BRAZIL is the biggest exporter of footballing talent – the Brazilian can be found plying his trade in all corners of the world and in every continent. The national team, despite its ups and downs, is always considered among the favourites when a World Cup comes around. The media is still hung-up on the spirit of beach-playing ball artists and the culture of joga bonito.
Sadly, the circus element of Brazilian football perished long ago, way before Germany won 7-1 in the World Cup semi-final and delivered a crushing blow to the psyche of the nation that was comparable to the disaster of “Maracanazo” of 1950.
Football is so important to Brazil as to a large degree it used the game to define its identity. David Goldblatt, academic and author of Futebol Nation: The Story of Brazil through Soccer, captured the universal perception of Brazil when he described it as “an exotic tropical nation, based around football.”
Although the days of Pelé and the golden team of 1970 are long gone, Brazil can still conjure-up a very decent national team, but Brazilian club football struggles to compete on the global stage, on and off the pitch. There was a time when teams from Brazil could beat Europe’s best in the FIFA Club World Cup in its various guises, but no longer can they go head-to-head with UEFA Champions League winners.
South America, generally, is way behind Europe, even though there is a level of natural talent that cannot be replicated in the old world. The greatest players have, invariably, come from poverty-stricken backgrounds with football seen as an escape route. While the US and Europe can create well-run, disciplined and financially stable football clubs and extremely fit players, the “animal spirit” found in players who have developed through street football and excessive practice as a deviation from a life of struggle, belongs elsewhere.
Football is a global sport and Europe’s major clubs have broken out of their traditional catchment areas to secure fans in Asia, the Americas and Africa. This has the potential to threaten clubs in countries like Argentina and Brazil. The fans that grew up watching Pelé, Zico and Socrates find it hard to believe that their children and grandchildren are now fans of Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid – this, in one of the cradles of the beautiful game (a term invented by the great Pelé himself).
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