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The Birth of Football in Brazil

July 14, 2014
Charles Miller. Moustached father of Brazilian football.

Charles Miller. Moustached father of Brazilian football.


The 2014 World Cup has come to a close.

It’s useful, if not necessarily therapeutic, to remember the very beginning of a tale when things come to an end.

The combined scores of Brazil’s defeats against the World Champions Germany and the Netherlands display absurdly shocking results: 10 x 1 for the visitors.

Brazil have now entered a new footballing category in World Cup history, that of teams that allow staggering amounts of goals into their net. In the Selecao‘s company are now the likes of North Korea and Saudi Arabia. Indeed, this is a national disaster for the 5-time World Champions.

Truthfully, Brazil haven’t played stylish Jogo Bonito, or “futebol arte” as we call it, since 1982. Since then we have seen flashes of it here and there, great victories, some defeats, and slightly mediocre Brazil teams that – albeit not made up of ‘artists’ – certainly never managed to taint the legacy of the nation as the spiritual home of the game – as the nostalgically golden standard for beautiful football.

Brazil may not have been utterly brilliant in the last two decades, but they still won tournaments and, more importantly, weren’t as bad as North Korea! Ever!

That image, unfortunately, has now been torn to tatters. Brazil’s football has been conquered, and its future demands a revolution; a profound self-examination.

The brilliantly victorious German reform, which started in 1998 following a dreadful 3-0 defeat against new-kids-on-the-block Croatia, and culminated with their 4th World Cup title at Rio’s Maracana this Sunday, serves as as a powerful and inspirational lesson.

Germany invested in their youth academies, heavily; they reformed their entire approach to football management and administration within the last 15 years. They’ve embraced their multiculturalism and, through it, developed an incredibly strong sense of team-work and classy sportsmanship. They worked at it, diligently and patiently.

Germany are now the standard for modernity and efficient beauty.

Brazilian football must enter the 21st Century too. We must evolve.

But first, a brief pause for nostalgia. Let’s go back in time, all the way to October, 1894. The very birth of football in Brazil.

Let us remember those first steps…

Charles Miller, the son of an Anglo-Brazilian mother and a Scottish immigrant, returns to Brazil after attending boarding school in Southampton, England.

His father awaits his arrival at the port city of Santos, in the State of Sao Paulo. Miller recounts:

On the quay…solemn, as if he were at a funeral, my father was waiting for me to disembark holding my degree certificate. But in fact I appeared in front of him with two footballs, one in each hand … the old man, surprised, enquired:

“What is this Charles?’
‘My degree’, I replied.
‘Yes! Your son has graduated in football …”.
The old man, in good spirits, laughed. I was off the hook ….


Additionally, in his back-pack, Miller brought with him a copy of the Laws of the Game.

A few months later the book of rules had gone viral, fiercely spreading all across Brazil; footballs were made and sold at an increasingly frenetic pace, and hundreds of teams were formed.

Charles Miller changed the cultural landscape of Brazil forever, assisting in the development of the nation’s very sense of identity and pride, and thus establishing football as a pivotal element of Brazil’s heritage.

Thus, football was born in Brazil 120 years ago. It has come a long way, and now, more than ever, it needs help.

Brazil once again needs persistent visionaries like Charles Miller.

The World Cup this year was a success, and Brazilians proved to be gracious, warm hosts. But our football needs mending.

We may be on the quay right now, solemn, as if we were at the funeral that followed the 7-1 thrashing against the Germans…

Let us work so that the next 120 years of Brazilian football never reproduce this kind of pain and void. Let us learn from the Germans.

We owe it to Miller. The man changed a country with just two footballs and a book.

Surely, we have better resources at our disposal today.

Let us use them.




An Erotic Poem For Brazil’s First ‘Keeper

July 11, 2014


Marcos de Mendonca. Fluminense and Brazil keeper. Stud.

Marcos de Mendonca. Fluminense and Brazil keeper. Stud.


One of the key points of discussion and sheer enthusiasm at this 2014 World Cup has been centred around just how phenomenally many goalkeepers have performed.

Well, meet Brazil’s very first man-between-the-posts: Marcos Carneiro de Mendonca – the crucial player behind Brazil’s successful South American title of 1919, and the star of Fluminense’s historic run of victories between 1917-1919. Indeed, one of the most important names in the early days of Brazilian football, and a key figure in the establishment of the sport in the land of Jogo Bonito.

Additionally, his place in history holds particular interest to me, personally, because Marcos de Mendonca was also the father of Barbara Helidora, Brazil’s most prolific theatre critic, and translator/interpreter of William Shakespeare.

Heliodora is about to turn 91 this August, and has only recently finished three new volumes of Portuguese translations of Shakespeare’s Complete Works – all 37 plays! Indeed, Heliodora inherited her brilliant writing skills from her mother, celebrated poetess Ana Amelia.

In fact, Marcos de Mendonca’s stunningly dashing figure and goalkeeping prowess have been immortalized by this delightfully erotic poem by Amelia below – it is one of the first pieces of football writing in Brazilian history, describing the very first time Amelia’s eyes caught sight of the Rio stud in action:

The Leap-

“When I saw you today,
Executing your relaxed, daring and vigorous leap
Like a figure from the Iliad
I trembled in the most intimate part of my being
Swept by a frenetic impulse as if I were before a Greek,
The hero of an Olympiad.

Shaken like Dryad before Apollo
I measure his magnificent figure.

Against the incomparable background of a pale twilight
You threw yourself into space
Tensed all your muscles
Enrapt by the roar of the crowd’s enthusiastic applause
Like an agile God that graciously came down from Olympus
You touched the ground glorious
Fervent and fearless
Perfect in the beauty of the classic Greek sculpture”


– A.Amelia, 1922


The End of the Brazilian Fantasy

July 8, 2014




“The magic is over.”

Parreira said that in 1994, when he led a highly mediocre, and defensively “unBrazilian” Brazil to World Cup glory in the United States.

Nobody took the statement that seriously then, as four years later Brazil had managed to produce a new dazzling, vintage squad – and a new talisman in Ronaldo – reaching the 1998 final and winning ultimate glory once again in 2002.

The Brazil of Jogo Bonito and bombastic football folklore, for all intents and purposes, still pulsated, alive and well.

But then Ronaldo’s brilliant generation retired, and the team underperformed in 2006 and 2010 (then, with a highly defensive, rustic side led by hard-man Dunga); surely, mere glitches; technical, minor mistakes to be corrected at the highly anticipated “Copa das Copas” (THE World Cup), on home soil, in 2014…

For the most part, Brazilians were sure that all would be fixed this year. Scolari, a highly respected figure, was back in charge, and Brazil had produced yet again another talismanic character: Neymar.

The path to the biggest prize in the world of football had been, relatively speaking, smoothly paved.

The political protests that took over the streets last year hadn’t really affected Scolari’s footbal revolution; in fact, they had given his team hopeful fire: a bombastic victory against Spain at the 2013 Confederations Cup final was the announcement that Brazil’s beautiful game had returned home. Surely, now, Brazil would show the planet that the game was theirs; that they were, indeed, the spiritual home of the beautiful game.


The 2014 World Cup had already exposed the dirty inner workings of FIFA, the corruption and brutal spendings of public money. But no one expected it would reveal, to the entire world, that Brazilian football was, de facto, a walking corpse.

Indeed, Brazil were never convincing at this tournament as potential champions, despite making into the semi-finals. The squad showed little tactical brains, and way too much heart – a volatile, angry, petty heart, determined to win at all costs; even if it meant throwing away their legacy of free-flow, carefree football.

The emblematic face of this Brazil, the face of death, will inevitably become Fred. The astonishingly mediocre striker will be immortalized as the symbol of utter failure – Brazil’s worst World Cup defeat in history.

Truthfully, Brazil were lucky to have made it this far. Chile could have easily taken them out quite early in the tournament. And after 5 games of incredibly anxious and inconsistent football, Brazil were ousted by a truly brilliant, magical, imperial (and merciful) German side.

It could have easily been 10 x 0.

Brazil had only one plan for this semi-final match against Germany at the Mineirao Stadium: to score early in the game, and then to hold on to that result for dear life, displaying that same anxiety previously witnessed in the tournament.

But the first goal was German. And the second. And a third, fourth…

Within 25 minutes, the dream was over.

The psychological collapse was tragically Shakespearean in proportion. It was historical.

The final score of 7-1 punctured a colossal hole into the fabric of the football universe.

Brazil’s dreams had been exposed as mere fantasy.

The reality of this, the greatest and most exciting and controversial of World Cups in recent decades, is one of the exposure of the realities of the game.

And in the end, the discipline, hard-work and class that are so evidently the very structure of how football is administrated in Germany won.

The ‘Maracanazo’ ghost of 1950, when Brazil tragically lost the World Cup final against Uruguay at Rio’s Maracana Stadium, haunts on.

Brazil, the country, and its football, remain a fantasy.

A dream.

Only now, the dream has become a nightmare.

Welcome to the post-Mineiraço Era.




As Far As Brazil Go – Probably

July 5, 2014



The joy of Brazil going beyond the quarter-final stages of the World Cup for the first time since 2002 was tainted by the news of Neymar being ruled out of the tournament due to a fractured vertebrate.

Utterly heart-breaking, as Brazil lose not only their talisman number 10, but also their Captain, Thiago Silva, who collected his second yellow card in the highly physical match against Colombia.

And I am rather angry.

It’s been 12 hours or so since the match ended, but I cannot shake the feeling of doom that engulfed the celebrations following the 2-1 victory against what had been, till then, the tournament’s most flamboyant and dazzling team. Sadly, against Brazil, Colombia meant business; hard, physical, bone-shattering business.

Brazil without Neymar are simply not the same, and our chances of beating the extremely efficient machine that is Germany have indeed been diminished.

This Brazilian side is all heart, passion, guts and muscle, and little brains or actual tactics. Scolari still doesn’t know how to best utilize his playmaker Oscar, and Fred has been abysmal as the team’s sole striker. The man is invisible. Useless. A tourist at the World Cup.

Things need to change. And they have already, indeed. The inclusion of Maicon in place of the erratic Dani Alves was a pleasant surprise. And maybe, just maybe, the absence of Neymar will inspire Scolari to be more inventive and industrial in his tactics and formation set-up. Brazil need it.

Regardless, it will be nearly impossible to beat the Germans. Low has been in charge of the squad since 2006, and has established great chemistry between his players. Germany simply work. And they have plenty of individual talent when needed too. It’s a terrifying prospect for Brazil.

Without Silva and Neymar, Brazil’s hopes rest on the shoulders of David Luiz (such fire and panache from the man) and the occasional flash of genius from Oscar…

However, realistically speaking, as names like Ozil, Hummels and Muller come to mind, Brazil better celebrate this hard-earned spot in the semi-finals, and leave it at that.

This is where we stop.






A Thought Before A “Final”

July 4, 2014



Brazil haven’t gone beyond the quarter-final stages of a World Cup since 2002, when they went on to win the tournament.

That was 12 years ago.

Think about it.

That was way before iPods, smartphones, flat-screen TVs, Blu-ray, MySpace, Facebook and Twitter; and Wayne Rooney still had real hair. Pluto’s status as a proper planet hadn’t been challenged. George W. Bush was just getting started. And everyone thought “Chicago” was a good movie.

Let’s just say things have changed since then.

But Brazil, sadly, remain just as shaky as they did in 2006 and 2010, when they were kicked out of the party by France and the Netherlands respectively.

This Friday they face Colombia, the most dazzling team of this 2014 World Cup.

In Brazil’s way is James Rodriguez, the tournament’s top player thus far.

So, will Brazil party like it’s 2002, and finally break free from this quarter-final malaise…?

Undoubtedly, our hope is in the boots of Brazil’s no.10 Neymar.

Neymar, who had actually just turned 10 when Ronaldo won Brazil’s 5th World Cup title in 2002.

Think about it.




Prophetic Ode to Fred

June 10, 2014



Without flash or panache

Without fuss or crazy hair-cuts

Without an inho or an ão

The straight-man to Neymar’s buffoonery

The target muscle man in the box

The Anglicized name that rocks

Nets and the ladies’ hearts

Will probably play the part

Of World Cup God

When he scores more goals than all

A Golden Boot and a Golden Ball

Frederico Chaves Guedes he is called.

A preposterous prophecy, right?




The man who scores goals

Against World Champions

Whilst lying down.





Thinking About Zidane

December 23, 2013
Zinedine Zidane: a portrait of the man for what he was.

Zinedine Zidane: a portrait of the lonely artist in his loneliness.


When I think about French superstar Zinedine Zidane, I do so with terribly mixed feelings.

I confess, with a touch of anxiety even.

The thing is:  I love him – by that I mean: I am absolutely attracted to the way he played football; what he did was sheer art. I want to wholeheartedly embrace his mythical figure, his panache, his achievements as the pinnacle of quality in football since Maradona’s reign – but I can’t. I try, but there’s something within me that stops me from going completely nuts over Zidane, and it’s a struggle. You see, I’m Brazilian.

When I think about Zidane, it’s impossible to separate myself from the bitter memories and the shattered dreams of my  15 year old self. Zidane’s brilliant performance against Brazil in 1998 felt like someone pulling the rug from under my feet, rolling it up, and smacking me right in the face with it multiple times, for days. Not to mention, I had a bloody Maths exam the next day (no Summer break for me then, as I was in Brazil and the country happens to be inconveniently located in the Southern hemisphere.)

It was tough getting over the hardcore bits of  bitterness, especially as a teenager.

And then Zidane did it again, in 2006. Only he was even more brilliant then, if that were even possible.

And again I struggled to get over the bitterness. I confess, it was painfully hard; because, as a pure fan of the sport, all I really wanted to do was to give Zizou a bombastic standing ovation. But I couldn’t. My innate old-fashioned machismo told me it would be dishonourable. So I remained silent. Strangely, my cold, bitter reaction was very much “Zidanian”, in that I tried to contain my anger, preserve myself, remain together, sternly – because, like Zidane, I am all too familiar with my mercurial side.

But then I grew up, and things aren’t so bitter anymore. Although they certainly remain conflicted.

Since becoming a man (ha, even I chuckled at that), Zinedine Zidane has gained a new dimension for me. He is no longer a tragic symbol of broken Brazilian dreams, but the fascinating embodiment of zero tolerance for bullshit in football.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched Zidane reels on YouTube (the one scored by the insufferable Coldplay song “the Scientist” is my favourite). Equally, I’ve seen the unique documentary “Zidane: a 21 Century Portrait” multiple times. The man is addictive. It’s astonishing how ridiculously beautiful it is to watch him move in slow motion. It is electrifying.

And every time I catch myself drooling over his highlights, I ask: why is it that I can watch and re-watch these videos without ever getting bored? What is it about Zidane that makes him so impossibly watchable?

There’s a touch of Ayrton Senna to the man, you’ll have to agree. They share a mysteriously mythical aura that is found in silent men who seem to be always wearing an invisible mask in public – a mask which hides incredibly dark secrets and thoughts.

The secret, I think – in both cases – is a terrible feeling of absolute loneliness.

Senna and Zidane were both incredibly attractive, rich and ridiculously talented men – but I bet they felt fundamentally alone.

The feeling of painful solitude is more understandable in Senna’s case: one silent man driving a car, covered by a big helmet, competing against every single driver around him. But Zidane was playing a collective, contact sport, and yet, if you see “a 21st Century Portrait”, you will notice how painfully lonely the man looks on that pitch. He rarely speaks with his team-mates. He rarely gesticulates. He never holds the ball for too long; it’s almost as if he’s a bridge, whose job is to come in contact with the ball, filter it through some awesome smoothing process, and then pass it to a team-mate as economically and efficiently as possible.

Could such loneliness come from natural genius? It must be a terribly disappointing existence, once you realize everyone around you is simply not as smart, nor as good as you. No wonder Sherlock Holmes solves crimes in order to avoid boredom. Senna and Zidane shared that: they seemed bored, a lot of the times – go on YouTube, and watch them in action. There is a lot of staring into the skies, fiddling with the grass on the pitch, fiddling with car bits, staring blankly ahead, etc. But then when you see them in their element, in the middle of an actual struggle, their genius shines through and something stupidly amazing happens. It never fails. And then you go “where the fuck did that come from? From nothing?! How?!”

Indeed, most likely, it is that sense of anticipation – as we navigate through the athlete’s boredom – that keeps us gripped, waiting for that something amazing to happen.

However, there’s something even more tragic about Zidane’s loneliness, when compared to Senna’s. Unlike the Brazilian, Zidane doesn’t seem to show any signs of a particular religiosity. The Frenchman is painfully secular in disposition. Again: zero bullshit.

Senna, as in the case of most (if not all) Brazilian sports superstars, was a highly spiritual man. Every victory celebration was a nod to God: “thanks for making me so awesome”. Every win was thanks to absolute divine intervention. That has been the Brazilian way for as long as I can remember. I grew up with that and, quite frankly, it has always alienated me. Indeed, it is still one of the reasons why I choose to live abroad: I have nothing against religion, but I do feel uncomfortable with the bombastic expression of religious feelings. It overwhelms me. Mainly because it is alien to me, and it makes me feel like I am missing out on something that I was simply born without. In fact, I envy people like Senna and Kaka: they seem so sure that everything will be ok…

I’m afraid I’m more like Zidane. I know that, at the end of the day, no matter how well things seem to be going, something truly bad can just happen in a flash, and everything changes. Marco Materazzi’s chest would agree with that.

In that lack of superfluous religiosity, Zinedine Zidane rings absolutely refreshing to me. He is what he is. There is no extra magic aside from his natural, physical magic, and that is what’s so astonishing about the man. He stands on that pitch, and gravity seems to pull harder in that spot. There’s weight to his performance. Not in the sense that it’s heavy – in fact, when he runs he seems to glide like an elegant Bolshoi-trained gazelle – but in the sense that it sucks in our attention absolutely. And all of that happens with him just being there, his face and voice frozen; stillness at its most glorious. In truth, when France won the World Cup, I remember seeing headlines in Brazil that said things like “Frozen Brazil Lose As Iceman Gives France the Trophy”.

Zinedine Zidane was sheer economical art. He was without fuss, like the personification of elegant Scandinavian interior design for football.

I miss him, terribly.

He was the embodiment of uncompromising football. He made everyone else around him look like phonies; probably because they were phonies in the first place.

And Zidane knew it.