“I’ve already chosen them,” he replied, with a glint in his eye. “David Luiz is one… so he must be in the squad, right? Until I reveal my final selection, my captains are Thiago Silva, David Luiz,Júlio César and Fred. Those are the guys who spoke up most in the games we’ve played.”
Scolari also revealed that five players based in England – Paulinho, Oscar, Willian and Ramires, along with David Luiz – will all be included in his 23: “I spoke with those five in London and showed my confidence in them. I told them they were in my group.”
To the uninitiated, such public declarations may appear misguided. Brazen, even. After all, obfuscation is usually the default setting in modern football, with managers seeking to eke every advantage possible by keeping their cards close to their chests.
Besides, revealing a chunk of your squad could easily serve to demotivate those not named; in this case, one might wonder how Fernandinho felt about the announcement, just a couple of months after seemingly gatecrashing the party with a fine display against South Africa.
But such worries miss the point where Felipão is concerned. This, after all, is a man who has always prioritised trust and unity over palatable PR. If those in his group feel happy and motivated, Scolari has done his job. The rest is just distraction.
The approach has worked before, of course. The list of captains brought to mind a similar announcement before the 2002 World Cup, when Felipão listed Cafu, Roberto Carlos, Rivaldo, Ronaldo and Roque Júnior as his lieutenants on the field.
The message, after the tumult that preceded that tournament (Brazil burnt through three coaches in as many years after the 1998 final fiasco) was almost revolutionary in its clarity: I trust you. The fabled ‘Família Scolari’ was born.
Nowhere has Felipão’s steady hand been more clearly demonstrated than in the case of Fred. The striker failed to score in Brazil’s opening two games in last summer’s Confederations Cup, prompting some to question his place in the side. But Scolari didn’t waver, guaranteeing Fred a starting spot for the Italy game. The former Chelsea boss reaped the rewards; Fred ended the tournament as joint-top scorer.
Doubts resurfaced earlier this year, when the striker endured a barren spell after returning from injury. Again, Scolari voiced his support. “Those gestures boost my confidence,” Fred told Gazeta Esportiva in February. “The faith he has in me is really satisfying.”
That feeling – by no means unique to Fred – can only be beneficial to the Seleção’s World Cup chances. That will be especially true should their campaign begin poorly, or if talk of another Maracanazo begins to reach fever pitch.
In such situations, an arm round the shoulder can be the best defence against the perils of pressure.