You know you are hooked to a football game when you start second-guessing the moves of the team you support and also play coach. This behavioral pattern betrays your anxiety, affiliation and degree of devotedness. A loud “no” and a curse are thrown at a mid-fielder who fails to spot the overlapping right-back despite the wise bark from the lazy-boy recliner. A guttural “yes” welcomes the goal when the forward drops the ambitious option of nut-megging the goalkeeper and endorses the couch’s recommendation of a conservative one-two.
What ends this hectoring is that sudden magical twinkle on the field, bringing with it a humbling moment of stunned silence. In this fleeting instant, the master shows the smart guy watching TV his place. It is this humiliation, or rather, this reverential surrender of the defeated, that ignites undiluted awe. With time, this awe turns into respect that lasts for a lifetime.
Several generations of Brazilian footballers have made second-guessing fans look like fools and, in the bargain, won over legions of worshippers. These are diehard loyalists, not fair-weather friends. The football intelligentsia, like after the recent 0-0 draw against Mexico, has often announced the fading of the Brazilian magic. Stories of legends who sold out and of new stars being shoe brand-puppets have often been used to strengthen the assumption that “futebol arte” has lost out to “futebol forca”.
But those debates haven’t influenced the masses. The people’s team on planet football remains the same. And that is why travelling to Brazil for this World Cup is more than sports tourism. It is a pilgrimage to the land of Selecao. Brazil have had bad games, even forgettable World Cup campaigns, but that hasn’t affected the numbers that follow them in the firm belief of experiencing those humbling moments of stunned silence.
To call the Brazilian ball-players creative is to state the obvious, like calling Einstein intelligent. Digging deeper, you discover that trickery and innovation share space in that uniquely Brazilian DNA. An Argentine friend had once floated a theory about the way career paths are drawn in Brazil. Most kids, he said, are either born with dazzling dribbling and dodging skills or they acquire them early in life. The unathletic get weeded out; they go on to join the country’s reputed advertising industry or take up the fine arts. The more unscrupulous among the failed footballers join the country’s famous con industry.
It’s a credo with no credibility, but somewhat believable. For long, the beautiful game in Brazil has had a thin layer of charming deceit. Duping a rival, leaving him in the lurch is how one earns his stripes and builds his reputation in Brazil. Garrincha, the most romantic footballer ever, they say, continued…