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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before