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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.

When I first came to Brazil I was shocked at how many people wore football shirts. Everybody wore them, young and old, male and female, and they wore them everywhere.

It wasn’t unusual to see people in nightclubs or restaurants wearing the colours of Flamengo, Corinthians, Palmeiras and dozens of others. I thought it was weird (and still do).

If one thing has changed over the last decade it is that you no longer see people wearing just local shirts. Nowadays, for every Botafogo shirt there’s a Chelsea one, for every Cruzeiro a Barcelona, and for every Gremio a Liverpool.

Turned off by the corruption and mismanagement endemic in their domestic game and with the exotic attractions of Europe available on demand via TV, the internet and video games, many Brazilians – especially youngsters – are taking a greater interest in foreign football.

“Little by little, the big European clubs are silently ‘invading’ the hearts and minds of Brazilian football lovers, especially the young, who are seduced by competitions that are much more attractive than those we are used to seeing in Brazil,” said Fernando Ferreira, the director of Pluri, a sports consultancy firm. “The phenomenon of Brazilians supporting one team in Brazil and another abroad is more and more common.”

Read the full Reuters story here on how Brazilian fans are paying more and more attention to European clubs.

The reasons?

One is that Brazilian football is expensive and still a bit of a mess (even though it is slowly getting better). Another is that more Brazilians have more money to spend, as I’ve written about a thousand times. And third, the world is smaller and more people have more access to European football, via TV, the internet, social media and video games.

Brazilian clubs are trying to internationalise. But the truth is their fans have already taken that step.

Santos take on Corinthians tonight in the mostly hotly anticipated game of the year. The winner will go on to the final of the Copa Libertadores, South America’s Champions League.

Santos have won the tournament three times, Corinthians have never been to the final and are absolutely desperate to become the fourth of Sao Paulo’s big four clubs to win it (as I say here in last month’s post about their passionate fans).

One of the reasons a club like Santos, which has regular gates of around 12-13,000 (only a few hundred more than Hibs), is so successful is down to its marketing plan. I explain what it has done to bring in revenue and professionalise in this Reuters piece that came out earlier this week.

The club is one of many that has become become more professional in recent years, like many in Brazil.

As I say in my story:

      Encouraged by a rising middle class with money to spend, ambitious and cash-rich sponsors looking to reach them, and a powerful currency that makes signing and holding on to players easier, Brazil’s football clubs are slowly becoming more professional.

     They are still a world away from rivaling the corporate stars that are Barcelona and Manchester United. But for the first time, they are treating their off the field activities with some of the seriousness that has made them so respected on the pitch.

     Brazil’s 20 top clubs generated $ 2.14 billion reais last year, a 27% rise on 2010 and 73 % up what it was just four years previously, according to a BDO report.

     The money is pouring into the game because of Brazil’s economic boom and football’s increasing credibility, experts and executives at different clubs said.

     In 2003, the government introduced legislation that tightened security in and around Brazil’s dilapidated football grounds. The league won a newfound credibility the same year when it abandoned the complicated and unpredictable play off system league in favour of a more stable round robin tournament like that used in England, Spain and Germany.

     More recently, the financial crisis in Europe stopped foreign clubs from cherry picking so many Brazilian players and forced Brazilian teams to rely less heavily on transfer fees. The amount clubs received from TV deals has jumped sharply this year thanks to new negotiating rules.

     And Ronaldo’s return to Corinthians in 2009, and the close partnership the club formed with sponsors to make the deal work, showed clubs new ways of making money.

The clubs still have a lot of work to do. They are not companies and therefore not transparent and they are run by unpaid fans rather than the top professionals in their respective fields.

As Amir Somoggi, a well-known sports analyst with BDO told me:

“There’s still a long way to go, not just in terms of management and administration but also in marketing. We have a lot to learn from the Europeans. They have matchday revenue, we sell tickets for games.  Teams there have 30 sponsors, teams here have three.”

The Simpsons in Rio in 2002

A documentary about the Simpsons round the world travels aired on Fox Sunday night to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Springfield’s best-known family. (There’s a link to the show here but it’s only accessible from the US.)

I worked helping producer Morgan Spurlock of Super Size Me fame to set up interviews and arrange locations in Rio. His company called me after seeing this piece I wrote in Time magazine about the truth and fiction behind the Simpsons controversial visit to Brazil in 2002.

On that trip, the Simpsons saw monkeys roaming the streets of Rio de Janeiro, Homer was kidnapped and Bart was eaten by a snake. Irony is a foreign language in Brazil and the country went crazy. (More here on Brazilians over sensitivity to criticism.)

Which made writing a piece vindicating some of the more outlandish tales all the more pleasurable. I had been planning to write something on Rio’s natural zoo for years, after repeatedly seeing pictures in the Rio papers of snakes, alligators, spiders and monkeys being rescued from pools and homes and roads. That Simpsons episode gave me the impetus to start gathering string.

Cariocas’ reaction to the episode shocked me and I was heartened to hear those in the know say Bart was not wrong.  As I write in my Time story:

Firefighter Colonel Wanius Amorim remembers the Simpsons every time he catches a monkey in someone’s front room, drags an alligator from a back porch or gingerly lifts a snake from the street. For the commander of a Rio fire station nestled in the middle of the world’s biggest inner-city forest, saving wild animals is all in a day’s work.

“Bart was right,” Amorim says with a smile. “When foreigners say it, we get upset, but here in Rio we see alligators, sloths, snakes and monkeys all the time. To me, it’s something positive, it shows that the city is alive and vibrant, that nature has survived the arrival of 6 or 7 million people.”

I look forward to seeing Spurlock’s documentary soon. I believe he even visits Scotland. A wise man indeed.

I wrote a post a few weeks ago about working with Sky News and how they were one of several British TV channels in Brazil working on stories ahead of the Copenhagen summit.

The producer sent me this link to their first spot, which was a broad piece about Brazil’s growing economy.

It’s always hard working with TV because you have so little control over the end product. No matter how much you try and direct visiting producers and reporters towards the real issues, so much of what ends up on screen is about the images they shoot.

Having said that, Sky did a nice job of summing up Brazil’s moment. The piece is very broad but that’s understandable given it was for an audience of Brits who don’t know much about the country. The crew had decades of experience and you can see that in the three-and-a-half minute piece, which covers all the bases without falling too much into stereotypes.

British TV stations have decamped to Brazil.

With a close eye on Copenhagen and Brazil’s key role in the process, at least two major British stations have been here filming programs and news spots. Channel Four have been here for two weeks putting together a series of reports that included an interview with Lula.  And Sky TV News are here this week in São Paulo and will spend next week in Acre. The BBC has a permament team here.

I spent some time working with the crew from Sky. We filmed in the centre of SP to capture some of the colour and energy of the city and also wento to a shopping district to film some of the consumerism that has pushed Brazil’s growth over the last few years. We got some great background shots from the top of Banespa building, SP’s highest, and we spoke to students studying English. We also went to a favela to film what hasn’t been done.

One issue that has annoyed Sky has been getting equipment into the country. Although visiting journalists do not need visas to do news stories, a lot of their TV equipment has been held up because Brazilian customs or immigration officials don’t know their own laws. Even though the Brazilian embassy in London told their own officials they are in the wrong and that the equipment should pass through customs it has still not been released, causing huge headaches.

While fretting over this, the Sky producer told me that when they were planning this trip his bosses noted that they hadn’t been to Brazil for a while. “Hmmm,” he said, sarcastically. “I wonder why.”

Such bureacratic snafus are completely avoidable. What’s most worrying for Brazil in terms of the big picture is that petty bureacrats still feel emboldened enough to ignore the country’s laws when it suits them.

Cynics would say they are doing it to get a bribe. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t create a good first impression with exactly the people responsible for shaping Brazil’s image overseas.

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