It might seem strange, given their commitment to attacking and flair, but the platform for the golden age of Brazilian football was provided by a defensive change. In the 1950s, Brazil dropped an extra player into the heart of defence, creating the modern back four.
As a result, more cover in the middle allowed Brazil's full-backs to push forward and enjoy the space in front of them. Thus, the attacking full-back was born -- a vital part of the Brazilian mix ever since Nilton Santos scored an unexpected goal from left-back in their 1958 opener. But at the moment that Brazil's fifth (and so far final) World Cup win in 2002 was getting underway, the latest off the production line of attacking full-backs came into this world.
New Manchester City signing Yan Couto was born on June 3, 2002 just as Cafu was charging up and down the right flank against Turkey, and eventually captaining the team to World Cup glory in Japan and South Korea. And the 17-year-old promises to be a worthy heir to a tradition which, at right-back at least, has endured some dry times.
The 2001 Brazil Under-20 team produced the awesomely strong Maicon as an attacking right-back. Two years later the No.2 shirt belonged to the sublime Daniel Alves -- who all these years later remains the captain of the national team, in part because there has been a dearth of successors. The 2005 U20 right-back was the splendid Rafinha who, incredibly, has only played a couple of friendlies for the senior Brazil side and even flirted with the idea of representing Germany. Since then, though, things have been disappointing -- until Yan Couto emerged in magnificent style in the recent U17 World Cup.
Brazil won the trophy on home soil, but they kept having to dig themselves out of a hole, coming close to defeat in both the semifinal against France and the final against Mexico. More than anyone else, it was Yan Couto who helped them out of trouble. He showed the full four attributes of the attacking full-back: pace down the flank; the lung power to keep running; the technique to hurt the opposing defence with dribbles, passes and crosses; and the decision-making discernment to choose the right option.
All through the tournament Yan Couto was the team's "out ball." When Brazil were chasing games they often brought on a more defensive right-back and freed him up to roam high. It proved a wise move. He laid on the vital equaliser against France and the dramatic late winner against the Mexicans in the final.
It was clear that Yan Couto was not going to spend long in domestic Brazilian football and, after interest from Barcelona, he has now been confirmed as a Manchester City player. City manager Pep Guardiola knows a thing or two about attacking full-backs, having shaped Dani Alves at Barcelona, though the youngster will have to wait until June to make the move across the Atlantic.
More waiting may be necessary. It will take a while before he makes it into first-team contention -- after all, he has only played two games at senior level for Coritiba -- but he is a piece of lucrative business for the club. The fee is a reported €6 million, which could double in add-ons if he lives up to expectations. That makes him the most expensive player Coritiba have ever sold -- curiously taking over from Rafinha, who joined Schalke in Germany for €5m back in 2005.
A decade and a half later, Rafinha is still going strong in Flamengo's all-conquering team; Yan Couto has the potential to enjoy a career every bit as successful. And, without a lot of competition on the horizon, he will be dreaming of a long stint in the national side in addition to making his name in the Premier League.