Teams can fly high with wingers

Garrincha (foreground)_ remarkable right-winger from Brazil.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY Garrincha (foreground)_ remarkable right-winger from Brazil.

TWICE in his commentaries on the recent Confederations Cup finals in Germany did Steve Claridge, new manager of the Millwall team for which he played so well in his late 30s, wondered why Brazil went without wingers; thus in his own words obliging them to "play narrow." Having easily disposed of Greece 3-0, they actually managed to lose to Mexico, and made pretty heavy weather of getting past a German team still a good way off being true World Cup contenders. Even on their soil. The able Mexicans, so unlucky to go out against Argentina on penalties, made life very difficult indeed for the Brazilians, despite their abundance of brilliant attacking players: Ronaldinho, the world's No. 1 player, slender, clever Robinho, up front with the powerfully left-footed Adriano, Kaka, with his forays from midfield. It all might have looked good against Greece, but the manager Carlos Alberto Parreira himself, admitted how hard it had been to penetrate the packed Mexican defence.

Yet wingers still live, triumphantly and I make no apology for renewing a familiar theme. Look, for example, at the recent semifinals of the European Champions League. AC Milan had beaten PSV Eindhoven, not without difficulty, in the first leg at San Siro. But in Holland their elderly defence, which would eventually crack against Liverpool in the Final, was run ragged by PSV's two dazzling wingers — Park Ji Sung of South Korea on the right and Farfan of Peru on the left. In the event, PSV won the game 3-1 most deservedly, but Milan squeaked through to the final on away goals. Wingers had so nearly done it.

This summer, few English players have been so coveted as the young Manchester City outside right — I scorn the word midfielder where a winger is so palpably concerned — Shaun Wright Phillips. When he made his debut for England at Newcastle against Ukraine last season, he scored a glorious, true winger's goal, hurtling past the left flank of the opposing defence, till striking the ball, albeit from a difficult angle, across the 'keeper and into the net. Stepson of the former Arsenal and England centre-forward, Ian Wright, Wright Phillips would join almost any English club of his choosing though he has sensibly said that he'd like to stay longer with Manchester City; who after all had the wit to sign him where the London clubs — and he is a Londoner — turned him down. Seemingly for the all too familiar reason that he was too small.

Brazil, it has to be said, have won two of the last three World Cups without wingers, but in neither case have they done so as triumphantly — and impressively — as in the past. "Playing narrow" places a huge burden on the skills and flair of more central players. When they are as gifted as those Brazil deployed in Germany, not to mention Ronaldo — who wasn't there at his own instigation — a team can notionally, ideally, get away with it. But as we saw in particular in the match against Mexico, it can be very hard indeed against a stubborn defence.

Trace back in time, and you find Brazilian teams that excelled in wing play, particularly on the right. Thus in the 1954 World Cup there was the splendid Julinho, with his tremendous pace, power, skill and right-footed shot.

With one of which he scored a sensational goal in the notorious so called `Battle of Berne' against Hungary. There was nothing wrong with that remarkable shot from afar, nor with the behaviour of Julinho himself, by contrast with that of several of his team-mates, in that torrid game.

Julinho then went to Italy to play splendidly for Fiorentina, whom he materially helped to win their first ever scudetto. He returned to Brazil in May 1959, which was bad luck for the hapless Jimmy Armfield. Destined to a fine career as England's right-back, as manager of Leeds United, and as a well-respected radio analyst, poor Armfield — a typical selectorial blunder of the time — was well and truly thrown to the wolves in Rio, making his debut on his wrong foot at left-back, up against a Julinho who ran him ragged.

In the interim, a still more remarkable Brazilian right-winger had emerged and flourished in the shape of that doomed child of nature, Garrincha. Talked into the team by his mentor and team-mate Nilton Santos when the coach Vicente Feola looked on him askance, Garrincha in the 1958 Swedish World Cup proceeded to excel. Never more so than in the Final itself when Brazil went a goal down but his two glorious bursts down the right flank, with his familiar swerve on twisted legs, enabled him to lay on two goals for Vava. Brazil won 5-2.

Four years later in Chile where Pele dropped out injured Garrincha showed irresistible form, even to the extent of heading a goal versus England from a corner, striking another in the semi-final against Chile left-footed from outside the box.

And in the superb 1970 World Cup winning team in Mexico there was that powerful outside-right Jairzino, who would lash home a goal from Pele's pass in the Final against Italy. Can it really be thought that players like these three, or the two-footed 1970 winger Paolo Cesar, would make no difference to the current Brazilian team? Alf Ramsey won the 1966 World Cup at Wembley with his so-called Wingless Wonders. But even there in the Final it was the dynamic play on the right flank by little Alan Ball, an inside-forward, which undid the Germans.