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Where Did Brazil Go Wrong? Charting a Footballing Fall From Grace

03/07/2015 17:41 BST | Updated 03/07/2016 10:59 BST

They say that the bigger they are, the harder they fall and Brazil have been falling for a little while now. But what on earth has happened to the once-mighty footballing nation?

When Brazil crashed out of the 2015 Copa America on penalties against Paraguay, it barely registered as a shock. That, in itself, is shocking. The prevailing reaction seemed to be that without Neymar, who was suspended for his moment of madness after the defeat against Colombia, Brazil just didn't have the team to compete.

For a generation who grew up on Brazilian dominance, watching them reach the final in three consecutive World Cups between 1994 and 2002, the current absence of talent is jarring. Every country goes through troughs in performance to balance out the peaks, but Brazil's has been going on for an uncomfortably long time now.

The last World Cup was the most stark reminder of the state of the team that, despite reaching the semi-finals, hugely underwhelmed on home soil.

They needed a penalty shootout to get past Chile in the first knockout round and Colombia ran them close in the quarter-final, injuring the talismanic Neymar in the process.

While it's hugely unreasonable to place the hopes of the nation on the shoulders of a 22-year-old, Neymar was the home side's idol - and fair or not, home fans knew that he was the difference between glory and ignominy.

Without Neymar, the Brazilians fell apart, getting viciously torn to pieces by a German side who smelled blood in that famous 7-1 hammering before the Netherlands beat a weary, lacklustre team who looked done before the 3rd place playoff even kicked off.

As if to show just how much of a one-man team they really are, if a quick glance at the lineups didn't already assure the public of that, Brazil used this year's Copa America to repeat the trick of going out of a competition as soon as they lost Neymar.

Where has it all gone wrong? There are still talented Brazilian players out there - a country doesn't just stop producing talent overnight - so what's the problem?

It might be time to take a closer look at the way that young talent is poached from the country, and South America as a whole, by Europe's biggest teams.

While young Brazilians have often made the trip to Europe in the past, the pipeline is changing rapidly. It used to be that a young talent would be spotted by a small to mid-sized European force - one of the top Portuguese clubs, for example - and would be brought in to be nurtured and carefully developed.

Now, clubs like Chelsea do their best to scoop up the best of the youngsters before they've had a chance to mature and instead of carefully bringing them through into the first team and giving them the kind of experience they might've received previously, they're now just farmed out on a succession of jarring loan deals until they either make the grade or are left broken by the experience.

No matter how much the Chelsea's of the world insist that they're what's best for the player, they're wrong. Imagine yourself at 17. Now imagine your 17-year-old self being taken to another continent full of excitement and hope - and then being shunted into two or three different workplaces in 18 months, with unfamiliar people, systems and a couple of completely unfamiliar languages to try and learn.

With the pressures placed on them, it's a miracle that so many players do make it through the process unscathed. Those who don't? Sold for a pittance, forgotten about, never heard from again.

It's no coincidence that Brazil's sudden and dramatic lack of strikers has come during this time, with clubs more keen to pluck the exciting young striker from his home than a promising - but still developing - centre-back.

Unless the Brazilian FA can do something serious to counteract the problem, it's hard to see a solution. Players won't turn down the chance for a big break with a world-class club, and the big clubs aren't going to stop what they're doing - better to hoard the talent and ruin it than let someone else have it, after all.

Maybe this is all a false alarm. Maybe this is just a natural dip in form, and the next generation of Brazilian players will be just as good as Ronaldo, Romario, Roberto Carlos and the like. But right now, things look pretty bleak.

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