Mention Brazil and most people become emotional about Pelé, Garrincha, Romario and other legends. Cris Freddi sees it differently
I hate Brazil. Not the country – I’ve never been to the country. But I hate Brazil. Like all fair-minded people, I am the Brazil hater.
I hate the myths most of all. The “beautiful game” bollocks that goes on even when they’re winning the 1994 World Cup with eight defenders or the 1999 Copa América while routinely fouling opponents in midfield, Emerson Ferreira making Dunga “look mellow in comparison”. The average of 50 fouls in every league game (Tostão: “Brazilian football is the most violent in the world”). Their infantile nicknames (Vava, Nene, Pepe, Zeze, Didi, Dudu). Their yellow shirts. The fact that they are the most successful national team because Romário’s penalty went in off a post while Baresi and Baggio, injured heroes both, shot over the bar. The fact they beat Italy and England in the 1970 World Cup.
I hate that 1970 side. I haven’t read The Beautiful Team, but I’d be interested to hear what case it makes for Everaldo (whose miskick set up Jeff Astle’s miss), Brito, Wilson Piazza (how the hell did he win 52 caps?), the hilarious Félix.
The case for Gérson seems airtight, but I hate him more than any of them. True, his long aerial passes were out of this world, especially the ones that made two spectacular goals for Jairzinho and another for Pelé. True, he scored the winner in the final. But the heat and altitude had a lot to do with that: it troubled players more in those days, so he could spend the tournament without a marker up his arse and justify his reputation at long last. A fairer environment would have exposed his 60-a-day habit and Rivelino’s legendary lack of fitness. Four-one against Italy in the final? We was robbed.
If Gérson was overrated, Roberto Carlos runs him close. I hate his jodhpur thighs and his arrogance before France 98. During it, I checked every cross he made (saddo that I am, because I really hate him) and every single one of them, without exception, was shite. As for his preposterous long-range free-kicks, apart from the famous one against France in 1997, how many has he scored from? Exactly.
They haven’t all been overrated, of course, the hated Brazilians. Some of them have been downright bad. The 1970 defenders were the descendants of Bellini and Orlando, who were iffy in 1958 and simply too old in 1966, and just about the entire class of 1950, especially poor Bigode who was left all alone when Ghiggia provided Uruguay’s goals in the final. The 1982 batch included Luizinho, the feeble Leandro and the non-tackling Júnior, and France 98 gave us Júnior Baiano, whose display in the final was just about the worst in living memory. Thank God none of them got a winner’s medal.
Nor did most of the 1978 boys, whom you’ve got to despise en bloc. The defence wasn’t bad, but this time the problems were up front. Zico had the first of his anonymous World Cups, Rivelino was past it, and some of the others didn’t fit the traditional image of Brazilian forward lines. Roberto Dinamite scored three goals but looked a blunt instrument, Gil was a headless chicken on one wing and they had to use a full-back, the 30-year-old Toninho, on the other. Plus they’d fouled their way to a 1-1 draw at Wembley two months earlier, so you had to hate ’em.
Newcastle United probably don’t have similar feelings about Mirandinha, who scored 20 goals in 54 league matches, but he was crap too. Pace and not much else, which Newcastle have traditionally liked in their centre-forwards (Milburn, Macdonald, Ferdinand). Mirandinha scored on his international debut, taking advantage of a Shilton cock-up, but won only four senior caps in all.
His namesake wasn’t much better. When Tostão (who was hard to hate) had his eye trouble again, Brazil were so short of strikers they had to pick Mirandinha Mark I and Leivinha for the 1974 World Cup – that’s when they weren’t using Jairzinho at centre-forward, where his first touch was well and truly found out (another of the overrated 1970 mob). Valdomiro was dismal on the right wing, Paulo César was emphatically not the new Pelé and without Rivelino’s thunderbolts from midfield Brazil wouldn’t have come as close to Holland as they did. Their defenders weren’t bad (Luis Pereira, Marinho Chagas, Zé Maria) but it was hardly a team to fall in love with.
Brazil saved their worst striker till 1982, when all they needed was a good one to complete a spectacular team. Again, injuries to smart little strikers didn’t help. When Reinaldo and the young Careca dropped out before the World Cup finals, Telê Santana had to bring back Serginho. It’s hard to believe there wasn’t a better third-choice striker in the whole of Brazil. It’s true he’d scored twice as a substitute against Ireland the previous month, but so did everyone else (Brazil won 7-0), and in the World Cup he managed only two goals, one against New Zealand, the other an unmissable header. In the decisive match against Italy, he completely miskicked in front of goal, responded to Zico’s ticking-off with a little boy smirk and wasn’t capped again. Good riddance too late.
Well now, all this way without mentioning their goalkeepers. That’s partly because some of them were better than tradition has it (Gylmar, Leão, the early Taffarel) – but there’s no escaping them for long. Barbosa had no idea when to leave his line in 1950, Waldir Peres let a long shot in off his leg in 1982, Taffarel did the same in a qualifier and was dropped by Parma as long ago as 1993, Félix is lucky we’re running out of space.
For the team and individual award, we have to go back to 1966, when Brazil seemed to think all they had to do to win the World Cup for the third time in a row was pick the old favourites and wait for the rest of the world to tug the forelock. So out went the young Carlos Alberto and Djalma Dias, back came Bellini (now 36) and Orlando, in stayed Djalma Santos (37), Gylmar (35), Zito (33), an injury-prone Garrincha – plus some of the most forgettable players in a single Brazilian squad: Brito, Altair, Paulo Henrique, Rildo, Lima, Alcindo, Paraná, Manga in goal, Denílson, Walter da Silva. This isn’t just a list of names: you had to see them, especially when the coach Feola made nine changes for the crucial match against Portugal.
One of these was the worst Brazilian player ever seen in a World Cup, or at least the most hapless. Judging from the team photo, José Maria Fidélis was no taller than 5ft 3in, with legs to match and stunted arms. Nothing wrong with that – except that Feola played him at right-back when Portugal didn’t have an orthodox outside-left. Instead they stationed José Torres out there, and he must have been at least a foot taller.
Portugal’s first two goals both came down Fidélis’s flank. Eusébio went past him, Manga pushed out the cross, Simôes headed home. The second was utterly predictable, Coluna taking a free-kick deep on the right, Torres heading it back from the far post, Eusébio heading in. Fidélis, caught in the headlights at the base of Mount Torres, spends most of the video wandering about looking worried and wasn’t picked again. Nor were several others of that team packed with bad players, who lost a World Cup match for the first time in 12 years. The kind of Brazilians I love.
From WSC 154 December 1999. What was happening this month