segunda-feira, 14 de julho de 2014
Dear Neymar: an open letter from Henry Winter to Brazil's biggest star of its bittersweet World Cup
We visitors to your country feel like we’re intruding on private grief. Brazil seems in mourning after your cruelly timed, cynically inflicted injury, the damage wrought on the Selecao by Germany, and the harm to your proud footballing nation’s self-esteem. To compound your misery, Argentines now swarm through Rio towards Maracana, chanting “in your house, in your face”.
Any attempt at consoling words from a neutral observer can bring little comfort at a time of such sorrow but please consider this. The sheer depth of the hurt felt by the Brazilian people at events in this World Cup tournament show why you belong to a truly great sporting nation. The sun does not always shine, even for those who have won five World Cups. Sometimes it is when the heavens weep and the tears flow that the size of a country’s love for the sport is revealed.
One English supporter present in the Rio fans fest during the semi-final compared the reaction to the humiliation beamed in from Belo Horizonte as akin “to the scene in Avatar where they all scream at the destruction of Home Tree”.
It was closely heard in Estadio Mineirao itself as fans spotted Careca sitting in the stand and beseeched him to come on. Careca’s 53 but most present would still have him in ahead of Fred. And Jo? “Did he really play for Manchester City?” one aghast Brazilian asked me. “He’s even worse than Fred.”
Howls of anguish roll across your mighty land ever since Tuesday. Those sounds shout of your stature as a passionate football nation. Many times, we have seen Brazil’s distinction in victory. Football fans across the globe, though probably not Italy, cherish the image from the 1970 Azteca final of the ball being ushered from Tostao to Brito and on to Clodoaldo, Pele and Gerson before it again reaches the shimmying Clodoaldo – what skill! those poor Italians! – and then on to Rivelino and out wide to Jairzinho. On it goes, in to Pele and on to Carlos Alberto, who arrives from the right of our screen and joyously thumps your fourth into the Italian net.
More recently, we remember the cradling celebration of Bebeto, the joy when Ronaldo beat Oliver Kahn. We also wonder how on earth that Eighties team of Socrates, Zico and Falcao, their wondrous gifts captured in a film shown in Rio on Saturday, never won a World Cup. Sometimes the sun goes behind a cloud.
But the obsession remains. Your supporters are not fair-weather. The outpouring of emotion after Belo Horizonte, the reddening eyes and the rage of the people signal even more strongly how seriously you take your football. Your desolation is so real we can almost touch it.
Football’s power here is everywhere. It is heard in your mascots singing their little lungs out during your national anthem. It is seen on the crossing outside the Maracana where children count the painted footballs on the stripes. That love imbues the kids queuing to get into the fans fests at 7am when the game doesn’t kick off until 5pm. It is the Rio teenager in your No 10 shirt walking through the Babylonia favela on Friday night with his hair razored to resemble the pattern of a ball. It is the football practice on the beach as dawn breaks over Copacabana and the games as dusk falls. It is 24/7.
Football is on everyone’s tongue, in everyone’s life. It is in the large, gutter-to-gutter paintings of the World Cup trophy on streets, in the sight of three policemen abandoning their beat on the beach to sit at a table in a Rio fish restaurant to watch the match. Unable to resist the siren call of a whistle. It is experienced in an out-of-the-way samba club on Friday when Brazilians walked up to this reporter, wishing me luck against Argentina, thinking I was “Alemanha”. But what about wonderful Lionel Messi? Some universally recognisable thumb and hand gestures confirmed their respect for Messi but enmity towards Argentina.
It is the speeding taxi driver with one eye on his dashboard television showing a game. It is on the flight from Sao Paulo to Rio after the second semi-final where the passenger in the next seat replies yes she loves football (stupid question really). She used to play for Brazil, winning a silver medal at the 2008 Olympics. Neymar, even your domestic airline carrier is called Gol.
Please understand that respect for your football-fixated society heightened in Belo Horizonte. The looks on André Schürrle’s face after he scored his second said it all; there was confusion, followed by delight and honour as the German substitute realised he was being applauded by those he’d just condemned to further indignity. Though their eyes were filled with tears and their hearts heavy, your compatriots could see and appreciate and acknowledge supreme quality. Just as they admire yours. And now you experience the mourning after the nightmare before.
People lash out. Your coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari, is blamed. He promised Brazil a sixth World Cup. Players’ motivation are questioned, though not yours. A scarier response would have been indifference but people are in pain. They care.
They lambast your CBF about the lack of technical talent coming through to match yours. More broadly, they rail at your politicians. World Cups can hide a multitude of blemishes. A nation puts on its glad-rags, smiles for the cameras, works overtime to keep the planes and buses moving and crosses its fingers for a month. Tournaments are a summer romance, a few weeks of fleeting thrills, rarely sustained. Like Brazil’s passion for the Selecao, problems run deep.
At the Manaus fans fest when you were skewering Croatia, the television director unwisely flashed up a picture of Dilma Rousseff. The park dissolved into derision. The man on my left almost let go of his beer as he vented his ire. The couple on my right stopped feeding their baby (in full Brazil kit) to vilify the president. There’s so much understandable unrest at the crowded, delayed, overpriced transport “network” and at the inadequacies in the health and education systems. One road back from Copacabana beach there are people lying on the pavement, curled up in doorways, a plastic sheet covering them. More parochially, Brazilian club football has manifold issues, from finances to attendances.
Neymar, your country is flawed and crazy. But the memory that many of us sadly boarding planes home after Sunday will take with us is what a special place Brazil is. Venturing any generalisation about such a diverse, huge nation is difficult, and naive, but a few common traits can be surmised, namely about the humanity and friendliness of your people and the addiction to football, the highs and low.
We English invented and codified football, Neymar, but you Brazilians reinvented it with that 1970 team and reminded everyone this summer of how football dominates lives. So harness all this emotion rolling through your country, rebuild the team, and go again in glorious pursuit of the World Cup. Good luck.