Brazil’s football success is driven by demons

Poor areas, great talent: The favelas, Brazil’s shantytowns, are the schools of great football.

Brazil has produced some of the world’s most exciting players and hopes this summer to add an incredible sixth World Cup trophy to its cabinet. How did it become football’s superpower?

Brazilian football fans may be the most passionate in the world. When club teams clash, the brightly painted crowd sings, drums and dances, creating a deafening carnival atmosphere. If the players do not pull their weight on the pitch, they can expect a motivationally terrifying visit from irate fans.

Despite protests over the Brazilian government’s lavish spending, the 2014 World Cup means a lot to this country. Its team has won the competition a record five times and has been graced by some of the game’s greatest players, such as Pelé, Socrates, and Ronaldo. This year’s squad is one of the favourites to win. So what is the secret of their success?

Some believe it lies in the country’s sad history. Slavery was not abolished in Brazil until 1888, by which time around more four million people had been shipped from Africa. Football thrived among the poor and disenfranchised community. And from the 1930s, the country’s great skill and passion for football became a source of national pride.

Yet in the 1950 World Cup, in its own, newly built Macaranã Stadium in front of 200,000 fans, Brazil lost to its smaller neighbour, Uruguay. The country was devastated. To prevent this happening again, it introduced new training methods and tactics which have since revolutionised the way the game is played.

But other countries' fans are just as fanatical without this translating into tournament success. Brazil’s players say the difference is culture: many children growing up in impoverished favelas see football as the only way to escape a life of hardship. And whereas the English game tends to pride itself on athleticism, Brazilians focus more on skill and creativity.

Others note that with a population of 200m, Brazil is bound to produce some brilliant players. That may be small compared to China’s population, not so many Chinese parents encourage their children to take up the sport. And whereas the US is distracted by American football and India by cricket, for Brazil, football is everything. Will any country ever be so consistently successful?

Football’s superpower

Some say that Brazil’s historical football success has instilled in its people a winning mentality and passion for the game. The sport means more to the country’s poor than it does to people anywhere else. While it may not win every tournament, it will always be among the favourites.

Yet others say that as Brazil becomes more prosperous, its people will care less about football. It has been lucky to have highly talented players, but that is a matter of chance and could happen to any other country with a long-term plan to develop its youthful ability. There is no reason for Brazil’s dominance to continue.

You Decide

  1. Will any country ever be so consistently successful in football as Brazil?
  2. ‘Brazil’s football success is actually a sign of how its government has failed to lift its people out of poverty.’ Do you agree?

Activities

  1. Class debate: ‘A team that wins a competition too often makes it predictable and boring.’
  2. Using the links in ‘Become an Expert’, look at the reasons why some countries are more successful at football than others. Draw up a list of the contributing factors that seem to help develop a good team.

Some People Say...

“Brazil wins because it knows the important thing is not playing to win, but to enjoy the game.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Does this have any relevance outside football?
There are lessons to be learned about Brazil’s footballing success which are important everywhere. What makes a nation successful in any activity? Can poverty and deprivation in some ways act as a spur to success? And most importantly, can the qualities that made Brazil good be copied elsewhere? This is relevant not just to sport, but every aspect of life.
Are other countries learning from Brazil?
Experts say Spain won the last World Cup and the last European Championship because 20 years ago it started investing heavily in developing young players and giving them expert coaching. England has recently begun doing the same — and there are hopeful signs since its under-17 team won the U-17 European Championship.

Word Watch

Fans
Earlier this year. fans of the Sao Paulo team, Corinthians, stormed their training ground and confronted some players over their poor performance. In the past teams’ buses have been attacked by fans following a heavy defeat.
Ronaldo
This is the Brazilian Ronaldo who has now retired, not the Portuguese player of the same name. To add to the confusion, the Brazilian Ronaldo became famous at the same time as two other Brazilian Ronaldos, who to make things simpler, took the names Ronaldão (big Ronaldo), and Ronaldinho (little Ronaldo).
Favelas
The term for Brazil’s slums. Favelas are associated with extreme poverty, and around six percent of Brazil’s population live in them – that’s over 11 million people.
Sport
Official estimates say only 100,000 Chinese teenagers play the game. Despite football having a huge following in the country, playing the game has a bad reputation because match-fixing is endemic and barely disguised in China’s leagues.

Subjects

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