SAO PAULO – I know; Israel bombing civilians in Gaza, Kiev bombing civilians in eastern Ukraine, the Caliph running amok in the Middle East, The Empire of Chaos playing trickster. But let me get something out of my chest first.
I was saving this picture for the right moment. Which is now. Meet a classic tropical paradise – as in Santo Andre, in Bahia, close to the spot where Brazil was “discovered” by the Portuguese in 1500. The Mannschaft training camp is right behind those trees on the left. I was there at the start of the World Cup; my gracious host Anna Mariani owns a fabulous beach house right next to it.
The German camp – actually a beach condo – was secluded and customized to perfection. Yet the players interacted with the small village nearby, visited a local school, fraternized with Pataxo Indians, went for morning beach walks. And trained very, very hard; discipline, commitment, work ethic – while loving every minute of their side of paradise and imbibing rituals of Brazilian culture. This is where the already famous/infamous 7-1 evisceration of Brazil really started.
The Brazilian national team, meanwhile, was starring a (literal) tearjerker psychodrama convulsing 200 million people. It was like an abysmal telenovela – bearing no hard work or discipline; just bling bling (look at my new haircut!) coupled with a smug sense of entitlement. In the end they should win because after all, runs the top national myth, “God is Brazilian.”
Now for a globalization parable. Way before the Cup, Brazil – once a mighty footballing superpower – had been reduced, by concentric levels of mismanagement, to a minor role of commodity exporter (as in talented players). There had been no thought of investing in the future; all that mattered was profitable TV rights privileging a media racket. Germany, on the other hand, since they lost the 2002 World Cup (to Brazil …) invested in a vast network of football schools, part of a national system of nurturing talent, educating them, and preparing coaches as well.
Three hours before the start of the 7-1 humiliation, I was asked at my barbershop about the match result. I shot back “Germany 4-0.” Everyone was stunned. Well, I flew in from Asia and then Europe to follow the World Cup in Brazil as if I was covering a war; what I initially suspected was confirmed as the psychodrama started to unroll/unravel.
All signs pointed to a bunch of psychologically unstable young Brazilian millionaires ready to spectacularly implode – as they had threatened to while playing Chile and then Colombia. It finally happened in the space of only six minutes when Germany scored 4 goals – and at the 29th minute the Europeans were already leading by 5-0.
Surprise? Not really. Brazil has ceased to play jogo bonito (the beautiful game) a long time ago, after that fabulous 1970 side and then the best side that never won anything, in 1982. Since the 1990s, Brazil as the home of jogo bonito was just another myth – an elaborate marketing trick (with a Nike hand). And all the way, Brazilians loved to fool themselves, draped in a perennially cheap “We Are the Champions” brand of nationalism.
Until hubris prevailed. It took Germany to reclaim the real jogo bonito, with their scintillating passes, top finishing and triangulation flair worthy of the Chicago Bulls in their heyday.
The Brazilian team turned into a nervous wreck first of all for tactical/technical reasons; this was a team with no midfield playing against the best midfield on the planet. Blame it on their handlers, the Brazilian football federation and the “technical commission” they appointed; a talentless, arrogant/ignorant lowly bunch that mirrors, crystal clear, the arrogance/ignorance of Brazilian political/economic elites, old and new. As much as Brazilian police, quite ironically, dismantled a FIFA corporate ticket black market racket in Rio of all places (Scotland Yard couldn’t do it), it missed another racket – a spin-off at the shadowy corridors of Brazilian football.
The technical commission, in their post-traumatic press conference, the same day Argentina and Holland played like grown ups for an interminable 120 minutes to 0-0 (then solved it on penalties), reminded me of the Pentagon dismissing Abu Ghraib: “Oh, that was just a freak accident.” No, it was not. The Brazilian cowards in charge simply could not admit the “blackout” was systemic.
There will be endless political reverberations about this 7-1 thrashing. It goes way beyond the (white) Brazilian moneyed crowd who could afford to buy FIFA’s tickets while despising President Dilma Rousseff’s spending on social welfare. It certainly has to do with the handsome profit of FIFA’s own funfest (US$4 billion, tax-free) supplied by the locals, as well as the overall bill (a staggering $13.6 billion). Compare it to the pitiful investments in education, public services, “urban mobility,” still appalling infrastructure – while no-holds-barred corruption reigns supreme.
The biggest global sport humiliation in living memory is directly related to the trademark Brazilian elites’ ignorance/arrogance syndrome (and sense of entitlement). At the same time, you cannot aspire to become a BRICS “superpower” when your self-identity is constructed around a sport – football – debased by crooks.
The gods of football have mercifully declared the 200 million-strong psychodrama over. Still I really feel sad for the losers – the overwhelming majority of these 200 million supporters, honest and hardworking people for whom football is a meager relief from their pain and struggle; they have been taken for a ride, and consistently lied to.
Brazil may still enjoy an unlimited stock of soft power across the world, but it must get its corrupt/inefficient act together. If football is to remain the only element that keeps this aspiring superpower glued, better think hard, understand where the humiliation came from, get rid of all those self-important bums, show some humility and work very hard. Learn from the German sports model – one that certainly does not have to do with EU austerity. And then you will be back in paradise.