During the brilliant but unsuccessful campaign by Brazil during the 1982 wc, Serginho, the tall and lanky striker was the regular center forward of the side. He scored two goals and provided an assist to Eder in the match against Scotland; yet after Brazil’s exit, he was made the scapegoat by most of the pundits.
Some of his critics were critical of his effort even before the exit. Their main point was that, he was a misfit in a lineup of brilliant creative players. This accusation is partly justified. Too often, after getting the ball, he would react too slowly; ending the flowing move, and forcing the midfield to reconstruct it. He was basically an old fashion center forward who liked to spend most of his time inside the opposition box. With supports from two wingers, who would provide him with the crosses, he had the potential to become a real menace for the opposition defense. But, the Brazil team in 1982 didn’t believe in such tactics. Eder was picked as the left winger, but he mostly played in the midfield, combining superbly with Zico and Falcao. Rather than providing crosses for the tall center forward, he preferred to shoot himself. (He had a terrific left footer). The fullbacks Leandro and Junior frequently overlapped, but they too had little communication with Serginho. In this scenario, Serginho often appeared as a lonely figure, while Zico and Socrates looked perfectly in tune with the Samba dancing going on among the Brazil supporters in the gallery; Serginho seemed struggling to keep pace.
Yet despite all hi shortcomings, it seems strange to me that he was made responsible for Brazil’s 3-2 defeat against Italy. Yes, there was one big blemish in his performance on the day; early on in the match, with Brazil trailing 1-0, he missed a sitter, it was so easy that even a 12 year old would have scored. Yet, from the game’s perspective, his miss mattered little. Just couple of minutes later, Zico found Socrates with space inside the Italy box, and he equalized. Serginho certainly wasn’t to be blamed for the three goals conceded by his team; in fact, he wasn’t even in the pitch when Rossi scored the all important 3rd goal; he was already substituted. Right full back Leandro was at fault for the first goal; as Cabrini overlapped early in the game, Leandro failed to stay close to him; and when Conti found Cabrini, the Juventas full back had all the time in the world to pick his club mate Rossi inside the Brazil box. Cerezo’s failed attempt to dribble just outside his own box led to Rossi’s 2nd goal; and the Italian striker completed his hat-trick n the 2nd half, scoring from a goalmouth melee following a Conti corner. Yet, if Junior hadn’t delayed in getting out of the goal line, Rossi would have been off side. So, Leandro, Cerezo and Junior were the main culprits for the goals. Yet, the Brazil fans forgave the trio, because in between their mistakes, they produced sublime touches. Serginho never had such touches, and the wrath of the Brazil fans fell on him.
Recent pundits have tried to do more justice to the tall man; and most of them agree that the real mistake was made by the manager Tele Santana; he picked Serginho for a job that never suited his skills. It was like picking Peter Crouch to play for Bayern and telling him to combine with Robben and Ribery. Still, for most Brazil fans of the time, Serginho would always remain a villain, the guy who spoiled their 1982 world cup chances.
Coming to 2014, Fred, the center forward of the current side has come for continuous criticism for his lackluster display so far in the Brazil world cup. And there is a possibility that if Brazil fail to lift the cup in their home soil, Fred would become the scapegoat, just like Serginho years earlier. The two share quite a few similarities; but there are some differences as well. Here, I would be comparing between the two.
1) Like Serginho, Fred too is wearing the number 9 jersey for his nation.
2) Serginho was 29 in 1982, Fred is 30 now.
3) Neither can be said to be automatic choices for their managers. In Spain 1982, Brazil was missing their top two strikers, Renialdo and Careca due to injury. In fact, Careca pulled out just 4 days before the start of the WC. Later, in 1986, he combined superbly with Zico and Socrates, and he had a wonderful understanding with Maradona for his club side Napoli. All these things gave rise to the repeatedly asked question among the Brazil fans; ‘what could have happened it Careca was fit for Spain 1982?’
Fred had been a regular with the Brazil team for some time, and although he enhanced his reputation immensely after scoring five times in last year’s Confederation cup Schollai would have preferred few more options. Robinho struggled badly with injuries last season; Fabiano (34) is too old and too in-disciplined. Adriano has been out of the picture for some time. A few years ago, Pato emerged as a potential successor to the legacy of Ronaldo; yet in recent times his name and pictures have appeared more frequently in the tabloid pages, rather than in the sports pages. All these things minimized Schollari’s options.
4) Despite all the criticisms, both made some meaningful contribution in WC football. Serginho scored two goals and had an assist. Fred has scored against Cameroon and won a controversial penalty against Crotia.
5) Unlike most Latin American stars Serginho played most of his club football in his native Brazil; he only had a brief stint in the Portuguese league. Similarly, barring a pretty productive time with Lyon in the French League, Fred has mostly stayed In Brazil.
The biggest difference is not among the individuals, but in the teams they played for. Brazil 1982 played football in the true Brazil fashion. Fast, neat, brilliant; almost every player (except the goal keeper) had the potential to score. In the company of Zico, Falcao or Eder, Serginho often appeared as an ugly crow among the beautiful peacocks.
The 2014 team is different. Here, the only attacking threats come from Neymar and the two central defenders (Thiago Silva and Luiz). The midfield has been especially unimpressive. In place of brilliant Falcao, wily Zico and energetic Socrtes, we see efficient but quite Oscar and Fernandinho, combining with workmanlike Paulinho and Ramires. If Fred continues to fail, he can at least blame the lack of creativity in the midfield.
Fred still has his chance; as I am writing this article there are roughly 50 hours to go before the SF between Brazil and Germany. The injury to Neymar would put extra pressure on Fred. One feels that if he improves his performance and Brazil wins the cup, he would regain his hero status; but in case of more failure from him, there is a chance that we would see the beginning of another Serginho like sad story.