When Brazil lost in friendlies to Morocco and Senegal earlier this year after being eliminated by Croatia in the quarterfinals of the World Cup, there was nationwide panic. The Brazilian football federation CBF has been heavily criticized for assuming that the coach of the country’s under-20 national team, Ramon Menezes, could bridge the gap between Tite, who resigned after the World Cup, and Carlo Ancelotti’s much-anticipated move next year , as soon as his contract with Real Madrid expires.
With fans and pundits fearing that the five-time world champion would begin his 2026 qualification in a similar manner, the CBF responded by hiring Fernando Diniz for the next 12 months. The plan is for Diniz to lead Brazil through the qualifiers while working his day job at Fluminense before Ancelotti steps in for the Copa América next summer. Ancelotti has not been officially announced nor has he spoken publicly on the issue, perhaps fearing that Florentino Pérez would get on the wrong side, but he is expected to take charge of the tournament in the United States.
Diniz’s interim appointment has the added benefit of appeasing sections of Brazilian society – including key members of the 2002 World Cup-winning team – who would prefer to see a local manager rather than a foreigner in the role. His main task is to get Brazil back on track and maintain their streak of not losing a single qualifying game since 2015 – a Conmebol record – and never lose one at home.
So far, so good. Brazil started qualifying with two wins: 5-1 against Bolivia and 1-0 against PeruPutting the Selection On goal difference, he is at the top of the South American group ahead of reigning world champions and eternal rivals Argentina. Beyond the results, Diniz is on a personal mission to take Brazil back to go back to the essentials and move away from European playing styles – a topic about which major debates are taking place in the country. He wants to bring joy back to the Brazilian people so that they can enjoy watching their country again.
His team got off to a flying start against Bolivia, but the problems against Peru suggest he will have problems to sort out during his tenure – which will include four more qualifiers and at least one friendly in Europe next March. Diniz was filmed delivering a passionate chatter to his players in the locker room and told them they were “heroes to many people,” circulating the ball with “thirst and hunger” so that the overwhelmed opposing player would say, “Shit, that’s how Brazil are.” To his new team To revive him, he needs more than just words.
At times the whole thing seemed a bit surreal. For anyone who has followed Fluminense’s impressive performances under Diniz over the last 12 months, the sight of Brazil’s elite players trying to cope with their new leader’s idiosyncratic style was as fascinating as it was infuriating.
Diniz is considered by many to be the man who holds the key to reviving the legendary jogo bonito – The distinctly “Brazilian” style that thrilled the world as Garrincha, Pelé and Zico casually stormed through hapless defenses. Brazilian pundit Paulo Vinicius Coelho even went so far as to suggest Diniz wants to “play like 1982 and win like 1970”.“.
Diniz is a known admirer of the 1982 team, which failed to progress beyond the second group stage of the World Cup but left an indelible impression on fans. “Life is more art than science,” he says. “Football has the power to move people and change lives. It was capable of making things happen, just like the 1982 team did. Even though they didn’t win, they won many hearts and I was one of them.”
The experience of watching this team shaped Diniz. “I had just lost my father. We are a family of seven brothers and I am almost the youngest. We painted the streets and painted the players on the walls. I was very excited. The team almost felt certain that they would win the title, so there was a lot of crying when they lost.”
But how do these ideas translate to 2023, when superstars like Neymar take center stage? How smoothly did Premier League players Casemiro, Bruno Guimarães, Richarlison and Gabriel adapt to a more classic Brazilian pace? The blood and thunder, the breakneck speed of Saturday afternoon at St James’ Park is a far cry from the strange, hypnotic rhythms of what Fluminense fans at the Maracana have called “Dinizismo”.
In modern times, Diniz’s tactics are radically unorthodox and his self-proclaimed “apositional” play was on full display in the second half against Bolivia. Wingers Rodrygo and Raphinha abandoned their positions on the touchline and moved across the pitch to get closer to the action. Raphinha, who scored a goal and an assist, earned plaudits in Barcelona but will undoubtedly have to return to Xavi’s tougher team Positional play–Basic model at the weekend against Betis.
Diniz likes his players to play close together around the ball, allowing them to advance through quick one-twos and finely constructed combinations. His Fluminense team often gathers in close proximity to one side of the pitch, which can create the feeling of an after-school kickabout rather than a professional competition at the highest level. The idea is for players to innovate in the moment, react on the fly and rely less on the top-down instructions of the more prescriptive positional play implemented by European coaches like Pep Guardiola and Mikel Arteta.
Diniz wants his players to express themselves authentically by embracing their own creative impulses and the rich cultural heritage that shapes them. Brazil and Wolves striker Matheus Cunha says his style is unique. “It is impossible to see a team like Diniz playing, especially in Europe where we have such a positional culture,” he said said before the game against Peru. “It was exciting for everyone who took part. Everyone wants to learn. When someone comes with something so new and innovative, it creates curiosity to take it on.”
Diniz’s approach largely worked well against Bolivia, but that was as much due to the opponents’ shortcomings as any of Brazil’s other masterstrokes. Neymar surpassed Pelé’s record with a successful brace and there were many fascinating passes and moves.
But there were also problems. Richarlison struggled on the ball – he was seen in tears after being substituted and later vowed to see a psychologist if he ended up in England – while the midfielders of Casemiro and Guimarães appeared somewhat unsure about the nature of their new roles.
These teething problems became more evident in Lima. Peru were organized and aggressive in defense, pressing whenever they could and maintaining a compact shape that was difficult to penetrate. Brazil’s success was not helped by the numerous fouls and stoppages of play that interrupted an extremely short opening period.
However, they were the better team and had the ball in the net twice in the first half only to be ruled offside, once by Raphinha (after a seven-minute VAR debacle) and again by a Richarlison header. Neymar came through on the right after a typical Dinizismo advantage to test Pedro Gallese, but much of the game lacked the fluidity of Bolivia’s game.
Before the game, Peruvian shamans put a spell on Neymar and he cut an increasingly disgruntled figure, missing numerous passes as he dropped deep to initiate the play. Richarlison seemed detached from the game again, and Casemiro seemed a stranger to the more authentic Brazilian style of play: hitting long, hard passes when shorter, softer options were available. Diniz was seen holding his hands to his face as Brazil appeared to be heading for a goalless draw.
Too often the ball was unnecessarily passed away from the side where the Brazilian players were gathered. Diniz could be seen instructing Marquinhos to play back into the congested zone, a feature of his style that is particularly contrary to established coaching norms. By the middle of the second half it seemed clear that one of Diniz’s star players at Fluminense, midfielder and rumored Liverpool target André, would replace the ailing Casemiro. André’s flexibility, excellent ball skills and keen knowledge of Diniz’s tactical system would certainly have loosened up an increasingly wooden Brazilian midfield.
Nevertheless, Diniz decided to remain loyal to his captain. Having already replaced Richarlison with Gabriel Jesus, Diniz brought in the trio Joelinton, Vanderson and Gabriel Martinelli for Guimarães, Danilo and Raphinha in the 85th minute to add some energy to the game. Martinelli made a quick impression from the bench, winning a corner that Neymar took and which Marquinhos expertly headed into the net. Brazil had won the game with a goal in the last minute, but it was emblematic of the team’s problems that the decisive moment came from a set piece – a throwback to the Tite era.
The good news is that Diniz started with two wins, six points and plenty of reasons for optimism. The prospect of Brazil’s dazzling attacking talent being freed from the constraints of Tite’s rigid positional structure is tantalizing, as is the opportunity for the Selection to recapture the imagination of the Brazilian public after a series of high-profile disappointments.
The next test for Diniz comes in the form of a double-header against Venezuela and Uruguay next month. A home game against Venezuela should be as comfortable as qualifiers get, but the trip to Montevideo will be a far sterner test of their credentials, not least because Uruguay are now led by Marcelo Bielsa.
Diniz’s messy soup by Relationism and the interpersonal chemistry in direct comparison with Bielsa’s strictly ordered version of high-intensity vertical possession should make for a fascinating encounter between two of football’s most radically alternative and enigmatic professionals.
To pass such a test, the orchestra, previously fine-tuned under Tite, must become accustomed to playing a different kind of music. Diniz’s ambition to rekindle the dying embers of Jogo Bonito and bringing an updated version to the world is commendable. But there is still a long way to go.