“I always dreamed of returning to Europe. I signed with Atlético not only because it was a great contract, but because it is a great opportunity for me and my family.” - Miranda
South American football expert Euan Marshall tells us what we can expect from Atléti's new centre back.
Atlético de Madrid’s latest signing João Miranda de Souza Filho (better known as “Miranda”) has arrived in the capital surrounded by an air of excitement, but also of uncertainty. For European teams, bringing over players directly from South American leagues always represents a gamble, but the 6’1” central defender appears to be a safe bet.
Born in the southern Brazilian state of Paraná, Miranda came through the ranks at Coritiba and quickly became a first team regular. He made his debut in the Copa Libertadores – South America’s answer to the Champions League – at the tender age of 19, where he was the standout performer in a poor campaign for Coritiba.
In 2005 he spent an underwhelming season at Sochaux in France, but the player himself maintains that the spell helped him to grow as a player, and he gained valuable experience playing in midfield and full-back roles as well as his favoured position in the centre of defence. His happiness suffered though, and in 2006 he sealed his return to Brazil with a one-year loan deal to São Paulo, which later became a permanent contract. At São Paulo, club coach Muricy Ramalho shaped the defence around him and the Tricolor went on a fantastic league run, winning three consecutive Brazilian league titles between 2006 and 2008.
Miranda is a tall, lanky central defender, characterised by his superb marking and astonishing pace. He is part of a new breed of quick, athletic central defenders who are also very comfortable in possession. He has sublime passing skills, and is blessed with the vision to play killer defence-splitting passes, even from deep in central defence. A lot of that can be ascribed to his short time at Sochaux, where he often played in midfield and was encouraged to attack.
A player of Miranda’s talents is wasted in the Brazilian league. This is not an affront to the quality of the league (quality that is, de facto, criminally underrated in Europe), but about the tactics and general style of play. In Brazil defensive lines play very deep, meaning defenders are seldom required to have any pace. Furthermore the league’s flair players are given acres of space in which to operate, and they receive plenty of protection from referees. In these conditions, Miranda’s real strengths of killer pace and pin-point marking are never used to their full potential.
Another Brazilian defender who found himself in a similar situation was Milan’s Thiago Silva. Back in 2008 while he was playing for Fluminense, Thiago and Miranda were without question the two best central defenders in Brazil. At the time they were very similar players, quick, strong and able to come forward with possession. To add to that they were both 23 years old (Miranda is older by only two weeks) and on the fringes of the Brazil national team. With the Seleção’s defensive pairing of Lúcio and Juan getting older by the day, the hope was that Thiago Silva and Miranda would eventually replace them.
– Miranda and Thiago Silva side-by-side in 2007 (Picture: globoesporte.com)
However, at the end of 2008 and with Europe’s big clubs calling, the duo’s paths separated. Thiago Silva left for AC Milan in a €10 million deal, but after winning his third successive national championship at São Paulo, Miranda decided to stay put in Brazil. The rest, as they say, is history. Thiago Silva took a little time to get going, but has since adapted in Italy and arguably has become the top central defender in the world game at the moment. Miranda had two frustrating seasons at São Paulo, with injuries keeping him out of some key games and the club performing poorly after the departure of Miranda’s greatest admirer Ramalho. In January of 2011, at the age of 26, Miranda perhaps realised the foolishness of his decision to stay, and signed a pre-contract agreement with Atleti.
The big question regarding the majority of South American players moving to Europe is that of whether the player can adapt well to the new league. However, with a player such as Miranda, who has obvious talent and determination, the more pressing question is whether it's perhaps too late for him to realise his full potential. At 26 years old he will certainly have his doubters, but this author sees no reason why he cannot be a huge hit at Atlético and achieve his own personal goal, a way back in to the Seleção.
With their poor defensive performances of last season, along with the departure of Tomáš Ujfaluši, Miranda could be just the player that Atlético are looking for going into the new season under Gregorio Manzano. There are plenty of fellow Brazilians in the squad to help Miranda acclimatise, like Elías and Filipe Luís, and alongside Uruguayan Diego Godín there is certainly the wherewithal to form a solid partnership in the centre of the Atleti defence.