Alex Bellos World Cup 2014 column: This Brazil side have forged a bond with the nation as never before

Even if they are yet to convince everyone that they are winners

‘Dear Neymar, I want you to be strong in this World Cup. You are really good at football… I LOVE YOU!!’

These words, handwritten in blue and red ink, are taken from one of more than 11,000 letters that have arrived in recent weeks at the training base of the Brazilian national team near Rio. In an age of social media, the volume of good luck messages sent by post is evidence of an especially strong emotional bond that the current players have with their young fans.

Read more: Luiz leaves eight-year-old boy in tears of joy
Cameroon vs Brazil match preview
Six-fingered family keep their digits crossed for Brazil

Last week, during his TV commentary of Brazil’s 0-0 draw with Mexico, 2002 World Cup winner Ronaldo said that his generation never had the popular appeal that the current squad enjoy.

“The Brazilian people feel much more personal affection to the national team than they have for years,” says Mauricio Savarese, author of A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football. “They are seen as very nice boys, rather than tough guys with big egos like they have sometimes been in the past.”

Neymar in tears during the Brazil national anthem before the game with Mexico Neymar in tears during the Brazil national anthem before the game with Mexico  

I noticed this when I saw the players after the opener against Croatia. They spoke at length, and with considerable humility and charm, to the Brazilian media. You’d invite Neymar, David Luiz and Thiago Silva for tea with your grandmother. I sensed a warmth between players and press that was absent when I covered the team in the 2006 World Cup.

Savarese puts this fondness down to last year’s Confederations Cup. Most of the team had played for European clubs for years, and were not very well known back home. The Confederations Cup meant that the country had a chance to get to know them as people.

David Luiz embraces an eight-year-old Brazil fan after he ran on to the pitch at a training session David Luiz embraces an eight-year-old Brazil fan after he ran on to the pitch at a training session  

One player, however, was already very familiar: Neymar, who stayed at his local club Santos for four years before transferring to Barcelona last summer. He was the first top Brazilian player in decades to choose his domestic league over a European one for so long, and this made him a national hero.

As the focus of the team, Neymar’s personality also shapes the group. His reputation is of the good, loyal son. He is inseparable from his father, who runs his business affairs. Neymar’s father has appeared with his son in adverts and an authorised biography just out is written as letters between them.

Neymar, aged 22, has his own son with an ex-girlfriend and has embraced fatherhood, taking a prominent role in the boy’s life. His image as a caring, family man was sealed earlier this year when a South African boy ran on to the pitch at the end of a Brazil v South Africa friendly. As security guards tried to take the boy away, Neymar went over to him, picked him up and introduced him to the team.

Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari’s style is to be a gruff father figure for the Brazilian team. In 2002, the press nicknamed his squad the “Scolari family”. Yet that year there were opinionated, veteran players – Cafu and Rivaldo – who would challenge him.

 

In 2006, coach Carlos Alberto Parreira could not impose discipline on a team of all-stars that included Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Robinho and Adriano. In 2010, again there were difficult characters in the group: Luis Fabiano, Robinho and Elano. But this year the team are united. Scolari is a more established figure and has no tricky egos to deal with. There is no hint of dissent or trouble. If you follow the social media accounts of the Brazilian players you will see a carnival of hugs and smiles. In fact, the use of social media, especially Instagram, by pretty much all the Brazilian squad (Neymar has 6.4 million followers, Daniel Alves 2.1 million and Thiago Silva 1.2 million) has given fans a more intimate connection with the team than ever before. Some of the images are obviously placed by their staff, but enough are genuine selfies, often with heartfelt messages to the nation, that portray them as lovable and kind.

Head coach Luiz Felipe Scolari of Brazil Head coach Luiz Felipe Scolari of Brazil  

Another uniting feature of the current team is their religiosity. Neymar comes from an evangelical background – he met the mother of his child through church – as does David Luiz, Fernandinho, Fred and others. Unlike in past World Cups, where the evangelical players have prayed separately from the Catholics, in this group religion has added to the sense of a shared experience.

The Brazilian team have yet to convince the country that they have a winning side, but they have already won over their hearts.

Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
News
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Sport
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
football
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments