לחצו פה להסבר על תרגום לעברית.
Tel Aviv Writer’s Salon member Oren Peleg uses the power of story plus his love of football to discuss “the demise of Joga Bonito”. What interests me in this piece is not the football itself but its importance in our lives and our identities – in our very narratives. Why are sports so important to us? What do sports signify in our personal and national narratives? Read what Oren has to say.
Learn more about Oren and read some of his flash fiction here.
Brazilian football, yes football not soccer, has always existed as a shining beacon in the sports world, the world at large for that matter. Imbued in its origins is a magical realism worthy of a Gabriel Garcia Marqeuz narrative. The only true magic known to man takes hold of those lucky enough to don the unmistakable Selecao canary yellow and green kits. It’s in the water. Mark my words. I will go to the grave eternally jealous of never being able to drink from that cup.
Pele on a daring run! Garrincha emerges out of a pocket of space that simply wasn’t there! Didi with a pass of pocketknife precision! Roberto Carlos lets fly from his rocket of a left foot! Rivaldo dummies to Ronaldo! Ronaldinho bends it into the top corner over the wall! Romario feints left! Rivellino feints right! Cafu barrels right through! They’re everywhere!
Brazilian football as we’ve come to know it is dead.
In light of Germany’s 7-1 thrashing of host nation Brazil in Tuesday’s historic World Cup semifinal, darkness will now inevitably take hold.
Sixty-four years ago, sons all across Brazil comforted crying fathers. It was a day that Brazilian poets compared to Hiroshima. Tuesday, the Selecao made Brazilians forget all about the 1950 World Cup Final loss to Uruguay in front of 170,000 strong at the Maracana for all the wrong reasons.
Now, it’s July 8, 2014 that will never be forgotten, scarred by Nike, in its World Cup campaign, dares the masses to be Brasilian. an event that shook a nation to its tragically fractured core. Dare accepted, now can Brazilians and outright football purists alike handle the truth?
This serves as a personal tragedy for me. How a middle class Jewish kid born and raised in the East Bay found himself so deeply connected to the lofty mystique of Brazilian football, I do not know. Growing up, I likened my own breathtaking “tripping over untied shoelaces” style of play to the Brazilian style, the samba style, where one doesn’t dribble, but dances with the ball at one’s feet. I held steadfast to the notion that the only noticeable difference between Pele and I was a trivial matter of phonetics. A “g” inserted at the end of my last name was all that separated me from the world’s most celebrated athlete. I vividly recall watching old dusty VHS tapes of Brazilian greats on the old television set in my grandfather’s Persian rug-adorned living room. This memory for me is steeped in a nostalgic romanticism. I sat cross-legged on the floor, craned my neck up at the heavily pixelated screen and saw the greatest version of myself in the players who slipped on the iconic canary yellow and lime green Selecao jersey. The joy they exhibited in the face of such immense pressure against brutal, mostly European-based competition was something, regardless of nationality, to behold and applaud. Oh yeah, and they seemed to always win.
I have no Brazilian blood. I have no Brazilian friends. I just loved the way they played.
This crushing defeat to Germany felt like more than just a defeat. Those of us outside of Brazil felt it too. I speak on behalf of all the outsiders who appreciate the sanctity of what it means to be Brazilian in a football sense. For Brazilian and non-Brazilian faithful everywhere, it felt like the emphatic end of an era.
This World Cup was billed as a return to grace for the world’s most popular sport, the world’s international common language. Football was coming home to its Mecca, its birthplace, where kicking in the womb is thought to foreshadow prowess on the pitch. Even the fan base is drenched in rich lore. The passion is legendary and frankly, alarming. It makes it impossible to make “these guys will be lucky to make it out of the stadium alive” jokes after a poor performance. Aspiration to become the next generation of greats dominates young adulthood. The beauty of the female fans is notoriously jaw dropping. Hell, the girl who had the (un)fortunate nip slip in the stands was more noteworthy than a handful of entire teams that took part in the on-field competition. After Tuesday’s loss, she and a plethora of other Brazilian bleacher beauties are but a foggy memory behind the countless heartbroken fans spotted in the stands. Most notably to many-a-spectator was the broken man sharing a broken embrace with his replica Jules Rimet trophy.
The unrivaled unity between sport and country has given credence to Brazilians’ divine right to football glory and immortality. Brazil is football. Advertisements plastered all over this World Cup feature this year’s batch of the Canarinho playing the part of the classic Brazilian national side with a flair for aesthetically pleasing attacking football. You know the part. It’s the side that artistically, not to mention competitively, overwhelms the dull, brutish and efficient European opposition. The hard truth is this version of the Selecao doesn’t measure up to past incarnations littered with all-time legends. Didi. Leonidas. Nilton Santos. Cafu. Roberto Carlos. Ronaldinho. Romario. Garrincha. Rivaldo. Ronaldo. Socrates. Zico. Pele. They have delivered eternal glory on the same stage where this year’s team fell flat, on home soil no less. In Hollywood terms, this year’s bunch was horribly miscast in the country’s lone summer tent-pole, the one every Brazilian had been waiting the last sixty-four years to see. In fact, the eyes of the world were collectively transfixed on the train wreck, the catastrophic crescendo that took place yesterday. We all witnessed the destructive demise of joga bonito complete with metaphorical dismemberment performed by the German nationals right in front of our very eyes like some twisted televised Roman Gladiator theatre.
How did this happen?
The roots of all Brazilian football icons are strikingly similar. Scrappy barefooted stars are born out of the favelas with a love and affection for the game that nursed them. The dirt fields. Their sanctuaries. The ball stuffed with paper and socks. Their most prized possession. Their school. Often times, their chore. The crowning achievement of an education here is learning to leave a bewildered defender in the dust on the path to goal. Once the craft is honed, the transfer offers pour in and Brazil’s finest footballers head for greener pastures filled with coveted endorsement deals and exotic call girls. This is the life that awaits them in the hub of world-class football, Western Europe.
In large part, the European game is tactful and decisive. A win is a win and a goal is a goal. Style points don’t really exist, apart from the occasional moment of mastery impossible to ignore from a Cristiano Ronaldo. Rough tackling stifles the opposition. Creativity is a precious commodity and is unleashed when necessary, not flaunted. It’s a game of long strides, not short bursts that dizzy and dazzle. Joga bonito is a distant thought here, a myth really. The methodical modern game reigns supreme.
European football is essentially world football as its lucrative prospects entice every continent’s premier stars. It’s a game of grit, not guile. Plodding set pieces providing scoring is expectation, while scoring beautifully in the run of play provides only fleeting exaltation. Look to this year’s World Cup and its record number of corner kicks converted into goals as evidence. All who play in Spain’s La Liga, England’s Premier League, Germany’s Bundesliga, France’s Ligue 1, or Italy’s Serie A, one way or another fall in line and succumb. These are the finest footballers in the world. Every four years they rejoin their national team and bring back with them this style of play.
There is no immunity to this, not even for the blessed Brazilians. They have been spoiled. For the past seventy plus years, Brazil has been steadily manufacturing the finest players in the world with a factory-like efficiency that would satisfy Henry Ford. Right now, this doesn’t offer any consolation. In a cruel twist of fate, old men are coming to the realization that they won’t live to see Brazil win the ultimate prize on home turf. Instead, the hosts now find themselves ostensibly forced to take part in Saturday’s third place game ahead of Sunday’s all or nothing duel between Argentina and Germany, or Messi versus Machine. The deserving Germans are computer precise and technically sound. They are a complete team capable of a cohesive act of football coercion at any moment.
With Brazil’s best are rooted in the confines of European football adapting to a foreign style of play, this type of acclimation takes time. Yes, I understand that Brazilians headline top European clubs and fit in seamlessly to each respective club’s style of play. However, individual brilliance, not tactics, has always been at the heart of Brazilian national team success. In 2002, the team front lined by individual stars Ronaldo, Rivaldo, and Ronaldinho won the World Cup not by outdueling opponents, but by outclassing them. They had more talent and flair on their side. It made for a supremely entertaining march to the Final and eventual trophy haul. This 2014 side had good players, but collectively, it was achingly ordinary.
There’s something to be said about the mechanical brilliance of a side like Germany and each team members’ seemingly uncanny ability to be so in tune with one another in the run of play. On the other hand, a sport whose admirers revel in the improvisation, the on-ball wizardry, the sheer artistry of the superstar, the well-oiled machine will always play a broken stringed second fiddle. Brazil, the only nation to participate in every World Cup, has always been able to part the curtains and bring the absolute best players on the planet onto the rarefied global stage of greatness. Pele’s appearance in Nigeria in 1967 momentarily paused a Civil War, halting bloody offenses from both factions. Does greatness peak any higher?
Football in Brazil has always been about just being better. That’s what they have always been able to count on.
Explaining what happened Tuesday night in Belo Horizonte is simpler than you might think. Chalk up this World Cup debacle to bad timing. This time around, the Selecao showed the world that it simply didn’t possess enough firepower to lift the trophy in front of its home fans starving for the victory of all victories. Without the firepower normally belonging to a Brazilian national team, what did the team have at its disposal to compete with? How about a unified discipline centric game plan predicated on organization and tactical mastery? Oh right, that was Joachim Low’s German side. Who can compete with the obedience of Germans? Did any die Mannschaft face muscles move a millimeter during their national anthem? Meanwhile, David Luiz is going all Madame Butterfly on the other side of pre-game proceedings. Brazil couldn’t outclass this German side and couldn’t out-frown them either.
Outside of Neymar, where was this proud football nation’s attacking arsenal? Even the poster-boy of the event, Brazil’s talisman, at this stage of his young career, only possesses a sporadic ability to take on world-class defenders. Fret not, for he will continue to evolve into a classic Selecao great complete with all the tricks. Their vaunted number nine? Fred. Yeah, just Fred. Fred looks like the obnoxious grinning grocer who charges me extra for bags. That’s a thing now?
Historically speaking, this was the worst possible time for the Samba nation to host the World Cup, devoid of legitimate superstars and really without any prospects in plain sight. Imagine if the stars had aligned and the football gods, I mean FIFA, had somehow allowed Brazil to host in 2002. The country would still be caught in the carnival crossfire of a twelve year-long party.
Hey, it’s me again. Not Pele, Peleg. Close. Look, your national pastime of football dominance does indeed live and breathe outside your borders. The game has evolved around the globe into a low scoring, tactical team effort and the rest of the world is better than you when it comes to this approach. They’ve employed it longer than you. Worldwide, the number of fluid, graceful, skill laden superstars in the sport couldn’t fill a four-door sedan. The game is no longer marked by the gazelle grace of the hundred-yard dash, but by the solidarity of the three-legged sack race. Your surreptitious surplus of homegrown talent has run bare.
Croatia’s coach must’ve slept with the referee’s daughter on the eve of the opening game against you. Mexico and Miguel “Mad Hatter” Herrera outplayed you for long stretches and won the coveted Internet .gif war. Cameroon fielded eleven folding chairs against you. Chile could’ve and perhaps should’ve beaten you. That game was a coin flip drawn out over 120 minutes. Colombia was deterred by a brutal game plan authored by coach Scolari that saw 54 total fouls, 31 of which were committed by you. So not like you, Brazil. Then, Germany exposed you as painfully average. (Note: read the next sentence aloud with a gravelly Obi Wan Kenobi voice) The only way to resurrect hope is to find the next great one—or two, or three, of four—who will bring balance to the Brazilian attacking football force.
Nike’s World Cup campaign feasted on the premise that something special resides inside the Brazilian footballer that sets him apart. Nike dared the world to be Brazilian. What does it mean? Rather, what did it mean? It meant to be bold… to be brave… to risk it all… to live in the moment without fear… to wield a killer instinct and a smile. To be all this and leave it all out on the field. It’s one of the great mythos matters in all of sports.
A cold excitement runs through my veins as this next thought dawns on me. I do no know where, but somewhere, deep in the heartland of Brazil, a son comforted his crying father during the 7-1 loss. A son to a father, with a destiny owed to a proud football nation, will rise and take on the dare. Glory waits patiently.
For inexplicable selfish reasons, I pray that FIFA, I mean the football gods, make Brazil host once more in my lifetime so that I can see three things with my own eyes: The Jules Rimet trophy return to its rightful resting place, a nation garner the redemption it deserves, and the best fucking party of all time.
I amend my statement near the top. Brazilian football as we’ve come to know it is dead… for now.