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Uncertain Brazil(s)

November 14, 2010

President-elect Dilma Rousseff...kicking Brazil into a brighter future??

A long, long time ago (May 2010, to be precise) my pre-World Cup motto was this: “Dunga, I believe!”

That was my mantra. My single most powerful belief:

Dunga, I believe! I believe that we are not, as many people say, “pragmatic”. I believe, Dunga. We’ll be just fine…

Of course, in the end, my blind faith in the truculent Gaucho manager was just that: blind – without any real foundation or justification. Faith, in its purest form.

Once again, the Samba Boys were left behind, watching the action from the distant balcony seats of a quarter-final exit.

And, like a classic whiny Brazilian, I still feel rather used – thanks Dunga. For the most part, the fans are still living the soapy drama of a bitter break-up. Hurting. The future we had envisioned for ourselves never happened; and instead we were forced to deal with the harsh reality that Brazilians were no longer the Kings of Football.

Times have changed.

Mano Menezes, an unknown and enthusiastic coach that had experienced modest – but significant – success in the local league, was appointed Brazil’s new boss a few weeks after the World Cup final. Rapidly, Mano sought to disassociate himself from his predecessor’s cranky persona. He was all smiles to the press, and completely in tune with the demands of the fans. He even set up a personal Twitter account, and regularly appeared on talk shows, promising to bring back the dancing style and flair of Brazilian football.

However, Mano’s mission has been a difficult one. Despite an impressive and stylish victory over the United States in his debut with the national side, Mano’s following endeavours against Iran and Ukraine were not pleasing to the eyes.  The team continued to struggle with a lack of creativity in the midfield, and poor passing quality all around.

Mano’s revolution is still in its early stages, and Brazilians have never been so skeptical about the future of their footballing culture as they are now. Moreover, the pressure of preparing for a historical World Cup on home soil in 2014 has proven to be yet another challenge for Mano, his team and his country.

…not to mention that before that massive event, Mano will tackle the 2011 Copa America, the 2012 Olympics, the 2013 Confederations Cup, and dozens more friendly matches…

Thus, morose and doubtful, Brazilians turned their attention somewhere else, gearing themselves towards the October Presidential Elections. These were especially significant days because, finally, after fourteen years in the Opposition, and eight years as President of the Republic, legendary Labour leader Luis Inacio Lula da Silva would step down.

Another break-up ensued.

Elected by Popularity:

On October 31st, as millions of Brazilians went to the polls to choose a new President, numbers showed that Lula held an approval rating of 80%.

I will repeat that:

80% approval!

The man personifies popularity. From extreme poverty, illiteracy, political exile, and against all odds, Lula’s journey is nothing short of spectacular. It could, indeed, be defined as a phenomenon. Similarly to Ronaldo’s fifteen World Cup goals and three Player of the Year awards, Lula’s fourteen years of struggle towards presidency, and eight years in office, dramatically reshaped Brazil and defined a generation.

Nevertheless, similarly to Ronaldo’s long list of injuries and controversies, Lula’s reign as Head of State had its share of disappointments and political scandals. This is Brazil after all; swamped with corruption of Biblical proportions. However, again, as in the case of Ronaldo, Lula’s image has remained unshaken by the storms of fiascos, and his popularity seems indestructible.

Remember, 80% approval.

Brazilians are a positive bunch. Controversies and dark passages receive little attention in their history books. They are a people who crave glory and fun, always. So what if some of Lula’s Ministers stole a bit of money?! Almost 30 million Brazilians left misery and reached the middle class. Done: 80% glory.

Mission accomplished.

But what about Brazil post-Lula?

Dilma Rousseff, Lula’s former Chief of Staff, and a career civil servant who has never held an elected office before, became Brazil’s President-elect on October 31st, 2010.

For the first time in its history, Brazil will have a lady as President of the Republic. Indeed, a landmark to be celebrated with much joy and heavy samba. However, even though Dilma has had Lula’s unreserved support every step of the way, Brazilians remain somewhat skeptical. After all, Dilma has very little political experience, and what’s worse: she is not Lula. It’s as simple as that.

Certainly, Dilma has promised continuity and to plough ahead with Lula’s vision of a more socially just Brazil, but the cold truth of the matter is that she lacks his charms, charisma and warmth. In fact, she has been called “the iron lady of Brazil” before.

Ironically, as Mano Menezes attempts to reintroduce a sense of ease and graceful flair in his Brazil, Dilma’s style resembles that of Dunga. She even attended university in Dunga’s home State of Rio Grande do Sul – the tough Gaucho State famous for its large population of German immigrants.

Therefore, while within the football pitch we begin to witness a Brazil that grows softer and nimbler every day, President-elect Dilma is more likely to give the country a make over that results in a strict and tougher facade.

But all of that is theoretical, of course…

The bottom line is: no one has the slightest idea what her government will look like. Looking at Dilma now, in her executive suits and polished hairdo, it is hard to believe she once was a leader of urban guerrillas during Brazil’s military dictatorship age. Furthermore, while Chief of Staff, she used to be known for bearing pro-choice views on abortion, and for speaking for women’s rights. But all of that quickly faded away as she assumed a more pragmatic philosophy in order to gain votes, rubbing shoulders with Brazil’s large population of religious conservatives. In short, Brazilians have no idea who this woman is. That’s the truth.

All they have is faith. Faith in Lula’s faith in this woman. Faith in the words of a man who holds extremely high approval ratings.

And that is all.

Mano’s Mysteries:

And what about Mano’s plans for the future of Brazilian football, as we head towards 2014?

Well, therein lies another enigma.

Mano has yet to define his strategy in restoring the Jogo Bonito.  We cannot tell if he’s largely focused on the 2014 World Cup anymore, since he has just reinstated Ronaldinho, at 31 years of age. And why haven’t Maicon, Julio Cesar and Lucio been recalled at all, since they were the ones that did shine at the World Cup and could now help the younger generation with the transition from Dunga to Mano? Or is he thinking about the 2012 Olympics? If so, given that most players at that tournament must be part of the Under-23 class, why are the inconsistent veterans Robinho, Alex Costa and Rever in the squad?

Who knows…

Seriously, who knows?!

Foggy Future:

Dilma is said to represent a change in the status quo, a symbol of feminism finally conquering one of the most macho countries in the world. However, gender equality and women’s rights were never priorities during her long campaign. In fact, she may have retarded the growth of progressive thinking in Brazil after vowing to honor archaic church beliefs in matters such as abortion.

Mano Menezes, meanwhile, has vowed to bring Brazil back to its roots. He has promised to reinstate the Jogo Bonito and the flow of improvised joy on the pitch…but he continues to ignore many obvious choices amongst footballers (Bruno Cesar, Jonas, Renato Augusto), including the very best Brazilian player in activity: Hernanes. Mano has yet to define his plan of action.

In short, it’s all one big blur, really.

Brazilian football lost a bit of its spark after Dunga, and so will the country embark upon a shady and foggy journey once Lula steps down and Dilma takes over.

No one really knows what Mano and Dilma are capable of. Internationally, they are bold question marks. We are completely unfamiliar with their skills and limitations.

Everything makes me feel rather nervous and fearful. It could be great, it could be awful. 50-50…

Are we moving towards the light, or just digging another hole?

Is my motto still “I believe”?
God no.

At best, it is merely “boy…I hope you know what you’re doing. I’ll be here, you know, in case you need me. Just give me a holler. Otherwise, I really, really hope you understand the kind of responsibility you now have in your hands…”

A bit long, I know.

But honest.

Honesty. Something to keep in mind for the next 4 years.


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