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The Limits of the World Cup

April 21, 2011

Juca Kfouri: inspiration & character

Juca Kfouri is probably my favourite football journalist, writer and chronicler of all time.

Economical and elegant, passionate and yet somewhat reserved, Juca sounds and writes like a Brazilian Englishman.

Bearer of a highly political character, Juca was part of the 1970s militant movement of Corinthians fans that fought for Democracy during the days of Military rule in Brazil.

He continues to fight for transparency and common sense in his homeland to this day, often loudly criticizing Brazil’s football organizers, particularly Ricardo Teixeira, the President of the Brazilian FA (CBF), a man whom Juca calls “the sub-boss of the Brazilian football Mafia.” The top boss being, of course, Joao Havelange, Teixeira’s ex-father-in-law, and the man who put him in charge of CBF in 1989…many years ago…

And let us not forget that big boss Havelange was FIFA’s President from 1974 to 1998. Indeed, this big Brazilian Mafia keeps the world of football within the family.

Unfortunately, Juca isn’t often read outside Brazil, since he writes in his native Portuguese.

Until now!

I have taken matters into my own hands, and below you shall find a translation of one of Juca’s articles, done by yours truly.

The article was originally published on July 24th, 2006, in the Folha de Sao Paulo, shortly after the 2006 World Cup in Germany. In it, you can get a glimpse of his style (I hope) and ironic tone. In a way, the article not only gives you a sense of his views on the 2006 tournament, but on the World Cup as a whole. He also used that opportunity to criticize the star-studded Brazil team that failed to display any sense of passion for the game or will to win.

I plan on publishing more translations of Juca’s works in the near future. I shall file it all under the tag “Juca Kfouri Series“.

I hope you enjoy his (and mine) words.

A little introduction first =

It’s hard to be convinced, no matter how much you love club football, that a World Cup title bears little relevance. There’s a special aura around that tournament; it’s hard to describe it. Back in the days of the “old Brazil”, a lot of the fun came from watching the footballer from your local club wear that famous golden shirt at the big international stage. However, nowadays, due to the exodus of Brazilian footballers, who usually play in Europe or anywhere else where the paycheck is fatter, many fans tend to follow international leagues through the television, forgetting about the local games happening in their own cities. The fun now comes in following where in the world your favourite Brazilian local player will end up after he “makes it.”

There are hardly any local idols in Brazil these days. The game has, in Brazil or anywhere else for that matter, been internationalized through heavy marketing and a globalized economy.

Will things ever change? Will the booming Brazilian economy become strong enough to hold on to the local stars in the future? Maybe…

Whatever happens, I’m sure Juca will be there to tell us all about it.

But for now…patience.


The Limits of the World Cup, by Juca Kfouri

Some reflection and much reading on the theme (or is it the other way around?) allow for an audacious affirmation, almost a heresy: the World Cup is pretty cool, but it’s also crap.

Audacious, but not an original conclusion.

Antonio Carlos Jobim used to say, while living in the United States, “New York is very nice, but it’s shit. Brazil, on the other hand, is shit, but it’s very nice.”

It’s the same with the World Cup.

We enjoy waiting for it and living it every four years as though it were the Christmas day of our childhood.

Only it’s not quite like that, or it’s less like that every time.

From the great festival of football that it used to be, the World Cup has become a mega event where football is a minor detail.

Incomparably more delightful are our local championships, the games of our own teams and neighbourhoods.

The World Cup is now so candy-coated that, for the very first time, I listened to the national anthem far away from the homeland and I did not get emotional.

Our team looked like it was made of plastic, the ball looked like it was made of plastic, the grass on the pitch looked like it was made of plastic and some stadiums were, in fact, made of plastic, or almost. Gorgeous venues, like the one in Munich, but cold, frigid, not welcoming, not hospitable.

And let’s not forget that the Germans did everything they could in order to be gracious hosts.

And they were exemplary.

But there is something out of order in the World Cup.

Ostentation, new-richness, a stage for emerging and ambitions nations, limos, designer suits and ties, questionable characters, ruby cheeks due to heat, not shame. And strange crowds of fans.

Perhaps that’s why, to me, Zinedine Zidane’s headbutt was more symbolic, and less on the chest of the Italian player that offended him – targeted at the hypocrisy of it all.

It was an “enough” with the artificiality of an event that was celebrated in the name of racial tolerance, but that displayed no black coaches, except for Angola’s.

Why was the Ivory Coast manager a white Frenchman, Ghana’s a white Serbian, and Togo’s a white German?

Black referees, in a group of more than two-dozen officials, were only two, one from Jamaica and the other from Benin.

What about a black person in FIFA’s high command?

As far as we can see, none!

The World Cup is no longer the Holy Grail, as our players in Germany can confirm.

No one fights for it as if they were fighting for food anymore; after all, everyone is very well fed these days, fortunately. Some are even chubby.

The tournament seduces me less and less, because it has become less of a stage for good competition, and more of a counter for business, whose main goal is to sell the next attraction, the next World Cup, because the one happening at that particular moment is already sold. And well sold.

Then, sold as such, screw the spectacle, screw the athletes – tired at the end of their football season – screw the terrible heat during games that “needed” to be scheduled at noon, as we saw in Mexico and the United States.

After all, there will always be a large crowd of people, not necessarily lovers of football, but lovers of the party around the game, who will use the opportunity to channel their nationalistic feelings through a World Cup.

I still prefer my local team.


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