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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?






Pele croppedAs Brazil prepare to play Italy in Felipao’s second friendly match on Thursday night, here’s a reminder of why such games are taking place in Geneva, a home stadium for neither country.

Among the reasons: Time, money, and globalisation, as I say in my Reuters story from last year.

“It’s a trend,” says the headline and it’s not wrong.

It’s increasingly common for two international teams to face off in a third country.

The matchups and venues often sound completely random. Ireland have played Italy in Belgium and Oman in England. England have faced Brazil in Qatar and Italy in Switzerland. Argentina have taken on Nigeria in Bangladesh and Venezuela in India.

At least Brazil vs. Italy is more attractive than Brazil against Iraq in Sweden or Brazil against Japan in Poland.

Here’s the most iconic image of Pele, taken from the mural that surrounds Santos’s training ground. For no other reason than it’s cool.

NeymarHere’s this week’s Time magazine with Neymar on the cover. The title is The Next Pelé and it is already getting flak.

That’s understandable. I’d have added a question mark. Neymar isn’t the next Pelé, certainly not yet.

As my friend, Brazilian football writer Fernando Duarte very reasonably pointed out, Neymar is just the first Neymar. No one can really hope to equal Pelé.

But there’s the clue to this week’s headline. Last year, Time did a cover piece on Barcelona’s Lionel Messi. The title that time around was just as controversial. It said Messi was “possibly the best of all time.”

Time want to sell magazines. They want people to talk about their story. There’s no surer way to make that happen than by calling Neymar the Next Pelé.


Felix, the goalkeeper in Brazil’s famous 1970 World Cup winning team, died from complications caused by pulmonary emphysema in Sao Paulo on Friday. He was 74.

(See my Reuters obituary here.)

Felix Miéli Venerando, who won the nickname Paper for his slight frame and the way he flew through the air to make spectacular saves, played in all six of Brazil’s matches in the 1970 tournament.

I met Felix back in around 2006 when I was working on a book project about Pele. Part of my brief was to meet up with former players and get them to sign a photo of the 1970 team.

I met with Felix and Clodoaldo in a Sao Paulo hotel.

There was a delay in getting their fee and so we sat around chatting while we waited. He was a nice lad, Felix. Unassuming and fairly quiet, with the air of someone who had signed a million photos and seen it all before.

He was already hunched over and looked old and tired.

But he was also one of the few players in that side who didn’t make lots of unreasonable demands just to sign the photos. Everyone got paid but a few players, most notably Jairzinho and Gerson, were an absolute nightmare to deal with. Felix was a pussy cat in comparison.

I always believed that Felix was the weak link in the team but that was more from what I’d heard rather than from any reliable first-hand information. I was too young to see the 1970 team and back then Brazil was known as the country of brilliant midfielders and strikers and dodgy goalies.

His former team mates tried to poo-poo that notion on Friday. Perhaps the best comment came from defender Piazza, who played in front of him and knew him well.

“Every great team begins with a great goalkeeper,” Piazza said. “He might not have been a consensus choice among fans but he was a great goalkeeper and as a defender he gave us confidence.”

Does this picture look familiar and disturbing at the same time?

It did to me.

The picture is a mix of Pele and Diego Maradona and was reportedly put together by an Ecuadoran glue company.

The company said their glue is so strong it can unite even Pele and Maradona. (Although strangely, the campaign seems to have attracted more attention in Brazil than anywhere else; I can’t find any reference to it in Spanish.)

Pele and Maradona have been united before, most notably on Maradona’s short-lived television chat show – but never for long.

It would take more than glue – or a clever advertising campaign – to stop these two sniping over who is the best player the world has ever seen.


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