Ah, that most un-Brazilian of Brazilian midfielders. Here's Adamo Digby.
Perhaps we all misunderstand Felipe Melo.
Maybe the fine defensive midfielder on show in the early games of this season, the first games of last summer’s World Cup and during his impressive spell at Fiorentina is his true self. When assessing Melo’s real value to his club and country, is it him or us that is missing something? He rated his performances in South Africa as ‘a six out of ten’ claiming he would have been worthy of full marks if Brazil lifted the trophy instead of exiting to the Netherlands in the quarterfinals.
On the other hand, maybe it isn't. Some players just simply cannot cope with the stresses of the game at the highest level. Former Germany and Bayern Munchen midfielder Sebastian Deisler retired from the game at just 27 due to mental health issues, although injuries also clearly took their toll. Are we witnessing another similar tale unfolding with the former Flamengo man?
Despite being involved in some big money transfers, Melo is fast becoming a liability in tense games. In his first season at Juventus following a €25 million transfer, he was sent off in a crunch match with Inter and insulted his own club’s fans during disappointing results against Siena and Fulham. We saw a similar incident last weekend against Parma when a fifty-fifty challenge saw him once again erupt and lash out, pushing (rather than kicking) a boot into his prone opponents face. This prompted Juve coach Gigi Delneri to hit Melo with the maximum fine and say in his press conference he had given the Brazilian ‘a few slaps’.
The problem now is that the Felipe Melo, who infuriated Juventus fans with poor behavior and performances throughout last year, then acted the same way in Brazil’s famous colours and has now gone back to square one. A fantastic start to this season had seen Melo and Alberto Aquilani quickly become the best midfield pairing in Italian football. Complimenting each other perfectly, they have established a wonderful understanding and this has been a huge reason for the resurgence of Bianconeri this year. However, after this latest episode we find ourselves once again questioning his mental state.
This is always this way with Melo. The player managed to put on a miniature version of his entire career in just one match against Holland at the World Cup. Starting out dominating midfield, Melo showed great vision to release Robinho with an outstanding pass to open the scoring. Then as Brazil were pressured by their opponents and eventually lost control of the match, Melo crumbled in every way, which was all too familiar to those who closely followed his debut season in Turin.
First came a complete lack of awareness as he helped Wesley Sneijder’s deep cross past his own goalkeeper Julio Cesar to cancel Brazil’s lead. Then came another complete meltdown as he tangled with Arjen Robben, fouling the Dutch winger before stamping on his leg as he lay on the floor, leading to a red card and spelling the end of his nation’s hopes of hosting the 2014 World Cup as defending champions. Never one to simply make a mistake and walk away, the midfielder then made matters worse when asked about the incident in the post game interviews, he told stunned reporters;
“Robben kept playing up. If I meant to hurt him, he would have left the pitch. I have enough strength to break his leg”
Brazil fans shared the blame for their exit between Melo and coach Dunga. But while the coach has quit and vanished, the Juve man was left as public enemy number one. Compatriot Ronaldo advised him “not to take a vacation in Brazil” via his Twitter page, and many others appeared across the Internet, some comparing him to cult icon Chuck Norris, others portraying him as a character in the video game “Mortal Kombat”.
The new Juventus management team, led by Andrea Agnelli and Beppe Marotta, hoped a strong showing in Africa would help to find a buyer for the player and recoup much of his expensive fee. This act of self-destruction firmly ended that possibility and a different, more difficult course of action was taken.
Delneri, with a combination of steely resolve and fatherly love, rebuilt Felipe Melo into the tough, dominating player Juventus wanted when they brought him to Turin. Seeing his struggles and immaturity despite the man entering what should be the best years of his career is reminiscent of Antonio Cassano, infamous for his petulant outbursts on and off the field. FantAntonio’s subsequent rebirth at Sampdoria was at least in part facilitated by the same team Juventus now have in place - Delneri, Marotta and Fabio Paratici.
Seeing the Cassano situation crumble in the absence of this leadership clearly shows how much influence they had on the Italian international, and just how much work they had done with Melo. A repeat of that improvement from the Brazilian was equally remarkable, but with his latest outburst where does that leave Melo now? A swift return to form following his three game ban is vital, and it is expected that he will be seen in the Coppa Italia in that time. He may well be given another chance by the fans of his club, but it will almost certainly be his last and the midfielder will have much to prove.
In good form, but perhaps not mentally strong enough in the biggest matches, already having been a hate figure for fans of club and country, last season’s “Bidone d’Oro” needs to shine quickly, or another promising career could fizzle out to nothing.
You can follow Adamo on Twitter @Adz77 for insight into the Italian game, past and present.