Monday, October 22, 2012

Brazil and the World Cup 2010

With Brazil being a country famous for both its football and its carnival, when I arrived in Sao Paulo a few months before the start of the 2010 World Cup, I was very interested to see how much of this carnival spirit would spill over into the tournament.

When the cup started I was working in both a call centre during the day, and I was teaching English on an evening. I’d sit in a small, windowless room for 10 hours a day, five days a week, cold calling Brazilian business executives in English. My job was to persuade these guys to buy finance packages. 

My call centre job was a commission-based one, and it was one I obviously sucked big, donkey balls at….because I made barely any money. In fact, I’m pretty sure that there were kids in Bangladeshi sweat shops out-earning me! On the day of Brazil’s first World Cup game against North Korea, I was very excited about having the afternoon away from my desk and from that friggin phone.

"Seriously, women in the UK go shopping during the football!?!"
Over here a lot of businesses and companies, although not all, give their employees time off work to watch the games during the World Cup. They either set up rooms within their offices for people to watch them in, or they authorise time away from the office.

I guess it makes sense; it’s not wise to mess with Brazilians and their football if you can help it!

Brazil V's North Korea

I’d finished my last cold call around twelve in the afternoon. “So just to confirm…you’re really not interested in putting your life savings in an offshore bank account with my company…..the one you’ve never heard of? Well, thanks for your time, I’ll send you an email and call you back in a few days anyway, just to piss you off check!"

Myself and my colleagues headed to the nearest bar which was inside a shopping centre. The roads leading up to it were usually busy at lunchtimes. But on this day, they were almost dead.

The shops, which were generally rammed with people, these had their lights off and shutters down.

"Hello....I'm just after a sandwich! Is there anyone around?"
The food court, usually full of people holding food trays and aggressively trying to claim vacant seats….well, this was empty too. The area of Sao Paulo I was in looked like a low budget 28 Days Later.

The shopping centre was eerily quiet….well, that is, quiet until we close enough to the bar to hear the mob of white collared Brazilian supporters gathered inside.

After ordering our beers we managed to find ourselves a decent view of the TV, and from there we watched kick off. After about five minutes I took a look around me and noticed that I was probably the only one NOT screaming at the players on the other side of the screen! The atmosphere was initially quite intense.

The game itself proved to be pretty unexciting, and North Korea were anything but the walkover the Brazilian fans had expected. After about twenty minutes one of my Brazilian co-workers obviously thought the same, and to my relief he struck up a conversation with me. I find it difficult to resist the urge to start chatting 15 minutes into ANY football game at the best of times, so I welcomed his banter.

Brazilian Football V's English Football

“So Andrew, tell me…have England ever won a World Cup?” he asked with a smile playing around the corners of his lips.

England's 1966 win...when we used to be good!
“Well of course, we won it in 1966!” I replied.

“Oh” he responded, “ you've won it just the once, and in the 1960’s? How nice!” By now his voice had a  patronising tone to it. He was obviously winding me up.

“Well, you know Andrew, we've won it…FIVE times!”

BOOM! I mean, how are you supposed to reply to that? He’d successfully put into perspective with just that one comment how lame our win 45 years ago is compared to the dominance of the Brazilian team.

A few weeks later I watched the quarter final Brazil lost to the Netherlands in a bar. As that final whistle blew on Brazil’s hopes of winning the cup again, the look of deflation on so many Brazilian faces afterwards was painful to see.

In the days following Brazil’s defeat, the Brazilians I spoke to mentioned the following two things.

Brazil V's Argentina

“We didn't win it, well OK  neither did Argentina (they’d also been knocked out at the quarter final stage) so, it’s not all bad news for Brazil”.

I'd frequently heard the Argentinean team being mocked here during the tournament, and even with Brazil crashing out of the competition, this showed no signs of stopping. If Brazil weren't going to win it, the Brazilians I’d talked to were satisfied with anyone  BUT Argentina winning it.

Historically the two countries are two of footballs greatest rivals; both are evidently very passionate about football (I was in Buenos Aires in the middle of this World Cup. Like Sao Paulo, this city also came to a complete standstill during the national games)…and also both claim to have produced the greatest footballer of all time. Whilst many Brazilians appreciate Messi will one day be a contender for this title, right now it's still all about Pele and Maradona.

Fifa copped out of choosing between them when deciding on the ‘Player of the Century’ award, giving it to both of them. Yet over here, when it comes to the debate on who the greatest footballer of the last century was….well it’s not really much of a debate. If you were to ask any Brazilian, 99.9999% of them would give you their answer….as Pele!

I made the mistake just a few months into my teaching career of joking with my students that I preferred Maradona.

To say it went down like a lead balloon would be a bit of an understatement.

I saw four utterly shocked faces glaring back at me. When I say shocked, perhaps this word doesn't do justice to what I was seeing. So let me try to be a bit more descriptive. I’m not talking ‘ I've just got home and realised left my keys at work’ shocked. I’m talking ‘I’m right in the middle of watching 2 girls 1 cup for the first time’ shocked.

(On a side note, if you've never seen 2 girls and 1 cup, do it right now. ESPECIALLY if you’re at work!)

"Oh dear God....did you just say the, the M word!?!"
These guys were visibly appalled, surprised, stunned AND even a little disgusted all at the same time. Not one person laughed…I sense that this was not just because my joke was shit, but because when it comes to discussing who you prefer, Pele or Maradona…you just don’t drop the 'M bomb' in front of a Brazilian.

Brazil 2014

The second thing my students all seemed to be saying was this; “ OK, well whatever, the World Cup we really want to win is not this one, but the one in four years time here in Brazil”. From the moment they got knocked out of the 2010 tournament, I've heard a 2014 win on home soil being talked about and speculated upon numerous times.

So are they going to do it?

Well recently it’s become clear the team aren't performing as a potential World Cup winning team are expected to, with many here now questioning just how likely a sixth win actually is.
Just a couple of months ago, I attended a Brazil V’s South Africa friendly and despite winning, the Brazilian team were practically booed off the pitch. The Brazilian supporters there obviously felt that their team wasn't playing to a high enough standard, and boy did they want them to know this!

A huge portion of the blame for Brazil's recent uninspiring performances has been placed on the national coach Menezes, who failed to steer the team to Olympic victory this year in London. The consensus seems to be that if Brazil replaces their national coach with someone more competent, someone better equipped to bring the team together as one, and someone who can take over very soon….then a Brazilian World Cup win is still possible.

Should they accomplish this feat (with or without a new manager) in 2014, I am in little doubt that there will be no greater party going on anywhere in the world than the one Brazil is likely to be throwing.

An Argentinean win however….will probably give the riot police here a bit of overtime!


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