As the slow creep of globalisation continues through the world of football, it becomes less and less appropriate to talk about football nationalities. Where their used to be some semblance of meaning talking about ‘Dutch totaalvoetbal’ or ‘Argentinian fútbol criollo’, the migration of players around the globe has meant that national identity in football has been lost for the most part.
According to the stereotypes, Brazilian football is attack-minded: the Seleção has always boiled down into a team of eleven attackers for whom defence is an afterthought.
With the upcoming friendly matches with Colombia and Brazil imminent, the Brazilian National Team coach, Tite, announced his squad last month. Casting your eye down the list of defenders, the litany of names belies the age-old clichés. This is a squad brimming with defensive talent: Alex Sandro of Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain’s Marquinhos and Thiago Silva, Militao from Real Madrid.
Beyond the European contingent, there are three Brasileirão stars: the familiar Dani Alves, who recently moved to São Paolo from PSG, Fagner of Corinthians who was in the squad for the last world cup and Jorge, the Monaco player currently on loan at Santos.
But there is one name on the list who stands out: Samir, a centre-back currently plying his trade in Serie A with Udinese.
Uncapped and largely unheard of, the inclusion of Samir caused questions to be raised in Brazil. The seleção carries a reverence reserved for very few Brazilian institutions so the addition of a left-field pick like Samir was always going to raise questions.
Of course, this particular selection was already controversial: with the international friendlies clashing with the Copa do Brasil, Tite had already decided not to pick Grêmio’s Everton. The inclusion of a fairly unprecedented - at least in the modern era - six players from the Brasileirão was also notable.
But even with this context, there is a sense in which the reaction to the Samir inclusion is disproportionate. At twenty-four years old, it isn’t as if the Rio-born centre-back is unduly inexperienced. He has 136 appearances under his belt in both the Brasileirão and Serie A, making 21 starts in the league for his club last season after missing 14 games through an ankle ligament injury.
There is also a level of flexibility to his game. Good on the ball, a good reader of the game, and left-footed - unlike any of the other centre-backs in the squad - you could also field him as a left-back or even as a defensive midfielder, offering Tite a little more in the way of coverage.
Squad selection is all about providing solutions to potential - often unseen at at the time - problems. Viewed in that way, the inclusion of Samir in Tite’s squad for these two friendlies makes a lot of sense.