HEART OF FOOTBALL

Two countries reboot, but only Brazil have limitless talent pool

England have a league that spends £1 billion (S$1.8 billion) on players in a single summer, and a national team that can be sunk at a European Championships by Iceland.

Brazil have a domestic league that struggles to hold any bright starlet over the age of 19, but the capacity to change their line-up wholesale after the humiliation at the last World Cup Finals.

Both countries are starting afresh now as qualification for the 2018 World Cup in Russia intensifies.

Brazil, under their third new coach since the debacle of 2014, made an impressive restart when the Selecao beat Ecuador 3-0 on Thursday, their first win in Quito's thin air at 2,850m for 33 years.

New coach. Almost completely renovated selection. And two goals from debutant striker Gabriel Jesus who, inevitably, is being compared to "O Fenomeno", Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima.

Allardyce has the same pool of players to select from that Hodgson (and before him Fabio Capello) had. Compared to Brazil, it's a tiny pool, a pond that gets shallower with each passing transfer window.

For Brazil, the longing and the pressure are relentless. The nation of 200 million football fanatics had slipped to sixth place in the 10-country South American qualification marathon, and flopped in June's Copa America.

A change of manager, Dunga out and Tite in, brought immediate effect. At the Olympics, under the youth coach Rogerio Micale, and led by Neymar, Brazil won the gold. But for the real business, Neymar stepped down or was stood down as captain, and the 55-year-old Tite gave the captaincy to the defender Miranda.

It makes sense. Neymar is many things, the best individual player in Brazil by far. But should the superstar be the team leader?

Tite thinks not, and Miranda, ignored by his predecessor Dunga at the calamitous Copa America despite being a solid defender at Inter Milan, stepped up to take responsibility.

Tite's Brazil line up only three of the 2014 team. But Brazil, with thousands of talents abroad, can change like no other.

One swallow, even at such altitude as Quito, does not make up for all that Brazil suffered under Dunga's dull directive.

The questions come thick and fast, and Neymar and his new scoring partner Gabriel Jesus (incidentally already signed up to be a Manchester City player in the near future) have to do it all over again against Colombia in Manaus on Tuesday.

England, meanwhile, begin a fresh era tonight.

On paper, the first game under new manager Sam Allardyce is not the toughest. England journey to Trnava in central Europe, but their opponents Slovakia are those that England generally beat in qualification.

In qualifiers, England beat a lot of countries. It is in tournaments that the country that gave football to the world have problems.

England have met Slovakia four times. They won home and away in European qualification in 2002 and 2003, and trounced the Slovaks 4-0 in a friendly in 2009.

However, even before the Iceland embarrassment, England struggled to a goal-less draw against Slovakia in Saint-Etienne during the Euros.

Slovakia have a few familiar names and faces. Martin Skrtel, the old Liverpool defender now at Fenerbahce in Turkey, leads them. Marek Hamsik, the Napoli player, gives them a touch of unpredictable class. And Milan's Juraj Kucka is a handful on his day.

But England should overrun them, right?

Well, it was a changed English XI against Slovakia during the Euros. Manager Roy Hodgson rested his skipper Wayne Rooney and his main striker Harry Kane, also both full-backs Kyle Walker and Danny Rose and young Dele Alli.

And throughout the tournament, Hodgson gave no role to John Stones. The young centre-back was going through a tough time at Everton, following Chelsea's attempts to entice him away.

Stones is potentially the brightest central defender, a player who might actually create counter-attacks in the manner of Franz Beckenbauer or Bobby Moore.

Pep Guardiola clearly rates him because he persuaded Man City to do what Chelsea couldn't do 12 months ago, and to pay the near £50 million that Everton demanded to sell Stones.

City also has faith in Raheem Sterling, a winger coveted by Hodgson but struggling to show his very considerable speed and trickery in Manchester after his protracted sale by Liverpool.

Allardyce has the same pool of players to select from that Hodgson (and before him Fabio Capello) had. Compared to Brazil, it's a tiny pool, a pond that gets shallower with each passing transfer window.

Most of the big money goes out to employ foreign stars for Premier League clubs. The 20 clubs now employ 512 players, of whom some 67.6 per cent are ineligible to play for England.

Allardyce might or might not be able to inject some national pride, some "up and at 'em" thunder that would certainly be Olde English in a world where the country has won nothing since 1966.

He can be as direct as he likes. He can, and probably will, square up to the under-achievers who draw multi-million pound salaries but stand in the shade to the global stars in their clubs.

He might change the mentality of the national side, but he cannot give them qualities they seem to have lacked for a generation, once it gets to tournament play.

Big Sam will not tolerate slackers. He will dump any player who fails to match his own patriotism, his belief that England ought to be a big player in the world.

There are few surprises in his line-up because he has few choices.

He sticks with Wayne Rooney as captain, though back in the No. 10 position because the experiment of dropping Rooney back as a schemer took England nowhere. But this means Allardyce has dropped Alli, who looked the one bright creative spark for the future.

Similarly, Allardyce sticks with Kane as the main striker, even though the Spurs man hasn't scored for club or country since last May.

The choices are slim. England is not Brazil.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 04, 2016, with the headline 'Two countries reboot, but only Brazil have limitless talent pool'. Print Edition | Subscribe