A little over a week ago, Brazil woke up wondering how it had managed to behave so embarrassingly at its own party and make clumsy passes at so many different people. Brazil hadn’t just been beaten: it had been beaten up, as someone wrote of Mike Tyson’s 1990 clobbering by James “Buster” Douglas. In seeking to lay the ghost of the Maracanazo, it had summoned the seven-headed monster of the Mineirazo. It’s players were left reeling and predictably tearful. By the end, even their theatrical penalty-area dives lacked conviction. Central defender, Dante, about whose private Inferno much wordplay was made, was described as looking like “a dazed cockroach”. Every member of the Brazilian team was given 0 out of 10 by the following day’s O Globo newspaper. “God is Brazilian and he likes football!”, or so goes the popular Brazilian saying. But in that 18-minute/5-goal flurry, God appeared to have renounced his nationality and Brazil to have succumbed to that other English Disease: massively underperforming at World Cup tournaments.
The inevitable inquest began while the game was still in progress and found its immediate scapegoat in head coach, Felipão. In the post-match conference, dark headphones circling his bald crown, he had the air of a Nuremberg Trial defendant wondering where he was going to source the cyanide pill. But in the succeeding days, this gave way to an almost Roy Hogson-like mood of denial and defiance. Rather than fall on his sword, it appeared he intended to have the words “good job” – his self-assessment of his performance – engraved on its blade. The Brazilian Football Federation duly disavowed him of this misapprehension.
Like a reverse Old Testament Patriarch – stern, authoritarian, God-fearing – Felipão had seemed intent on leading his cultish ‘family’ of players into a footballing wilderness. He had dragged them to the semi-final on a heady cocktail of raw energy, misplaced self-belief and Art-Of-War motivational bluster. But when faced with a well-oiled German attacking machine, Brazil’s extravagantly-coiffured Maginot Line was effortlessly outflanked.
Felipão later admitted that he had tried to ‘confuse’ his opposite number, hausfrau fantasy-object, Joachim Low, by adopting untested tactics and an untried formation. (For reasons he didn’t care to go into, the Brazilian squad had only had one training session between the quarter- and semi-finals.) But the Brazilian players were the only ones left bewildered by the strategy. The magical realist tactics failed once the team’s only real magician – Neymar – had been sidelined. Their midfield proved as flaccid as Felipão’s paunch; its spine as fragile as Neymar’s third vertebra. Moreover, the players’ near-infantile subjugation to Big Phil’s unquestioned authority left little room for leadership in adversity on the field.
Following the tear-fest of the second-round penalty shoot-out against Chile, psychologist Regina Brandão was rushed to the Brazilian training camp to patch together the player’s shredded nerves. She observed that “on realizing that they weren’t as good as they thought they were, the players lost confidence in their talent.” They lacked the psychological resources to bridge the yawning gap between Big Phil’s triumphalist rhetoric and the jarring reality of their own limitations. Phil had previously declared himself to be the team’s only ‘psychologist’ but his efforts to build a siege mentality had simply left his charges terrified of what might be outside the walls. An intermittently active emotional volcano, Phil’s own anxiety was apparent in the less than reassuring admission that he felt “unsafe” when left alone.
The Guardian’s art-critic, Jonathan Jones was moved to speculate whether the game amounted to a genuine tragedy. He noted that, to fulfil Aristotle’s definition of the form, it needed “to arouse pity and terror” (tick). It also needed to lead to catharsis, which was provided, amongst other things, by the good-humoured self-mockery in which Brazilians sought refuge on social networks (“And you thought the opening ceremony was the most embarrassing thing about this tournament?” read one tweet). There was also something Oedipal in Germany’s reluctance to kill the ‘footballing father’, defender Mats Hummels later claiming that Germany’s players made a gentlemanly agreement at half-time not to ‘humiliate’ Brazil – before delivering a couple of valedictory knife-thrusts in the second half for good measure.
But to qualify as true tragedy, the narrative would also require a dose of hubris – Felipão and assistant coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira’s, pre-tournament assertions that Brazil were favourites who had ‘one hand on the Cup’ and ‘no Plan B’ (Plan A being: give the ball to Neymar) – and for the protagonist’s demise to be mirrored in the broader collapse of his society.
Certainly, if the heart of Brazil’s broader footballing society is the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF), there were many, in the aftermath of the game, calling for its overthrow. 1994 World Cup winner-turned-congressional deputy and political establishment gadfly, Romário, fired off a series of Facebook broadsides claiming, among other things, that, “our football has been deteriorating for years, the life sucked out of it by ‘top hats’ (corrupt administrators) who haven’t got the talent to do one keepy-uppy. They stay in their VIP boxes toasting the millions that go into their bank accounts. A bunch of corrupt thieves and gangsters!” He accused the Chairman of the CBF, José Marin, of being “a thief of medals, energy, public property and a supporter of the dictatorship.” A bewigged relic of military regime politics, Marin has been accused of stoking the 1970s climate of anti-leftwing hysteria which led to the abduction and brutal murder of journalist, Vladimir Herzog. Romário further noted that Marin’s successor-in-waiting, Marco Polo Del Nero, was recently charged with, “crimes against the financial system, corruption and conspiracy.” Marin’s predecessor at the CBF was Ricardo Texeira, who resigned in the wake of FIFA-related scandal and who, in turn, is the former son-in-law and ally of gilded-pillar of administrational improbity, João Havelange.
Others have subsequently called for more state intervention in the game (Sports Minister and Communist Anglophobe, Aldo Rebelo), an embargo on the export of Brazilian talent (President Dilma) and even (whisper it) the appointment of a foreign coach, both José Mourinho and Manoel Pelligrini having allegedly been contacted in recent days. (Marin, however, would appear to have put the kaibosh on that option, having declared, erroneously, last October: “I can state that we have nothing to learn from any outsider, principally in the field of football. We have always had the best in Brazil!”)
German comedian, Henning Wehn, meanwhile, suggested that it’s simply time to “put an end to those stupid documentaries about how South America’s poverty is the catalyst for footballing excellence, and how everyone in Brazil learns to play barefoot on the beach. Even the ones living thousands of miles away from the sea. It’s time for more accurate documentaries that explain how well-maintained municipal facilities and the supportive families of a prosperous middle class are the secret to world domination.”
Five days after their Brazilian job, Wehn’s countryman returned to the city from which, two hundred years previously, Germans had been expelled by knife-wielding locals, bellowing, “Go home, foreigners!”. Now they were welcomed back as models of global citizenry, cultural sensitivity and footballing magnanimity. They had even achieved that unthinkable feat, prior to the tournament: of replacing Brazil as every right-minded person’s second team. They would further ingratiate themselves with their hosts by proving that the Argentinean captain, contrary to his fellow countrymen’s insistence, was not the MessiAH after all. He was just a very naughty boy.
Meanwhile, the FIFA circus rolls on under a swirling cloud of rumour and uncertainty concerning the legitimacy of Blatter’s mandate, corruption charges regarding the Qatar bid-process, illegal ticket-selling allegations involving banged-up-abroad Brit, Ray Whelan, and questions over the sanity of staging a World Cup in a desert in the middle of summer. Blatter and Co., whilst awarding Brazil (and, by extension, themselves!) a 9.25 out of 10 for the tournament’s organization, failed to quell concerns about their terminal venality and unfitness for purpose. When the FIFA delegation was housed for several days in São Paulo’s Grand Hyatt hotel, delegates insisted on the implemention of a ‘day use’ policy, whereby guests were allowed to join them overnight in their suites for a supplementary payment. A substantial increase in female traffic was duly noted in the hotel lobby. The official slogan of the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ was: ‘All In One Rhythm’. Perhaps that should have been amended to: ‘All In One Rhythm – the rhythm of old men having sex with Brazilian prostitutes in luxury hotels.’