Brazil 1994 — that most unBrazilian of Brazil sides, exemplified by Dunga, “the fart aimed at futebol-arte,” who belied everything a future husband told his future wife about Brazilian football as grace, as style, as art. And here we go again — this time with a 10-year-old’s happiness in the balance… An MRS original
By David Cleary
The first World Cup I watched in Brazil was 1994, a year also notable for meeting and wooing my future wife. A major obstacle to shared bliss was her American ignorance of football, which my reading Fever Pitch aloud from cover to cover over several evenings in a hammock did something to remedy, but not enough.
Just wait until the World Cup, I said, you’ll see how everyone here goes totally bananas, and indeed they did, in our small town, painting their houses and the road in front of them green and yellow, while I enthused about the brilliance of Romário up front, the perfect foil he’d found in young whippet Bebeto, Leonardo’s speed and ability to turn defense into attack, and so forth.
In the event, though, the highlight was Ireland’s turning over of Italy (she’s from Boston, after all); Leonardo’s fastest turn was projecting his elbow into Tad Ramos’ face; and when the final went to penalties, it was “What? That’s it? That’s it? What the FUCK?” And, of course, she was right. The only thing to warm to in that team, apart from the result-defining 30 seconds every game that Romário and Bebeto ran at a defense, was Taffarel’s comically endearing incompetence between the sticks (“It’s yours, Taffarel!” was for years afterwards a joke phrase in Portuguese, meaning go on, you never know, you might even do it).
And at the heart of that most unBrazilian of Brazil sides, spiky haircut then as now, permanent snarl then as now, was Dunga, Dunga the antithesis of jogo bonito, the fart aimed at futebol-arte, Dunga the bollocks to all that your future husband says about Brazilian football as grace, as style, as art.
Truth to tell, I (an Englishman) rather liked him, then as now. How could I not, since he seemed more English than Brazilian, the type of player we’ve loved and lodged at the heart of England sides for as long as I can remember, the line of direct descent from Jack Charlton via Terry Butcher and Tony Adams to John Terry, the last a dead ringer for Dunga in many ways, except that Dunga would run the guy over and not make any pretence of it being an accident afterwards.
How can you not admire someone capable of ignoring the drumbeat, the pleas, the begging of 200 million people to put the startling but also untested talents of Neymar and Ganso into the national squad, and relying instead on Grafite, whoever the hell he is? How could you not admire somebody with the chutzpah to rule out Ronaldinho Gaúcho, even as a substitute, not because of his talent, about which there is no doubt, but because he just doesn’t feel right for Dunga, too much off-the-pitch character and on-the-pitch preciousness? Quite right, too. Ronaldinho would never have got into an England side under Sir Alf either; he would have sat there warming the bench next to Jimmy Greaves and Rodney Marsh — if he were lucky.
However, the appalled reaction of Socrates to the announcement of the Brazilian squad summed it all up: “A pile of crap. That midfield only knows how to destroy.” Granted, Socrates (as a member of arguably the greatest midfield since 1970) sets the creativity bar rather high, but looking at the players (Elano? Felipe Melo?), it’s hard to deny. Dunga is recreating the 1994 side, this time with a decent goalkeeper.
So, in as good an indicator as any of a solid marriage, we now settle down for our fourth World Cup in Brazil. My wife has developed an air of tolerant irony when it comes to football that is closely related to her parenting style. My only response to this infantilization is to reinforce it by shifting gears and focusing on my 10-year-old son, old enough to infect with the virus of football passion but hopefully vaccinated, via YouTube tutorials, against the inevitable misery of defeat by a grounding in the moral compensations of losing magnificently, viz. 1970s Holland and 1980s Brazil. But if he cries, I’m done for — and cry he will when Brazil lose, along with every other 10-year-old in his class, sitting in front of the TV together because the seleção games come in the middle of the school day this time around and what were you thinking, that kids in Brazilian schools would actually have classes when Brazil plays? Making my son cry over football for the first time is not something she is likely to forgive or forget.
I think Brazil will lose this time. The 1994 team were always there to be taken, but nobody was good or confident enough to do it. This version of Brazil is even more dependent on Kaká than England is on Rooney; without him, there’s no channel of communication between the excellent defense and the excellent attack, and all the snarling from the dugout and the press conferences can’t hide the paucity of midfield talent, so accurately identified by Socrates as the team’s Achilles heel. With Kaká crocked, you see it being overwhelmed by Spain — even, God help us, given a game by England and Holland, whatever their other deficiencies.
Back to 1994. Unsurprisingly, the moment I remember from the most forgettable of World Cup finals wasn’t anything that happened in the actual match, but the post-game analysis. TV Bandeirantes had arranged a scintillating panel of pundits that was the highlight of that Copa; under the genial chairmanship of anchor Luciano do Valle, Rivelino and Tostão were reunited and thrown together with the finest Brazilian football writer of his generation, Armando Nogueira, who died earlier this year.
Luciano, glowing with the reconquest of the title after 24 years, launched into a patriotic panegyric of the team and vacated the floor to the panel, clearly expecting them to follow. But they didn’t: Rivelino and Tostão (talk about moral authority!) complained about the dullness of their football…and my narrow English mind grappled with the startling realization that they really do care more about style than winning. Then Armando Nogueira, incandescent with frighteningly articulate rage, tore into then Brazilian manager Carlos Alberto Parreira, accusing him of deforming the traditions of Brazilian football and “robot-izing” his players. Dunga, as captain, was Exhibit A. Filho de peixe peixinho é, as the Brazilian saying goes; fish give birth to fish.
I’m not betting against Dunga, necessarily; the 1994 side were formidable in their own way, as is this one, just not in a Brazilian way. We settle down to one more episode of football’s eternal purists v. pragmatists telenovela: Holland v West Germany, Barcelona v. Inter, Spain v Brazil. I’m not complaining; it’s the heroes v. villains narrative a good tournament needs. But I’ll be rooting for my son to cry, and bracing myself for the marital consequences. Like I said, I can’t help liking and admiring the man, but enough already. There’s no room for three in a marriage.
(Image credits: alvez/Flickr through a Creative Commons license.)