Wingless Brazil

After Spurs' 3-1 win at White Hart Lane, Maicon was generous in his praise of Gareth Bale, who he said was unplayable. Certainly unplayable for poor Maicon, who hadn't the pace to catch him or the ability to tackle him, writes Brian Glanville.

Twice within a recent fortnight, Gareth Bale, the young Welsh, Tottenham left-flanker, utterly demolished the Inter right-flank defence, literally running rings around the Brazilian, Maicon, supposedly one of the best full-backs in the game, scorer for Brazil in South Africa's World Cup, a superbly struck goal from the narrowest of angles.

At San Siro, in the two teams' initial meeting, where a Spurs team reduced to 10 men when their 'keeper Gomes, another Brazilian, was sent off, went 4-0 down, an electrifying performance in the second-half gave Bale and Spurs three goals, reducing Inter's margin to 4-3. In the return at Tottenham, Bale's dominance of Maicon was again complete, and although this time he didn't score, Bale in spectacular form set up second-half goals for Peter Crouch and Russia's Pavlyuchenko. On the second occasion leaving the formidable Brazilian veteran centre-back Lucio standing into the bargain. Surely the greatest embarrassment Lucio has had since in the Japanese World Cup of 2002, an untypical piece of clumsiness gave a goal away to England's Michael Owen.

After Spurs' 3-1 win at White Hart Lane, Maicon was generous in his praise of Bale, who he said was unplayable. Certainly unplayable for poor Maicon, who hadn't the pace to catch him or the ability to tackle him. Yet it made me think of the revolution in Brazilian football which, over the years, induced them to abandon their glorious tradition of superb right-wingers, to rely instead on overlapping full-backs.

But, you might say, didn't their right-back Carlos Alberto score a fulminating fourth goal for his team in the Mexico World Cup Final of 1970, exploiting a jewelled pass by Pele? Yes indeed was the answer to that, but the right-winger that day was the powerful and explosive Jairzinho, who in a memorable game against England in Guadalajara, had roared past Terry Cooper, the highly mobile England left-back, to deliver the cross which Pele headed on the bounce, only for Gordon Banks the England 'keeper to make one of the most memorable one handed saves in World Cup history. Later, Pele's deft pass created the winner for Jairzinho himself.

The first of Brazil's devastating right-wingers was Julinho in the Swiss World Cup Finals of 1954. Possessed of formidable speed, supreme ball control and a ferocious right-foot, it was perhaps a pity that the marvellous goal he scored against Hungary, a dazzling run culminating in an irresistible shot, should have come in the so-called Battle of Berne, a match against Hungary which descended into violence and chaos: though Julinho himself wasn't implicated.

After Julinho and Jairzinho came perhaps the finest and most spectacular, most remarkable of all these three great wingers, Garrincha. A child of nature, simple and self destructive, doomed alas to die in abject alcoholic poverty, leaving seven daughters behind, Garrincha was born with a distorted leg, which he somehow marvellously turned into an advantage, contributing to the phenomenal body swerve which fooled defenders putting them and their weight on the wrong foot while he roared past them on the outside. Never to such crucial effect as in the final of the 1958 World Cup in Stockholm, where the Swedes took an early 1-0 lead. It was then that Garrincha with two exquisite feints wrong-footed the two big defenders facing him, roared on down the wing, pulling the ball back for Vava each time to score. Brazil ran out 5-2 winners.

Yet it had been touch and go whether Garrincha alias Manuel Dos Santos would play in the World cup at all. And you wonder whether he would even have cared if he hadn't. For though he loved playing soccer he was just as happy playing it in his native village of Pau Grande on a grassless pitch with a formidable trench in the middle, Botafogo, the famous Rio Club, had no easy task persuading him to join them. When the World Cup Finals began, Vicente Feola the coach clearly felt he couldn't rely on him and for the first two matches preferred the far more orthodox Joel.

It took the intervention of Nilton Santos, the impressive left back and a deputation of other players to persuade a reluctant Feola to choose Garrincha for Brazil's third game, in Gothenburg, against the Soviets. When the teams lined up before the kick off, Nilton Santos turned to Garrincha, standing in line beside him, reminded him what efforts had been made on his behalf, and told him to reciprocate. To which the only answer from Garrincha was to say, “Look at that linesman, he looks just like Charlie Chaplin!” Whereupon he proceeded to demolish the Russian defence.

Four years later in Chile after Pele broke down he became the fulcrum and the versatile inspiration of the Brazilian team, scoring despite the fact that he was barely five foot eight inches. A splendid goal against England in Vina del Mar from a corner, outjumping the towering Maurice Norman, and striking a fiercely left-footed goal from well outside the box against Chile, the hosts. That game saw him sent off, kicking back at a ruthless opponent, to be struck by a bottle as he departed. So he should have been suspended from the final but somehow mysteriously he wasn't.

In both those finals, the Brazilian full-backs were Djalma and Nilton Santos: No relation. Each sturdy in defence but each well capable of moving into attack when the chance presented. The great difference between them and the later species of Brazilian full-backs, be they Roberto Carlos with his exceptional left-foot, Cafu or, now, Moicon, they could defend as capably as they attacked. Bar one torrid Wembley afternoon in May 1956 when Nilton Santos was run ragged by the 41-year-old Stanley Matthews.

It seems too late now for Brazil to go back to their traditional wingers and even in those first two World Cup winning teams, there was the tireless left-winger Zagallo whose stamina allowed him to operate the whole length of the left touchline. But in his later stints as Brazilian team manager he himself dispensed with wingers. Yet as Bale showed in Milan and at Tottenham, wingers emphatically live. While on the other spurs flank at White Hart Lane, another natural winger in Aaron Lennon was flourishing.