Brazil named their 23-man squad for the 2014 World Cup Wednesday, forgoing the traditional 30 man provisional announcement in order to get the predictable scuttlebut out of the way. It can be found here.
Though most agreed it was a fairly non-controversial squad as it goes, with Big Phil Scolari mostly relying on the squad who won the 2013 Confederations Cup, there was a bit of second guessing. After all, as with any 23 man list, there were absentees: World Cup veterans like Kaka and Robinho, Liverpool wunderkind Coutinho, Lucas Moura, Atletico stars Miranda and Filipe Luis were not on the list.
Brazil’s example though gives us a few things to remember as the provisional and final World Cup squads are announced in succession over the next few weeks.
Teams will play at most seven matches in a one month period
It’s a short tournament, luck plays a factor, anything can happen and not all of it can be attributed to a poor World Cup selection. But the other point to be made here is that smart managers, particularly ones with the luxury of having to select among like-for-like players for the 23 man roster, will opt for a team they know they can work with over a short period of time.
This is why Scolari was smart in selecting from the core of the Confed Cup squad, with some notable exceptions. This is also why relative appearances for clubs may not matter as much as recent national team experience.
Deeper talent pools magnify potential selection “controversies”
When a player pool is thin, selection becomes far more academic. But with nations like Brazil and Spain, where managers are faced with a surfeit of playing talent at some of the world’s best football clubs, the omission of one player in favour of another will seem more egregious than it actually is. But for depth in positions which are rarely substituted (CBs), it’s mostly just white noise.
Judging player value on a World Cup team is often a messy, subjective business anyway
For one, club stats don’t always carry through to national team stats for a lot of players. For another, there aren’t many agreed on objective markers for quality across all possible worlds (that are publicly available). Atletico are having a stellar year and Filipe Luis and Miranda are part of that, but it’s arguably a bigger risk to assume that what works with Simeone in La Liga is going to work with Brazil in the World Cup than to go with who you know (Henrique and Palmeiras).
Tactical preferences sometimes sacrifice overall quality for utility
This ties in with the “seven game max” provision, but sometimes managers with a specific tactical preference may make selections that appear bizarre on the outside but fit in with an overall tactical preference which may or may not be public knowledge. This includes crafting a team with the group opponents in mind, and a realistic expectation of knockout stage opponents.
So what seems like a weird omission to you may be because the manager wants the team to play a certain way. Or maybe it’s because that player is kind of a divisive jerk. Remember the unknown unknowns.