Carlos Caetano Bledorn Verri is more commonly known as Dunga, a nickname taken from the Portuguese translation of “Dopey” from Disney’s Snow White, handed to him by his Uncle due to an early lack of height. The Brazil international not only grew taller as he got older, but also broader in stature, his footballing ability having allowed him to lift the World Cup as a player, and his legacy handing him an opportunity to take charge of the national team on two separate occasions.
A determined and solid defensive midfielder, Dunga was not created in the same mould as many of Brazil’s greatest players. Yet he would lead his side to victory in the 1994 World Cup as Captain, despite not winning many admirers in his native country. A defeat in the second round to Argentina at the 1990 World Cup would see the player take most of the flak, the midfielder singled out as a symbol of how a normally quick and dynamic side had become much more pedestrian.
However, his tenacity in the holding midfield role became invaluable four years later, his ability to make a tackle and win back the ball in the centre of the pitch acted as a mechanism to release the brilliance of Romario and Bebeto. This more functional style of play was cruelly known as the “Era Dunga” back in Brazil, to symbolise a shift away from the flowing style of the past.
Perhaps most telling is the way that failure in 1982, with the likes of Socrates, Zico and Falcao in the squad is almost remembered more fondly than the 1994 win, the former squad playing the kind of creative football that the Canarinhos are so heavily associated with. Dunga was criticised for having called for a more European-based style of football as the squad evolved through the 90s.
“At least we won,” Dunga famously snapped when his team’s World Cup achievements were belittled. “The 1982 squad could not do that. What good is beauty when results don’t come?”
His words were of course unpopular back home but he was right. Dunga was as thick skinned off the pitch as he was on it, even reportedly staging a dressing room coup in order to take the captaincy from an out of form Rai at the beginning of USA 1994.
The system utilised by boss Carlos Alberto Parreira in that tournament was hinged on using Dunga as the midfield linchpin, and the duo of Romario and Bebeto fired in a total of eight goals between them as Brazil went on to lift the trophy. Two wins and a draw saw the Selecao easily advance beyond the group stages, but they would need the grit of Dunga to help them as they came up against tougher sides.
A 1-0 win over the home side USA would follow and Brazil then faced the Netherlands in the quarter-final at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. After racing to a 2-0 lead, their opponents would soon fight back to 2-2, Dennis Bergkamp and Aron Winter dragging the Dutch back into the game. An unusually steadfast Brazil won the tie thanks to an 81st minute goal from Branco and then advanced to the final with Italy following a 1-0 win over Sweden in the semi.
That famous penalty shoot-out following a 0-0 draw after extra time saw Franco Baresi and Daniele Massaro miss, before Roberto Baggio blasted his spot-kick into orbit. Dunga was one of three Brazilians who would find the back of the net to take the trophy.
The gritty midfielder may not have set that tournament alight with sensational strikes, nor created headlines like his attacking counterparts. But he would provide the backbone of a solid team that would have been revered in European countries like Germany or even Italy, his only crime being not to appease the attacking football aficionados back home.
That thick skin was once again called into action when Dunga accepted a role as national team boss in 2006, eventually being dismissed following criticism of his team selections and defeat to the Netherlands in the quarter-finals at World Cup 2010. He was back again following Luis Felipe Scolari’s disastrous campaign four years later, tasked with reviving a Brazil who – courtesy of that 7-1 defeat to Germany – had by then bottomed out.
Perhaps Dunga was the right man to lift the players following that abject humiliation, but his tenure was not lo last. A premature elimination from the Copa America Centenario in 2016 saw him replaced by Tite, but Brazil legend Pele thought he may have been harshly treated.
“I thought that the departure of Dunga was unfair,” the legendary player told reporters at the time. “It was not his fault. He had nothing to do with the situation of Brazil because he did not have time to train. I don’t agree with the criticism. In the whole competitions, the team were changing. Dunga was not guilty of anything.”
Whatever the chatter surrounding Dunga as a player or a boss, nothing can take away his achievements back in 1994, and – the chances are – he pays no need to any attempt to do so.
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Also published on Medium.