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It is unfortunate that Waldir Peres, the Brazilian goalkeeper who died on Sunday aged 66, will be remembered mostly for his calamitous mistake in the 1982 World Cup match against the USSR.

waldir peres

Arquivo Histórico do São Paulo FC

Peres let Andrei Bal’s 30-yard strike squirm through his hands and the image became an unforgettable one for fans, particularly those outside Brazil, who thought of Brazilian goalies as no less dodgy than Scottish ones.

Peres was widely seen as the weak link in that star-studded team, alongside misfiring centre forward Serginho.

But Peres’ team mates did not agree with that assessment.

Sócrates was not close to Peres, who was older than he was and as a happily married homebody, not part of Sócrates’ drinking circle. The two also differed over Corinthians Democracy, with Peres and his team mates at São Paulo often dismissive of what they considered a distraction to the sole issue of playing football.

But Sócrates refused to condemn Peres for his mistake or single him out as a weak link. He pointed out that Peres was the best keeper in Brazil in the lead up to the 1982 World Cup and deserved his place.

Most notably, he had proved his worth in the 1981 mini-tour to Europe. Brazil beat France, West Germany and England and Peres was a factor in all three.

He saved not one but two penalties from Paul Breitner in the 2-1 win over West Germany that cemented Brazil’s position as favourites to lift their fourth World Cup title a year hence in Spain.

He was then excellent in the 1-0 victory over England at Wembley, a victory notable as the first time England had ever lost to a South American side at home.

Peres got his spot in fortunate circumstances, after first-choice stopper Carlos injured his elbow in the Mundialito tournament in Uruguay. Peres stepped in and helped Brazil to the final, defeating West Germany 4-1 in the process, before losing to the hosts.

But his performances helped cement his place, as did his personality.

He was quiet and serious and easy to get along with, unlike Emerson Leão, his other main rival for the No. 1 shirt. Leão had been first choice in 1974 and 1978 but seemed to enjoy rubbing people up the wrong way and coach Telê Santana refused to pick someone who would so obviously endanger the bubbly spirit in what was a settled and contented  side.

After that early error against the USSR, Peres composed himself and performed well. He had little do against Scotland or New Zealand and was reliable in the 3-1 win over Argentina in the second round.

He was also blameless in the fateful 3-2 loss against Italy. Brazil went out not because of goalkeeping errors but because they kept trying to win a game they only needed to draw. They were exposed at the back and only the harshest of critics could fault him for any of Paolo Rossi’s three goals.

Unfortunately for Peres, those incidents are forgotten now. But the facts speak for themselves. He won the Brazilian league title with São Paulo and three Paulista state championship medals. Only one player in the clubs history has more appearances that he has.

He is fondly remembered at São Paulo. He deserves to be known elsewhere for more than that one mistake.

The Boy in Brazil: Living, Loving and Learning in the Land of Football, by Seth Burkett

boy in brazilThis is the only book on the list that I haven’t read but I want to recommend it for the simple reason that it offers an entirely different perspective on Brazilian football than all the others. Written by an 18-year old English lad who came to Brazil for a youth tournament and was signed up by a small side in the provinces, it promises a ‘bittersweet look at the beautiful game,’ as well as what is teasingly called its ‘dark side.’ It’s on my list of books to read.

Buy it here.

 

An Entirely Different Game, by Aidan Hamilton

Aidan HamiltonThis is a book about the origins of Brazilian football, and particularly the British influence on those early days. Everyone knows the story of Charles Miller, arriving at the port of Santos in 1894 with a ball and a rule book, but there were many other key figures, and not just players. Hamilton painstakingly researches the administrators and referees as well and shows just how they influenced football in its early days in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. The book has valuable biographical info about Miller and is filled with interesting details and stories tying the UK and Brazil as football started to emerge as a global game.

Buy it here.

Garrincha: The Triumph and Tragedy of Brazil’s Forgotten Footballing Hero, by Ruy Castro.

GarrinchaOff the field, Garrincha’s life was a mix of triumph, comedy, soap opera and tragic farce. A winger for Botafogo who spent most of his life married to one of Brazil’s most famous samba stars, Garrincha died aged just 50 from complications caused by acute alcoholism. The book is absolutely packed with stories from that immense life and the entertainment is doubled with stories of his footballing glories. And there were many. Garrincha was the equal of Pelé to many Brazilians – certainly he was more beloved as a personality – and he won two World Cup winner’s medals. The highs and the lows are all here and they make for sensational reading. (Full disclosure: I translated it from Portuguese to English.)

Buy it here.

Futebol Nation: The Story of Brazil Through Soccer, by David Goldblatt.

GoldblattGoldblatt is a brilliant researcher and historian, and after writing what are considered to be the definitive histories of both football and the Olympics he turned his hand to Brazil ahead of the 2014 World Cup. Like Bellos’ book, the focus here is not the games or the clubs or the players, it’s how football developed in South America’s most dynamic nation. Goldblatt has a gift for taking a dry topic like the construction of a new capital city and mixing it with football to make it more readable. He does that with several different subjects and eras, allowing readers to learn about Brazil’s art, literature, culture and politics, almost without noticing.

Buy it here.

Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life, by Alex Bellos.

BellosIf you only read one book about Brazilian football this is the one. This is not specifically about the great players or the great games. But you will come away from this with a wide and fascinating knowledge of why Brazilians love football and what makes the game such an important facet of life here. The book touches on diverse subject like how Portuguese is shot through with footballing vocabulary, why so many Brazilians play overseas, and why locals prefer Garrincha to Pelé. It’s also great fun to read and pretty much timeless.

Buy it here.

The United States decided this week to put a black female abolitionist on their new $20 bill, replacing Andrew Jackson, the seventh president who was accused of keeping slaves.

The decision to honour Harriet Tubman got me thinking about Brazil and who we look up to here – or down to, as we flip through bank notes.

Brazil has in the past been much more egalitarian than the US, putting more women and more minorities (including indigenous people) on their notes. Over the years, composers and scientists, novelists and poets have been among those adorning the country’s paper money. (See this great slideshow for more.)

Brazil hasn’t had real people on its bank notes since 1994 when it introduced the real as its seventh currency in 27 years.

The Central Bank didn’t know how long the currency would last and so rather than subject historical figures to a short and ignominious stint in people’s pockets, they put generic Greek God like figures on the 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 real notes.

The Brazilian currency is robust and shows no signs of going the same way as the cruzado, the cruzado novo, the rei, the conto, the cruzeiro or the cruzeiro real., the currencies that preceded them.

So is it time to start honouring real Brazilians again on bank notes? Maybe now, in the midst of a financial crisis, is not the best time to implement such a costly change. But it’s time to at least begin a debate on the issue.

Off the top of my head, I suggest André Rebouças, Pelé, Ayrton Senna, Joaquim Nabuco, Orlando Villas Boas and Tom Jobim as possible new honorees. Suggestions?

 

 

 

 

 

Lukas Podolski by Ronnie Macdonald, courtesy Creative Commons

Lukas Podolski by Ronnie Macdonald, courtesy Creative Commons

Lukas Podolski loves Brazil. He learnt some Portuguese for the World Cup. He posted Instagram pics just for Brazilian fans. He writes on twitter using Brazilian hashtags such as #tamojunto and #énois.

Ever since Germany won the World Cup, he has made a point of stressing how much Brazil means to him.

At least that’s what the online Lukas Podolski wants us to think. The real Lukas Podolski is different.

A few weeks after the World Cup I was in a restaurant near Cologne, the city where Podolski made his name as a footballer and where he obviously still spends a lot of time when he isn’t at Arsenal.

There were about 20 people at our table, most of them Brazilians and Germans.

Lukas Podolski walked in. The Germans were cool. The Brazilians were excited. A murmur went round the table as people noticed him. Some of them waved and when he didn’t respond, one of the Brazilians gave a friendly shout, “Uhu! Podolski!” It was clear the fans at our table were Brazilian and thrilled to see up close someone who had spoke so highly of them.

Podolski glanced over, put his finger to his lips, and made the “Ssshhhhh” sign.

After he told us to shut up, everyone left him in peace. A few people were outraged at his arrogance, some just shrugged their shoulders. One German girl patiently waited until he had finished his meal and paid his bill and then asked him for a photo. He refused.

Podolski was with a woman and a child, who I presume were his wife and son. They, like everyone else, deserve a private life. Even famous footballers have the right to a quite Sunday lunch with their family.

But I have two problems with Podolski’s attitude. First, it’s stupid. Why make enemies with rudeness and arrogance? Simply tell people he will take a picture with them or sign an autograph once he has had a quiet meal.

But more egregiously, Podolski knew the people there were Brazilians. The same people he said, “were nice and sweet” to him wherever he went in Brazil. The same people he spent much of the year wooing and flattering before, during and after the World Cup. (Even today, he is still at it.)

Podolski’s attitude was a kick in the teeth to those people and proof he has one carefully constructed image for online and another for real fans.

In other words, do not be fooled. The Brazil-loving, happy-go-lucky Lukas Podolski you see online is a fake. The real Lukas Podolski doesn’t really like real Brazilians.

On the same day the United States Senate reported on the horrific deeds performed by its agents – torture and rape first on a scandalous list – a Brazilian deputy stood up in Congress and gave a speech.

Jair Bolsonaro is a popular right-wing demagogue who wants a return to the days of Brazil’s military dictatorship.

Wednesday is World Human Rights Day but Bolsonaro doesn’t think much of human rights, or any other rights for that matter. He had a message for the country’s Human Rights Secretary, Maria de Rosario.

“I said I wouldn’t even rape you,” he said in reference to comments he said he made a few days ago, “because you don’t deserve it.”

No one can argue that Bolsonaro’s words came a surprise. He said exactly the same thing in 2003. “I won’t rape you because you don’t deserve to be raped,” he told her in the hallways of Brazil’s Congress, before pushing her away from him when she complained.

Members of Congress have parliamentary immunity in Brazil and can say what they like without fear of prosecution. Bolsonaro has already said his kids grew up in an educated family and so have no chance of being gay or of dating blacks.

He is a hateful man who perhaps more than any other person exemplifies the backward side of Brazil that is still a huge and tragically worrying presence in this great nation.

Brazil’s problem however, is not just people like Bolsonaro. It’s the macho culture where such comments are laughed off. It’s the political system that turns a blind eye to such vicious attacks.

Most of all it’s that not enough ordinary people care. His comments will cause little more than a ripple outside the chattering classes.

The only way Brazil will rid itself of misogynist, homophobic and racist figures like Bolsonaro is by isolating them and ridiculing them. For future generations, only education will work, but that’s too late for the 59-year old Bolsonaro.

Frighteningly, it is already too late for many of the country’s voters.

In October, Jair Bolsonaro was reelected to a sixth successive term in Rio de Janeiro. He got 464,572 votes, more than 100,000 more than any other Congressional candidate in the state.

7WWHiJ1u_400x400In all the years I’ve been reporting from Brazil there is one subject I regularly tried to avoid writing about.

That subject is politics and the reason is simple: Who gets elected president in Brazil doesn’t matter that much and for that reason Brazilian politics is rarely interesting to outsiders.

Brazil is the world’s seventh biggest economy but it is relatively unimportant when it comes to geo-political matters. No one in Beijing or Washington or Berlin believes their world will change – much less THE world – if Aecio beats Dilma or vice versa. Brazil is more important than outsiders think, but less important that Brazilians want to believe.

There are a lot more journalists and wannabes in Brazil now than there were 12 years ago and that means there is a lot more coverage and a lot more bias.

In addition, elections can be interesting because of the personalities involved and this ballot provoked an unusual amount of interest because of Eduardo Campos’ tragic death, the rise and fall of Marina Silva, and the last-minute comeback by Aecio Neves.

But like most of the elections this century, it doesn’t really matter who wins because both candidates have remarkably similar policies. They both promise continuity, albeit with very different styles. (This BBC guide explains how little difference there really is between the two parties.)

The economy will keep stuttering along – faster if Aecio wins, slower if Dilma does – and inequality will continue to fall – faster if Dilma wins, slower if Aecio does. Public security is largely a state issue, and the big changes necessary in education have to come at state and municipal level. Neither candidate can hope to end endemic corruption and although foreign policy might change slightly who really cares?

The key issues facing Brazil – a modernisation of the justice, health and education systems, along with lower taxes, less corruption, a much-needed reduction in violence and a massive increase in infrastructure spending – are the same ones as one or even two generations ago.

Those changes are not going to happen under the current dysfunctional system in which 28 parties in Congress force laborious negotiations on every little issue.

What Brazil needs is a bold overhaul of its political system and more public participation.

And there’s nothing that a new president can do about that.

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