Shocking Brazil

Fernando Duarte‘s book Shocking Brazil chronicles six crucial defeats suffered by the Brazillian national team. After last night’s game, he’s hard at work on another chapter. In the meantime, enjoy this extended extract where he all but predicts that a crushing defeat was on the horizon.

Shocking Brazil Neymar Pic 1

Daniel Alves collapses with disappointment after Holland knock Brazil out of the World Cup, while the Dutch players celebrate their triumph. (Getty Images)

At half-time at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, in Port Elizabeth, the search for the smallest queue for the bathrooms was a bigger priority to Brazilian fans who had travelled to the World Cup in South Africa than looking at the sponsor or institutional messages that flashed across the big screens in the ground. But for those who did look up when Beyoncé’s ‘Single Lady’ began to boom loudly over a short film promoting Brazilian poultry giants Seara, there would have been a sense of mocking irony at the images on show. Seleção striker Robinho and two of his Santos FC team-mates were shown doing tricks with footballs. It was not necessarily a typical sports-related commercial, but what made it notable was the fact that both the young footballers playing second fiddle to Robinho had been the subject of a fierce debate in the national media in the build-up to the Seleção’s South African campaign – one that had been focused particularly on the pint-sized and spikey-haired teenager who seemed so at ease in the presence of the camera, unlike his co-stars.

That teenager was Neymar Jr. Alongside Robinho and midfielder Paulo Henrique Ganso, he had set Brazilian football alight in 2010. The trio featured in a Santos XI that had won plaudits for a brand of attacking football that had enthused both fans and media. Thanks to a remarkable crop of players from the youth academy and the presence of more seasoned players like Robinho, himself a former teenage sensation at the club, Santos would finish the year with 180 goals scored and the São Paulo state championship and the Brazilian Cup double. Managed by Dorival Junior, who had won kudos after helping four-times Brazilian champions Vasco da Gama bounce back from a season in Second Division hell in 2009, he attracted a lot of attention for combining a disciplinarian style of player management with a surprisingly liberal way of playing the game. Santos played in a 4-3-3 formation that was made even more exciting because of the presence of Ganso as a playmaker whose deft touch and sharp reading of the game made commentators purr. A gangly 20-year-old, Ganso (‘goose’ in Portuguese) had caught the eye of the legendary Sócrates. ‘The way he never seems to look at the ball amazes me,’ said the Doctor. ‘Ganso can pass like no other I have seen in the last 20 years. Why this kid has not been called up for the national team is something that I still don’t understand.’

But while Ganso had become a player that both media and fans loudly demanded to see in a Seleção shirt, Neymarmania was already eclipsing him. Smiling and frequently attempting some outrageous dribble, the striker had quickly formed a substantial fan club, helped by a scoring tally that would automatically be compared with Pelé in his early days – Neymar would finish the 2010 season with 43 goals, but at the beginning of the year had already earned the status of ‘next big thing’. Pelé himself decided to butt in and asked Seleção manager Dunga to consider recruiting the services of the then 17-year-old, claiming, rather unnecessarily, that he himself had been a risky bet in the 1958 World Cup team but ended up being crucial to that campaign.

The son of a former footballer who never really made it at the top level and had to hang up his boots to earn a living in low-paid jobs, Neymar was born on 5 February 1992 in Mogi das Cruzes, a working-class district in Greater São Paulo. Struggling to put food on the table for a family that included daughter Rafaella, Neymar Sr was forced to move his family to a room in his mother’s house in São Vicente, near the seaside town of Santos. Despite their financial woes, one of the few luxuries that the family splashed out on was the fee to join Tumiaru, a local and humble social club where Neymar would spend hours kicking a futsal ball around. Soon another working-class club, Gremetal, a place where Santos steelworkers and their families would wind down, had spotted him and recruited the boy. Alcides Magri, who managed the youth department, was stunned by what he saw: at ten years old, Neymar was already playing against older kids and making them look like fools. ‘We actually won a city tournament against Santos FC and Neymar destroyed them,’ Magri recalls. ‘I never taught him to do anything, my only job was not to inhibit all that talent.’

The year was 2002, when Brazil lifted the World Cup for a fifth time in a campaign that featured a reborn Ronaldo. Neymar was one of the kids who would idolise the striker and didn’t hesitate in copying everything he did – including the horrendous haircut the Inter Milan player would parade in the final game against Germany in Japan. It was, however, one of the few flirts with footballers’ perks that Neymar Sr would allow. A strict education, alongside the low family income, meant the father had to always keep his son on a tight leash. When word about Gremetal’s futsal phenomenon started going round and Portuguesa Santista, a feeder club in Santos, came knocking, Neymar Sr demanded the club provide educational support for his son. One might be surprised to know it was quite a rare demand. In 1990, one in five Brazilians over the age of 15 was illiterate. Among football players, the most recent estimates by the Brazilian Football Confederation are that the vast majority only studied to primary school level, which is tricky when most jobs in the formal market demand many more years in formal education. Neymar Sr was also preparing himself for the eventuality that Neymar might not make it to the professional level at all or find himself playing at a low level like the majority of professional players in the country – a CBF study published in 2012 showed that 82 per cent of the 30,000 registered professionals in the country earn between £200 and £400 a month to ply their trade.

Neymar played well and immediately caused a diplomatic incident

Neymar Sr dug his heels in and his son won a scholarship to Liceu São Paulo, one of Santos’ finest schools, after Portuguesa Santista argued his case. Neymar was duly enrolled in classes and in the futsal team that would play the Interschool Championship, a traditional grassroots tournament that is shown on regional TV. In Neymar’s first year, Liceu’s team lost the final game to city rivals Anglo-American School. Neymar played well and immediately caused a diplomatic incident: rival schools lodged a formal complaint to the educational authorities, claiming that Neymar was merely being used by Liceu to play football and was not attending classes. Rather than a mere sporting matter, the accusation also reflected old prejudices – Neymar and sister Rafaella were poor kids now rubbing shoulders with privileged children. Headmaster Ermenegildo Costa had to attend a meeting to present attendance records in order to convince the authorities that the boy should be allowed to play. Thus, unlike many of his neighbours, Neymar spent very little time on the streets bunking off school. His kickabouts were actually training sessions and games for Portuguesa. His reputation quickly grew and game attendances followed suit. It would not take long for local top dogs to take notice.

After decades living in the shadow of Pelé’s exploits, Santos FC experienced a radical turnaround in fortunes in the new millennium’s first decade. In 2002, the club had finally broken their major honours drought by winning the Campeonato Brasileiro, beating Corinthians in the final – that was the last year the tournament was played in a play-off format. Under former goalkeeper Émerson Leão, a young team peppered with youth academy graduates shone brightly. But Robinho, Diego Ribas, Elano Blumer and Alex would soon be snatched up by European clubs and Santos needed replacements fast. The success of the Robinho generation led to a reshuffle of the youth system that placed ever more emphasis on the younger squads. Under-12s were a priority and securing the services of the most famous under-12 player in town became an obvious coup. ‘We were looking for the best players and Neymar had to be part of our team,’ said coach Alberto Vieira. ‘His potential was already spoken of far and wide and if we didn’t sign him somebody else would.’

Two-time world champion Zito, then working for his former club as youth academy coordinator, was brought in to take a look at Neymar and have the final word on the deal. On the same day, Santos president Marcelo Teixeira got an exasperated phone call. ‘I told him we need to close the deal at once,’ said Zito. ‘The little guy was just unbelievable with the ball at his feet.’

On 10 May 2004, Neymar Jr signed his first contract with Santos: a five-year deal worth a little over £100 a month. Not a fortune but a welcome top-up to the family. It would not stay like that for long, though: just a year later, the boy would be on the verge of becoming Real Madrid’s answer to Lionel Messi. While negotiating selling Robinho to Real Madrid in 2005, agent Wagner Ribeiro spoke to the Spanish club about a much younger hot prospect back in Brazil. Real offered a trial and after assessing Neymar they got excited. Just like Barcelona did with Messi, they offered jobs for both the kid’s parents in an attempt to make the transfer go through. ‘We won’t deny that the Real offer rattled us,’ said Neymar Sr. But president Teixeira had other plans. In reality, just one plan: open up the coffers and treat Neymar like a professional player. The player was offered £250,000 to stay put and a monthly pay cheque of £5,000.

He hit the ground running, netting ten goals in the Brazilian championship, even though Santos finished in a less-than-flattering 12th place. It was enough, though, to get people raving about how he could help the Seleção in South Africa. Fast and intelligent, Neymar was also cheeky enough to try stunts such as nutmegs, keepie-uppies and even ‘Panenkas’ (softly chipping a penalty kick down the middle as the keeper dives to the side, named after Antonín Panenka who won the 1976 European Championship for Czechoslovakia with the move against West Germany) that incensed opponents but also excited whoever was watching his shenanigans. ‘Neymar and Santos are the only reasons that prevent me from falling asleep in front of the TV whenever I try to watch Brazilian football these days,’ raved Sócrates a few months before the 2010 World Cup. The Doctor, like many other people in Brazil, subscribed to the argument that the Seleção had diverted too far from its entertaining traditions – a debate that had become one of the hottest and touchiest topics in Brazilian football in 2010.

At home, however, Neymar Sr still ruled the roost. His son was given a hefty allowance (something around £2,500 a month) and a credit card with what his father described as ‘a reasonable limit’, but he would have to work hard to earn further indulgences. Things like earrings and fancy clothes would be subject to performance. In 2010, when he turned 18, Neymar wanted what every Brazilian at a legal age always does: a new car. He got one, but only after reaching the target established by his father of winning the Under-20 South American championships with Brazil and scoring at least a brace in the final game. ‘Just because we can afford things now I will not simply allow him to burn his money,’ said Neymar Sr in an interview he gave at the beginning of 2010. ‘He needs to learn the value of things – so Neymar will get treats as long as he reaches targets.’

By then Neymar was already living in a grand apartment near the seafront in Santos. His monthly wages would amount to almost £40,000. Success had also attracted interest from companies keen to sponsor him and soon his earnings would rocket as a result. Unsurprisingly, the whole lobby for Neymar to join the Seleção grew louder. From the outside, it was puzzling to see so much ado about a player who had shown potential but who still remained relatively untested at a senior level; but at the twilight of the noughties Brazilians were desperate for new heroes to replace some of their most iconic figures who were either disappearing into the sunset or morphing into villains.

To understand why, it is necessary to go back in time four years.

In early March 2006, Moscow was not the place where one would expect a voluntary visit from Brazil. With temperatures constantly falling below minus 15°C, the Russian capital could not have been a more inappropriate place for the Seleção to play their last friendly before the World Cup in Germany – even the Russian league does not finish its winter break until the middle of the month. But there the defending champions were, ready to fulfil a contractual obligation with brewery Ambev, one of their biggest sponsors, who after lengthy efforts to secure an opponent for the last FIFA-approved international date, had managed to conveniently find a team whose rich financial backers had paid around £1 million for the privilege and where the company was actively looking for business opportunities.

Three months before the World Cup, the Seleção were in festive mood. After a wobbly start to another cycle as world champions, where they had been unceremoniously dumped from 2003’s Confederations Cup in the group stages, the team had gelled during the South American qualifiers – after 2002, FIFA had decided that current world champions would lose the right to an automatic spot in the following World Cup. With only two defeats in 18 games, the Seleção had easily topped the ten-team mini-league, scoring 36 goals, and looked pretty confident that they were on course for a good show in Germany. To make matters sweeter, the team had won the 2005 Confederations Cup. After a jittery group stage, where they lost to Mexico and were held to a 2-2 draw by Japan, Brazil beat hosts Germany 3-2 in the semi-finals before thrashing Argentina 4-1 in the final.

However, by the time they reported back to duty a couple of months later in Moscow, the tables had turned. Both Ronaldo and Adriano, Brazil’s formidable striking partnership, were struggling at their clubs (Real Madrid and Inter Milan) and looked worryingly out of shape – an accusation that could be particularly levelled at Ronaldo, who at the time still had the chants of ‘fat boy’ from Real’s own fans ringing in his ears. It looked increasingly evident that the Brazilian would struggle to build upon his spectacular 2002 resurrection.

In 2006, Ronaldo was still young at 29, but with each passing day it seemed that he had lost the hunger for another tilt at the FIFA trophy. The fact that Brazil defeated the Russians with a single goal after a Roberto Carlos shot was deflected by Ronaldo’s belly just made the whole thing even sadder.

As for Adriano, the problem was his thirst. Shy and homesick at an Inter side dominated by Argentine players, he had resorted to drowning his sorrows with alcohol. Knowing this, manager Carlos Alberto Parreira probably wasn’t shocked by the sight of both strikers arriving at the World Cup training camp several kilos over their ideal weight. It would be revealed after Germany 2006 that Ronaldo showed up weighing almost 100kg, 13 more than his official 2002 weight. Chances of a focused recovery were spoiled by the CBF’s decision to turn the training camp into a money-spinning opportunity. Following an agreement with Swiss-based company Kentaro, the Seleção set up camp in Weggis, near Lake Lucerne, and would stay there for two weeks. Training would be witnessed by a battalion of journalists and by an average crowd of 7,000 people who would pay for the privilege. ‘For two weeks we trained with fans screaming in our ears and the press broadcasting training sessions live,’ explains midfielder Gilberto Silva. ‘We never had the chance to work in peace and that left everybody a bit edgy.’ Compounding the difficulties, some of his colleagues decided to hit the Lucerne nightclubs and reportedly regularly arrived back at the team hotel at dawn, drunk and dishevelled, which didn’t really contribute to a harmonious, professional atmosphere either.

With 11 players returning from the 2002 World Cup-winning team, the 2006 squad was dominated by stars such as Ronaldo, Cafu, Roberto Carlos and Ronaldinho – the latter on fire for Barcelona, winning that year’s Champions League and at the time the back-to-back FIFA World Player of the Year. They were a pretty difficult bunch to handle and Parreira was struggling to get them under control. ‘At the end of the day, there are limits to what a manager can tell players to do when they are not on national team duty. Different from a club, where there is a daily routine, in international football you spend months without actually seeing the players in person. So you just tell them to look after themselves, you can’t really foresee that players might turn up overweight. That group, perhaps, wasn’t as hungry to win as one that had never won a major tournament.’

Despite the problems, those were the players Parreira would take to his second World Cup as the Seleção manager.

Despite the problems, those were the players Parreira would take to his second World Cup as the Seleção manager. Alongside him as assistant coach was Mario Zagallo, who, during the 1994 World Cup, had become famous for his public displays of naïve optimism whenever he was asked a tricky question on live TV. Brazil had been drawn alongside Croatia, Australia and Japan. Without any great flamboyance, Brazil negotiated safe passage to the knockout stages with three victories, seven goals scored and only one conceded – to a Japan side managed by Zico, who for the second tournament in a row had the strange experience of trying to mastermind a defeat of the Seleção. Ghana were comfortably brushed aside in the round of 16 and then came a match-up against France. For all the talk of revenge for 1998, Brazil were a pale bunch against a revived Zidane. The 1-0 defeat stung badly and would provoke a generational cull. Above all, it would make CBF president Ricardo Teixeira decide that the new manager would have to be a disciplinarian. Teixeira, nonetheless, had also witnessed an interesting phenomenon that had taken place at Germany 2006: the Klinsmann effect.

Under the guidance of Jürgen Klinsmann, a Mannschaft legend who had never even managed a pub side before being catapulted to the main job, Germany had been one of the feelgood sporting stories of 2006. Amidst a wave of national euphoria in a country where patriotism still raises eyebrows within and without its borders, a discredited German team had endeared themselves to fans by making it to the semi-finals before a tearful capitulation against Italy. Klinsmann’s enthusiasm had become a trademark of the team and the experience did not go unnoticed. But while the former Inter Milan and Tottenham striker had sought to bring more flair and inventiveness to his side, Brazilians were looking for someone who could tame inflated egos. Teixeira would not even need to go back to Brazil to talk to the man he wanted, for Dunga had been working in Germany as a TV pundit. The man who captained Brazil’s 1994 World Cup-winning side would become the Brazilian answer to the Klinsmann effect. He would take no prisoners.

Like Klinsmann, Dunga had never worked as a coach before and in his own words he never expected to. Two years before being unveiled at the CBF headquarters in Rio de Janeiro, the former captain would be found killing time in sporadic tours with the Brazilian Masters team. He was part of the XI who faced Exeter City in a friendly to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Seleção’s first ever game and after the match he spoke freely about his reservations of the dugout experience. ‘Our football directors are amateurs and I don’t think I can stomach the lack of competence they show in running our teams,’ he said, while sipping a pint of bitter in a nondescript Dorset pub. ‘It is enough for me to be remembered as a guy who gave his heart for his country as a player.’

For all this, Dunga’s change of heart was understandable: apart from an unbelievable professional opportunity, the call from the Seleção also meant the Seleção once again needed Dunga. And that always mattered to him. A member of the class that in 1983 won the U-23 Youth World Cup, at a time when Brazilians were still licking the wounds of the Seleção’s painful exit from the 1982 World Cup, Dunga had been awarded a handful of caps since 1984, the year he represented Brazil in the Los Angeles Olympics, but failed to impress as vividly as team-mates Jorginho and Bebeto. After playing for Internacional, Corinthians, Santos and Vasco in the space of seven years, he left for Italy in 1987 to defend for minnows Pisa.

Away from the spotlight, he fell down the pecking order and hardly featured for the Seleção until 1989, when new manager Sebastião Lazaroni, who had worked with the midfielder at Vasco, brought him back for his ambitious experiment for the 1990 World Cup. A no-nonsense midfielder forged in the tough, physical environment of southern Brazilian football, Dunga rose through the ranks to help Lazaroni’s 3-5-2 system, a formation which had raised a lot of controversy on the back of some poor results, such as a 4-0 routing by Denmark in June. A month later, he was lining up for the national anthems in Salvador, where Brazil would open their 1989 Copa America campaign. While strikers Bebeto and Romário became media darlings after the Seleção recovered from an inauspicious start to become South American champions for the first time in 40 years, it was Dunga who the media turned into a symbol, for better or worse. The ‘Dunga Era’ was the term created to explain the transition from Telê Santana’s artistic style into a more tactically conscious (‘Europeanised’) way of playing football. Brazil went on to beat Italy and European champions Holland away in the final months of 1989 and Lazaroni seemed to have won the battle against his critics. But it all fell apart spectacularly in the 1990 World Cup – after negotiating hard-fought wins against Sweden, Costa Rica and Scotland, Brazil were sent packing by Argentina in the round of 16, after a great Diego Maradona move was finished by Claudio Cannigia. Ironically, Brazil had lost after their best game in the competition and were unlucky not to have won quite comfortably after hitting the post several times. The knives were out back home, however, after the Seleção’s worst result since the 1966 shambles and the public and media were quick to condemn Lazaroni and to turn Dunga into the symbol of a failed generation.

The midfielder would not get a game for Brazil under new manager Falcão and even his successor, Carlos Alberto Parreira, took his time to bring Dunga back to the fold. Between June 1990 and June 1993 Dunga would only start one game under Parreira and it was only after Brazil’s horrendous start to the 1994 World Cup qualifying campaign that he was drafted in to help. The press immediately cried foul and the midfielder spent the whole campaign under fire – his goal against Ecuador in São Paulo, a venomous shot with the outside of the right boot, was celebrated with a hug from team-mate Jorginho and some less than kind words for the crowd that had been booing the team’s nervous performance. By the time Brazil went to the United States for the 1994 World Cup, Dunga was already a crucial cog in Parreira’s machine on and off the pitch. Tactically, his midfield partnership with Mauro Silva would be an effective shield to the centre-backs and led to a formidable defensive record in that tournament, with only two goals conceded in seven matches. But Dunga was also a leader in a group eager to bounce back from the horrors of 1990, when players were pelted with coins at the airport in Rio, and Parreira did not hesitate in using him as a ‘shadow’ for the temperamental Romário, on whose goals Brazil depended in order to succeed. The two players were chalk and cheese – Romário a cheeky chap and Dunga the man with the eternal frown – but they formed an extraordinarily close bond.

Dunga wasn’t Parreira’s formal choice of captain. The armband had been given to Rai, the stylish midfielder and brother of the legendary Sócrates. But the player failed miserably to deliver in Brazil’s group stage matches and was duly dropped, with Dunga stepping into what was his natural role. That meant the man so reviled by his fellow countrymen in 1990 would be the one to lift the FIFA trophy on 17 July 1994, when Brazil broke a 24-year duck in the World Cup. Liked or not, his detractors would have to acknowledge that Dunga was now a World Cup winner. But the fact that the player had used the occasion to address the press corps in less than flattering terms while still holding the trophy had left a sour taste.

Twelve years later, Dunga was a near universal choice to try to pick up the pieces after the disaster of 2006. Even sectors more opposed to his appointment agreed that the former captain was the right name to symbolise a new regime for the Seleção after the perception that the big stars had outstayed their welcome. In his first interview, the new manager repeated exhaustively that collectiveness would trump prestige in his team. ‘The real star here is the Brazilian shirt, which represents the country that has won more World Cups than any other. No player is more important that this shirt.’

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You can Click & Collect Shocking Brazil Shocking Brazil: Six Games That Shook the World Cup from your local Waterstones bookshop, buy it online at or download it in ePub format

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