You may have realised by now that I kinda like this Oscar kid. He wears the No. 11 for both Chelsea and Brazil (Thanks, Neymar), and is one of the most promising young talents in all of the world. While earlier in his career, Oscar had been compared to Brazilian legend Kaka, most probably due to their similar statures, he's now grown out of that label, instead moulding his own footballing personality.
Only one Brazilian 10... via www.futaa.com
To truly assess Oscar as a player, I think it's essential to analyse Brazilian football as a whole. Brazil is regarded by many to be the greatest footballing nation to ever be, having won 5 World Cups, and being the only team to successfully qualify for every World Cup to date. Despite their strong footballing culture, however, it wasn't until the mid-50's that Brazil truly asserted themselves as a dominant force in the global game. It was then that their style of play became a trademark, with elusive dribblers in Pele and Garrincha playing in the forward line of an unorthodox 4-2-4 formation being supplied by players like Didi and Zito. With their rigid defense and and swift attack, one of the finest displays of football ever seen was created. It was commented by Italian journalist Thomas Mazzoni that, "English football, well played, is like a symphonic orchestra; well played, Brazilian football is like an extremely hot jazz band."
Despite the dazzling play of the team of the late '50s, however, it's the team of the '70s whose style is most similar to that of the recent Seleção teams. With the skill of iconic figures in Pele, Jairzinho and Rivelino combined with defensive prowess through prominent figures such as Carlos Alberto, a functional unit was formed, with a group of improvisational geniuses working together in harmony to paint the art of football in the most creative of styles.
Brazil's footballing identity since then has been the same, more or less. While European influence has perhaps led to slightly more bureaucratic, systematic football (especially so under former coach Dunga during the 2010 World Cup), they still possess one of the most creative and artistic styles of football on the planet. Be it their ball playing defenders or swift moving forwards, Brazilian players seem to naturally possess dribbling skill and a love for having the ball at their feet.
The cutest goal celebration ever? via 25.media.tumblr.com
So how does this relate to Oscar? Well, Oscar is Brazilian, but he's not really Brazilian, per se. Gilberto Freyre wrote in 1959, "The Brazilians play football as if it were a dance…for [they] tend to reduce everything to dance, work and play alike." While Oscar does possess a certain skill with the ball while dribbling, he doesn't fit the stereotype of a typical Brazilian No. 10 (Piss off, Neymar). If I were to describe a Neymar, or Ronaldinho or going back to Pele and Garrincha if you may, you'd say that they were fast, brash, tricky, skillful by nature and capable of a large repertoire of creative moves.
How about Oscar, though? How many of us would comfortably classify him in the same genus as the aforementioned players? Personally, I think Oscar is a different kind of player. While he does possess immense levels of skill both on and off the ball, and has almost trademarked the backheel flick for himself, he is a much different player to the others, and, dare I say it, more well-rounded and intelligent (but I'll get to that later...). Oscar's dribbling, while at an elite level, is not as pleasing to the eye as that of a stereotypical Brazilian attacking midfielder. Rather, he seems lanky and clumsy when on the ball, almost trudging unwillingly at times to get from one point to another... and yet, despite this apparent awkwardness on the ball, you'll find that most of the time, he gets out the other end of a defender with the ball still at his feet.
When I wrote about Oscar earlier in the year, I particularly noticed two of his traits, his willingness to track deep, pick up the ball from the defenders before turning around and spearheading the attack from his own half; as well as his ability to harass and mark the opposition's deep lying playmaker out of the game.
Let's disregard the second point for a moment and look at the first, leading the attack from deep. This, in my opinion, will be a crucial part of Chelsea's play next season. We don't have (and don't look like signing) a deep lying playmaker in the squad, so a problem from last season remains; a gap between the defence and attack, without anyone to really link play in the middle of the field. Fortunately with a now apt manager, I think it's fair to assume that we'll be switching to a 4-3-3 as our primary formation this season, rather than a 4-2-3-1 which is ill suited to quite a few of our players.
In a 4-3-3, Oscar would be playing as a CM/CAM in the midfield three. Here, he not only has the opportunity to join the attack in the final third of the pitch when we're dominating possession, but it also capitalises on Oscar's skill in linking defence with attack. Many lamented that the reason that Oscar's performances declined under Rafa was because he was pushed out to the wing, however I beg to differ. He's played on the wing quite a lot recently for Brazil, with Neymar behind the striker, and his performances have still been at a high level. So what is it that caused the form drop?
Benitez is known for having a very systematic approach to football. We saw, when he first came in, that the wingers especially were given very little freedom to push forward, rather being given a strictly defensive role. This resulted in two consecutive 0-0 draws. Obviously after that, things opened up a bit, and there was more of a balance between offense and defence, but Oscar still didn't improve. Under Rafa, players were told to stick to their positions and were given specific roles in games. That didn't suit Oscar, and I guess here we see the Brazilian in him. While some players may be able to carry out specific roles, Oscar is a player who thrives on more freedom, as we saw under Di Matteo, particularly when played in the middle of the pitch. While playing on the wings obviously had somewhat of a detrimental effect on Oscar's game, it wasn't the sole purpose for his decline. The fact that he wasn't able to drift deep into the centre of the pitch and direct the Chelsea attacks is what led to his spiral in form.
As we saw later in the season as even more of a balance was achieved in the squad, and more freedom was given to the players, Oscar's form consequently improved. As we can see, his average community rating in his last four games of the season was 7.5, as compared to his average of 6.5 in the whole Interim period.
Oscar vs Spain (H) Confederations Cup HD 720p by Galla (via chelseaOscar11i)
Here's a compilation of Oscar's touches against Spain (or you can watch it here for an uncropped version). It's missing a few tackles, I think, which I really wanted to stress on, but nonetheless, there are a few interesting points to take away.
In the Confederations Cup, Oscar was given less of an offensive role, perhaps due to being fatigued from playing over 80 games in 12 months, or to give Neymar and Hulk more freedom to attack. At 4:28 in the video, you see Oscar receive the ball in his own half, leading a counterattack with Neymar and Fred the two players ahead of him. Here, rather than choosing to run the ball, he gives it early to Neymar, who then takes it to the edge of the box before support comes via a well timed run from Oscar. Oscar receives the ball surrounded by no less than seven Spaniards and one Fred standing in his way. Here, however, some clever improvisation included a swift pass off the outside of his foot to set up Neymar for a scintillating goal.
This goal not only represented Oscar's ability to start attacks from deep, but also his cool head, intelligent play and classy link up.
His control of the game doesn't only come through picking up the ball from deep positions. Oscar also possesses a gift in passing the football, and is very good at controlling the tempo of the game (again, going back to his footballing intelligence). By the 86th minute of the game, Brazil were well ahead and had wrapped up the game. At 7:26 in the video, Oscar completely slows down the speed of the play. He literally shut out a whole 30 seconds of the game, resulting in a much cooler tempo for Brazil to finish the game on a high.
Oscar provides another valuable asset to both Brazil and Chelsea. The reason he was played on the wings by both Rafa Benitez and Luiz Felipe Scolari is because of his willingness to track back and put in a shift in defence. This proved vital for Brazil, particularly in the final, as he not only exempted Neymar from any defensive duties, but also gave more freedom for the likes of Dani Alves, Marcelo and David Luiz to push forward and support the attack.
In the final, the fullbacks pushed up much more towards the end of the match, once Spain had tired and basically given up any hope of a comeback. You can see him covering for both fullbacks at 6:53, 7:09 and 7:17. You can also see in this compilation of Marcelo's touches, Oscar covers for him in two other occasions, at 3:45 and 4:20. If you watch the rest of that video, you'll realise that most of Marcelo's touches towards the end of the game were in attacking positions, much thanks to the impressive defensive shift put in by Oscar.
More Confederations Cup winner's medals than Messi... via si0.twimg.com
After saying all this, I think I have to go back to the point about Oscar 'not being Brazilian' again. As I type this, Oscar's been crowned by ESPN Brazil as the best Europe-based Brazilian (ahead of the likes of Thiago Silva David Luiz, Dani Alves, Lucas Moura and more), so my claim of his not being Brazilian might be a little ludicrous. Still, I stick by it.
Oscar showed through his defensive grit and reduced role in the Confederations Cup that he has something that a lot of Brazilian players don't possess. While most of the nation's representatives have been blessed with flair and skill, Oscar provides something much more than that. Yes, he is skilled, and does have flair, but that's not all there is to him. He's hard working, full of grit and determination, motivated to succeed. He's willing to sacrifice an attacking role in order to help his team, and that's something you don't see in many players around the world, let alone Brazilians, whose game is born on attack.
I've spent quite a while writing this, and there's a bit more that I want to say too, but I've suddenly got a case of writer's block and have been staring blankly at the screen for 15 minutes. I'll leave it at this, and, who knows, maybe I'll write more in another piece.
To sum up, I guess, I'd say that Oscar is Brazil's most important player for the 2014 World Cup. The attention may all be focused on Neymar now, and with a season at Barcelona he's bound to improve even more, but I don't think he'll be able to perform unless Oscar does too. Oscar will also be one of the vital players for Chelsea this season, and for a 4-3-3 to work, we'll need him to to really click this season.
I thoroughly believe that Oscar is already one of the most intelligent footballers in Europe, after only one season. He's the one player I'm looking forward to seeing improve under Mourinho, simply because of how much talent he has, and the immense ceiling he can reach.
Oscar dos santos Emboaba Júnior. Remember that name.