The seeing had become purblind so gradually that they scarcely noticed their loss. They guided the sightless youngsters hither and thither until they knew the whole valley marvellously, and when at last sight died out among them the race lived on.
-H.G. Wells, The Country of the Blind
After a tense 1-1 draw away to Vasco da Gama on Thursday evening, Corinthians were crowned champions of Brazil for the sixth time in their history. Although they stumbled over the finish line somewhat, helped by second-placed Atlético Mineiro losing 4-2 away to São Paulo, Corinthians have been by far and away the best side in the country and are fully deserving of the trophy.
With three matches left to play, Corinthians have the most points, the most wins, the least defeats, the most goals scored and the least conceded. It is rare in any 38-game football season that one team can express such superiority over the chasing pack.
Tite, Corinthians’ coach, is the talk of the town. This is the second time he has won the championship with the club (the last time coming in 2011, preceding Corinthians’ Copa Libertadores and World Club Cup wins the following year), and it would be hard to look beyond him as the greatest coach in the team’s history.
His intense personality, hyperactive touchline behaviour and apparently innovative coaching methods have endeared Tite not just to Corinthians fans, but to supporters of other clubs too. After Brazil’s embarrassing 7-1 loss against Germany in the 2014 World Cup, he seemed to be the national team’s only choice to replace Luiz Felipe Scolari, and deservedly so.
However, his success overshadows his shortcomings. His coaching career pre-2011 was patchy, and his teams often employ an over-pragmatic approach that is not easy on the eye. Furthermore, his efficiency is based on hours upon hours of work on the training ground, something he would not be offered were he to get the Brazil gig.
H.G. Wells once wrote about a mountain valley in South America, cut off from the rest of the world, that had in it all that the heart of man could desire. The only problem was that the people of this valley suffered from a strange disease that made them, and their children, blind.
He tells the story of a man, “who had been down to the sea and had seen the world, a reader of books in an original way”, who happened upon this Country of the Blind. Discovering that all of its inhabitants were in fact blind, the man garnered aspirations to lead and command them, repeating to himself the old proverb: “In the land of the blind, the One-Eyed Man is king.”
Brazilian football is a modern-day Country of the Blind. After decades of inertia and a dearth of new ideas, the quality of the Brazilian game has suffered greatly. Tactical trends that dominate the highest levels of European football only arrive in Brazil four or five years later. For instance, the idea of high defensive lines is still unthinkable in domestic Brazilian football, with centre-backs long accustomed to playing on the edge of their own penalty box, leaving huge gaps in front of them.
Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of those involved in Brazilian football are desperate for something new. Tite, Brazil’s One-Eyed Man, went on a Pep Guardiola-inspired sabbatical in 2014, studying strategy and training techniques while spending time with Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti. He has attempted to implement these “new ideas” into his Corinthians team and has been rightfully applauded for doing so.
However, despite their overwhelming dominance in this year’s Brazilian championship, Corinthians are not a world-beating side. They are organised, well-drilled and, crucially, they do the simple things well.
This is not to take anything away from Corinthians’ success, but to criticise their opposition. That simply making fewer mistakes than their peers is enough for Tite’s side to become Brazilian champions says plenty about the quality of the rest of the league.
Tite may well turn out to be an elite-level coach, but he’s not there yet. And without competent opposition, he never will be.