasons have been derailed. His strike rate for Milan has been very strong but he's only played a total of 35 league matches across the two seasons. Not exactly the stuff of legends.
Oddly, the only place that Brazilians can claim to be at the absolute top of their professions is in the back. Alves and Maicon are both exceptional players. That said, it isn't often that an outside defender can really be considered a superstar. Roberto Carlos was the exception to this rule but neither Alves nor Maicon are up to that standard. There are also very good Brazilian central defenders but again, you wouldn't say that there are any absolute superstars among them. Very, very good? Definitely, but you wouldn't necessarily pick any Brazilian defender over Vidic if you were starting a team from scratch.
So what happened? Is it just one of those things? A slight downward trend that will be remedied in a couple of years when the "next big thing" comes along? Is it that the rest of the world - most notably Africa - are catching up to the Brazilians and making the difference between the best Brazilians and the best of the rest not seem so big? I can't claim to have an answer but as I watched Sandro try to adapt to life in the Prem and added to that the fact that he was playing for his country in mid-week, I could help but think about the fact that this isn't the Brazil of the last 25 or 30 years. Any thoughts from you guys on why?
OK, with that international football aside out of the way, here are some observations on the weekend that was in the Prem:
- The Leaders - They were the better team, they had the better tactics but they were close to dropping two points despite that. There are so many things about Rooney's spectacular goal to talk about. It kept United's local rival from serious title contention. It revived their momentum after the big upset loss at Wolves. It kept Arsenal at a respectable distance going into United's matches @CHE and @LIV (assuming the @CHE match isn't postponed due to the FA Cup schedule). It re-established United as a team that will find a way to win late. Finally, even as someone who has no personal love for United, it was just damn impressive. Great goal in a huge situation. The only note of caution here is that it took what will likely end up being the goal of the season to keep them in the driver's seat.
- Arsenal - Very business-like win against the team that upended their title rivals last weekend. Honestly, it should have been 4 or 5 to nil. What it showed me is that Arsenal really miss Nasri who, along with van Persie, are the two players who have shown themselves to be clinical in front of the net this season.
- Citeh - Time to start focusing on staying in the Top Four. With Spurs winning and Chelsea having purchased reinforcements Citeh's road will be tough down the stretch.
- Spurs - Big win against strong opposition on the road for Spurs, especially with VDV, Bale, and Modric all out. If they can continue to show that sort of fortitude then you have to really like their chances to make the race for the final two Champions League spots a spirited one.
- Chelsea - Just a little bit of pressure on them heading into the West London derby at Craven Cottage tomorrow. Should be interesting to see how they react after a tepid showing against Liverpool.
- Birmingham - HUGE points for them at the death this weekend. On results like that are relegation battles turned.
- Everton - Switched places with Birmingham as the unexpected team most likely to go down. Losing at Bolton isn't particularly embarrassing for anyone outside the top teams but it barely felt like Everton showed up for the match. If they continue to play like that then they're definitely not too talented to go down.
- The Rest of the Relegation Group - A lot of stagnation as Villa, Wigan, WBA, Blackpool, and WHU all claimed a point. You could suggest that Wolves lost ground, but the fact is they got 3 points from MAN and @ARS when by all rights they should have expected no points from those two matches. I'd consider them in the same "treading water" group with the rest of those listed here.
- Meireles - Let the lovefest continue. He just can't stop scoring goals.
- Suarez - He looks like he's going to do well. No end result this past weekend but he was certainly dangerous all match.
- Nani - Rooney's goal got all the press, and rightfully so, but Nani's goal was impressive in a much more subtle way. His take down of Giggs' pass that allowed him to stay in stride and continue past the last defender was a thing of beauty. Now we know what Bergkamp would have looked like if he were fast. (NOTE: I'm not comparing Nani to Bergkamp overall, but in that instance, Nani's play was Bergkamp-esque and for those of you who know the esteem I hold Bergy in, that's about as high praise as I can give). Oh yeah, unlike Rooney, Nani was also dangerous throughout the match.
- Smalling - Credit to him for stepping onto a big stage and being pretty darn good. In my view, Mancini helped him by not doing the best with his many attacking assets (so what else is new?) but still, you have to believe that if it has been Evans instead of Smalling there would have been a glaring error that would have nullified Rooney's glory strike and ended things 2-2.
- Walcott - What happened to that clinical form from early in the season? He's going to need that back if Arsenal are going to mount a challenge.
- Cesc - Playing deeper and less assertive as an attacker over the last couple of months. I don't think this is a bad thing, it just is. I think it mostly has to do with there being so many other potent options in the Arsenal attack this season. It may not be the SAME potent options but between RvP, Nasri, Walcott, Chamakh, and Arshavin there have typically been at least two Arsenal players other than Cesc in goal-scoring form at any given time. With less required of him in that regard, he has reverted to being more of a playmaker than a scorer.
- Kranjcar - He should have a starting job somewhere in the Premier League next season. Maybe a well-heeled newcomer to the league like QPR will make the right offer. Maybe an established team like Newcastle will decide he's an improvement on the left side of midfield. Maybe Villa will consider him as an Ashley Young replacement if, as rumored, AY heads to United or Liverpool. Regardless of how it happens, he should play regularly somewhere. (And somewhere in Southern California Jeremy shouts "Free Niko")
- KRich - Could it be he's finally found his calling? Hopefully he can stay healthy long enough for us to find out. He's certainly on an impressive run of form.
- Sturridge - That's 3-0 with Chelsea still to play this week in his match-up with Torres to see which of the two scores more as a regular starter. If Sturridge ends up winning this "competition" I'm sure Aresene Wenger will have a small chuckle to himself as he prepares a quote about the value of bringing up young players rather than going out and spending a fortune on established ones. Great and needed acquisition for Bolton as Elmander and Davies have gone really, really silent.
- Ba - That's the sort of match that will endear you to your new supporters pretty quickly. Now lets see if he can help the Hammers stay up so he can enjoy the relationship for more than a couple of months.