LONDON – While all eyes will undoubtedly be firmly fixed on Brazil's latest sensation this month as the Selecao sets its sights on the Copa America, its fortunes lay firmly rested on the shoulders of another - Neymar's Santos sidekick Paulo Henrique Ganso.
The gangly playmaker, with just one international cap to his name, will set foot on the biggest stage of his young career holding the key to achieving what Brazilian soccer seems most desperate for, what two-time World Cup winner Didi once labelled Jogo Bonito.
Having been tasked with succeeding the lugubrious Dunga epoch that culminated in Brazil's unceremonious exit from the World Cup at the hands of a Netherlands team every bit as pragmatic as their own, new coach Mano Menezes was charged by the CBF (Brazilian Football Confederation) with not only appeasing almost 200 million expectant fans with success, but simultaneously keeping one eye on his side's progress ahead of the World Cup in three years' time while achieving it beautifully.
Brazilian anthropologist Roberto da Matta once described his country's soccer style as "Jogo de cintura (a waist game), a kind of malice and swindling, which you don't find in any other football. It is the art of dodging."
Prior to Menezes' arrival there seemed plenty of malice in Brazil's ruthless counter-attack, but not so much of the artful dodging.
Menezes' tenure kicked off in New Jersey almost a year ago when a totally new-look Brazil blew away the USA 2-0 at New Meadowlands Stadium. "Football is joy!" roared Globo as Mano's young guns ran riot, ushering in a new era. Neymar starred on his debut, capping a wonderful performance with a superbly taken goal as the new coach's preferred 4-2-3-1 formation was unleashed for the first time.
Menezes also solved a problem his predecessor had so desperately struggled with, recalling Andre Santos to slot peerlessly in at left-back. The two holding midfielders Felipe Melo and Gilberto Silva - by now seen as a symbol of Dunga's negativity - were replaced with the fresh-faced duo of Lucas Leiva and Ramires.
Thiago Silva, too, came in and looked imperious in the center of defense. Robinho was made captain and seemed to revel in the role, providing the perfect figure to bridge the generational gap with a CV and status to impress the new generation while exhibiting a youthful demeanour required to relate to them on a personal level.
But most importantly, Brazil had found its playmaker. Its creative hub. A midfielder that can pass the ball - something that has been glaringly absent from Brazilian soccer in recent times. The simple act of passing in soccer seems an inherently infectious act. If one member of the team repeatedly receives the ball, and then immediately gives it to another, the rest seem to follow, as if they want to join in.
Drifting between the lines, tik-ing and tak-ing, Ganso instantly proved the catalyst to a new Brazil, inspiring those around him to pass and move, and then pass again.
It was the perfect start. So perfect, in fact, that it must since have become something of an annoyance to the 49-year-old, as his team has repeatedly failed to live up to the extraordinarily high standards it set that evening.
Victories over Iran and Ukraine followed, leaving Menezes with a perfect record of played three, won three; scored seven, conceded none. But the performances failed to make as much of a lasting impression. The only notable change: Ganso was absent after suffering an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury whilst playing for his club.
Menezes then set about experimenting with his Ganso-less Brazil. Ronaldinho was recalled for the 1-0 defeat to Argentina, but flattered to deceive. Lazio's Hernanes came into the team for the friendly against France, and was expected to thrive in the 'hole' just as Ganso had, but Menezes instead employed what more closely resembled a 4-4-2, leaving Hernanes marginalised on the left side of midfield prior to his 40th minute red card. "This type of violence is not typical from Hernanes," said his coach, springing to his defense. Neither was his selection - the former Sao Paulo man has failed to make a squad since.
Ganso: Understated Protagonist
When naming his preliminary 28-man squad in May, Menezes confirmed his confidence in Ganso by insisting the Santos playmaker was only absent from the list because of injury. "We are going to pick 22 players for the Copa America," he said, "with one other player who is not on the list - Paulo Henrique Ganso. He is injured and we want to be sure of his fitness in order to make the decision."
That decision was never any doubt once the 21-year-old's participation in the second leg of the Copa Libertadores final was confirmed and having made history by helping his club see off Penarol of Uruguay to lift Santos' first Libertadores title in almost half a century, Menezes is confident that 'the Goose' is ready to make more.
"I don't deny that Ganso is best suited to be the attacking midfielder," said his coach, adding that now "he needs to make history in the Selecao." While the cameras will all focus their lenses on the Mohican-topped Neymar this month, Brazil's true protagonist will most likely be some 20 yards back, languidly conducting his team's play with an elegance rarely seen from the modern Brazilian international.
Rupert Fryer is the co-founder and editor of SouthAmericanFootball.co.uk . You can follow him on Twitter at @Rupert_Fryer .