In part 2 of my interview with TheBigFeller –– who is in Uruguay at the moment, researching and writing a book called “Garra – A History of Uruguayan Football” –– we talk about Brazil’s chances in 2014, the FIFA World Ranking and who needs to be sacrificed in Uruguay’s starting XI in order for Uruguay to have a chance in 2014.
Which pitch/home stadium did you like the best? In terms of atmosphere and supporters?
TheBigFeller: I like Parque Central a lot. But there are very serious problems here in terms of violence and hooliganism in the club game, which means thousands of people no longer feel safe in watching their clubs. That’s a desperate tragedy; and again, something which the authorities seem to be doing nothing about. Beyond that, Defensor is safe (except when Danubio come to town!); but too many other clubs are not.
Your opinion of Uruguay’s domestic football league?
TBF: Moderate. But what can it do when economic forces mean the best players are sold to clubs in Brazil and Argentina; or Spain, Italy or England? Compare and contrast the Peñarol squad which reached the Libertadores final to that of the past season: if a team is successful, it’s broken up immediately.
Where does Uruguay really stand internationally?
TBF: As I said above, other than in the bizarre cases of England and Brazil, the rankings don’t lie. I put Uruguay either 3rd or 4th at present: only Spain and Germany are consistently better, and you cannot argue with a combination of 4th place at the World Cup, 1st place at the Copa America and an unbeaten start to the eliminatorias… not to mention a record breaking unbeaten run. La Celeste are a top four side, no doubt about it.
Don’t you think the FIFA world ranking has more to do with the decline of other football associations? I mean yes, Spain deserves to be ranked first because they’ve won everything under the sun… but Uruguay? Isn’t Uruguay’s rise married to a certain extent with Argentina & Brazil’s decline?
TBF: You could argue that – but really, so what? Argentina had been failing at major tournaments for many years before Uruguay’s resurgence; Brazil were actually extremely strong under Dunga, and I still think they were the only side in South Africa who could have resisted Spain. Now, they’re in a lot of trouble – but they’ll be back by the time the finals come around. Write off both Brazil and Argentina at your peril: and in a World Cup played in South America, both will be massive contenders.
Brazil has looked very ordinary –– Are not playing in the Qualifiers and are considered a favorite to win it all… Do you think that’s fair?
TBF: Most shrewder punters have woken up to Brazil’s problems. They certainly wouldn’t be World Cup favourites were the tournament being played anywhere else. But that in itself will make a massive difference: opposing sides will be intimidated, FIFA can surely be expected to give them a favourable draw, and whoever their coach is (it surely won’t be Menezes: I find it inconceivable he won’t be replaced soon) will have time to experiment and develop an effective blend.
Do I think Brazil will win the next World Cup? No – I think someone will get them at some point, as the pressure proves simply too much, But do I think they’ll take an awful lot of stopping, and probably only the winners will be the side to knock them out? Yes.
Is a World Cup final between Uruguay and Brazil, pure fiction or actually possible?
TBF: Of course it’s possible. It’s entirely possible. Given their consistency in the world rankings, Uruguay are pretty much bound to be seeded, meaning a quarter-final place immediately becomes not just feasible, but quite likely; and after that, the streetwise, cussed nature of the team – precisely what did for Ghana 2 years ago, or Argentina at the Copa – may make all the difference.
Put it this way. I honestly believe the World Cup Final will be either Brazil v Argentina; or Brazil v Uruguay. I think the former is a lot more likely than the latter – but the prospect of the latter occurring cannot be dismissed at all.
Uruguay reached the semifinals of South Africa by surprising most of their opponents, Tabárez introduced an elastic tactical formation, that changes according to opponent –– do you think Uruguay will surprise anyone in 2014?
TBF: Have you noticed how many Uruguayans are now plying their trade in Brazil? Forlán and Lodeiro are the latest additions. I think a plan is being followed here: this is all to get as many Uruguayan players as possible used to playing in Brazilian stadia, in Brazilian conditions. And at both the last two major tournaments, Tabárez made a virtue of a necessity and improvised a solution to his lack of a genuine enganche: if that problem persists, El Maestro is more than likely to pull another rabbit from a hat.
He took over in 2006 – but 2010 was just a stepping stone. This whole project has always been about 2014; and as much as we can all see the problems (especially in terms of Forlán, Lugano and Perez being too old), I’ve no doubt he can too, and will have answers.
Yorugua –– Yeah but don’t you think it shouldn’t have to come to that? Why waste roster spots on players like Abreu or Álvaro González? While Nacho González hasn’t shown to be the picture of health, he wouldn’t have to be groomed into the position the way Ramírez and Lodeiro are. And if Nacho Gonzalez isn’t your cup of tea, there’s Rodrigo Mora. But I feel the enganche (playmaker) Tabárez is looking for doesn’t really exist in Uruguay, I think the type of playmaker Tabárez wants is someone like Wayne Rooney and while Lodeiro is stocky in build like Rooney, there’s no way you can turn him into Rooney, just like Ajax couldn’t turn him into the next Messi.
TBF: Don’t get me wrong: Abreu being brought on with, what, 2 minutes left or something against Venezuela had me hooting in derision at the sheer, mindless desperation of it. But he’s in the squad because of the role he plays guiding and helping the younger players, and to keep morale high. There’s a lot more involved in a happy, successful team than merely a fantastic first XI, after all.
Beyond that: yes, sometimes it can look as though Tabárez is just drifting along, not making decisive changes or tactical switches. But as Tim Vickery reminded us on his excellent blog on Sunday, the reality of international football almost always demands pragmatism and compromise. Tabárez’ great 4-2-3-1 project, after all, lasted all of one competitive game, against Peru in 2007; but he’s continued to improvise and find solutions since. That very flexibility and refusal to allow his team to be pigeonholed is, ultimately, a huge strength.
Tabárez surprised everyone in South Africa, by being relevant, hip to the times, making necessary changes when he had to but a year after the Copa America win, hasn’t he regressed a bit? There doesn’t seem to be the same spunk to his coaching. A lot of old firm players are still on this NT and there doesn’t seem to be a hurry from Tabárez to introduce new changes. Do you think he’s capable of masterminding another impressive run in 2 years?
TBF: See above! Your thoughts, as ever, seem to be paralleling mine – but well, I was concerned that nothing was happening in the 12 months between the World Cup and Copa America, yet look what transpired. He simply wouldn’t have agreed to stay on in the job if he didn’t think further improvement was possible; and in that sense, what happens over the next couple of weeks in London will be critical. Answers may reveal themselves there: the Olympics are a huge part of La Celeste’s World Cup preparations, make no mistake about it, and what’s remarkable is how seamless the transition may actually prove.
What do you make of the Suarez/Forlan/Cavani trident. In the last 4 games (Romania, Russia, Venezuela & Peru) the most the three can guarantee you is one goal. What’s wrong with the setup? Is a return to a 4-4-2 the answer? What I mean is, removing one of these players from the lineup?
TBF: I think it’s obvious now that Forlán has run his course as a starter for the national team. He’s an icon, sure – but things have to move on, and Uruguay cannot keep wasting Cavani in the ridiculous way that’s been so apparent recently. This doesn’t mean a reversion to 4-4-2 - Abel Hernández is ready and waiting for his chance – but it does mean that Cavani must be used more centrally. He’s one of the most feared strikers in Europe.
To Be Continued.