Another failure to qualify for the U-20 World Cup shows that a better plan is needed to bring through the best young players in Brazil
The South American Under 20 Championships finished recently in Chile.
While Ecuador’s maiden title grabbed the headlines, Brazil’s piffle of a campaign did not go unnoticed
Nine games. Three wins, three losses and three draws.
It proved so dismal that it wasn’t enough to secure a fourth place finish which would have afforded a qualifying spot in the Fifa U20 World Cup, which will be played in Poland from 23 May to June 15.
The funny thing is: it should not come as a huge surprise. Three out of the last four editions of the U20 World Cup not have the Selecao. That is because in three out of four South American tournaments the Brazilians didn’t even manage to finish in the top four.
While traditional South American powers have proved to be tougher competition than in previous decades – Venezuela’s second place in the 2017 U20 World Cup as a prime example – it doesn’t mean things are going well for Brazil at youth level.
Despite the arrival in the last decade of talents such as Neymar and Vinicius, the country is enduring a drought in youth achievements at the most important stages (U20 and U23). The last proper accolade came in 2011, when the U20 team won the South American Championships and the World Cup.
Yes, there are caveats. Important players like Vinicius were not released by their European clubs to play the tournament in Chile. In fact, many of the eligible players playing in European leagues missed the tournament – players like Paulinho (Bayer Leverkusen), Rodrigo Guth (Atalanta), Mauro Junior (PSV) and Matheus Cunha (RB Leipizig).
It is true that success at youth level does not necessarily translate into automatic success in the prime time for players. France, for example, lifted two World Cups despite having never won the equivalent U20 and U23 trophies.
But while the French youth system has been heralded as world class, Brazilian football has been rocked by the Flamengo Academy fire earlier this month. Also, the competition level in the European youth tournaments is still fiercer than in South America.
It is not that players are not coming through, as the examples of Neymar, Phillipe Coutinho, Willian and Oscar and Marquinhos will attest. But the drought does point out to problems. For one, Brazil lacks a national strategy for youth development, which includes the educational level.
It is true that there is no way the Brazilian Football Confederation can control the departure of young athletes to European clubs, which was the case of Vinicius’ transfer from Flamengo to Real Madrid.
However, a new plan is an urgent need. So far, Brazil’s population size and football tradition still help the country to produce players. But the rest of the world – and the continent – has caught up and is surpassing the country.