World Cup 2014: Brazil’s first Geordie Mirandinha hopes jamboree unites his people
Acclimatising to football in a new hemisphere can be as bewildering as it is bizarre; to that Mirandinha can most certainly attest.
He was the first Brazilian to play in England and the comic potential of him arriving in a freezing Newcastle was multiplied by having Paul Gascoigne as a team-mate in manager Willie McFaul’s team 27 years ago.
Mirandinha could linger all day on the stories, like an excellent one about his first game for Newcastle United, when he, Gascoigne and Co were on the bus home from Norwich City. “Inside the bus they brought us fish and chips and chicken and chips for us to eat after the game,” he recalls, with the more-than-decent English he never lost.
“The bus started to leave and Gazza told me to go over to Mr Willie and tell him: ‘Mr Willie I am fucking starving.’ I didn’t know what it meant so I went to Mr Willie and said: ‘Boss I am fucking starving I need to eat some food.’ All the boys started to laugh with me! Gazza… he’s a crazy boy. Then he was only 19 years old so you can imagine…”
Mirandinha came to love the place with a passion. He had never seen snow before he left Brazil for Tyneside in 1987, when Newcastle paid out £575,000 to equip McFaul’s side with him, but it says everything about that time that he now feels that rejecting Kevin Keegan and Bobby Robson’s invitations to go back was his biggest mistake in football.
Mirandinha was the first Brazilian to play in England (Getty) The $64,000 question for him, when he arrives at Fortaleza’s Castelao stadium on Brazil’s north-east coast to talk about one of the few World Cup venues that has actually been built on time, is whether the English will feel reciprocal affection for Brazil, in what they hope will be a one-month stay, in two weeks’ time.
Beyond the diplomacy he extends to his old adoptive nation, Mirandinha seems to flinch at the thought of Englishmen travelling up the Amazon to play Italy in Manaus, where he lived for nine years. He remembers his first game – for Palmeiras against local side Nacional – in that hot, windless place. “I felt very, very bad – the beginning of the game was horrible. But then you get the pace...”
He struggled to acclimatise to his own nation, too, when the Newcastle adventure ended after a mere two years. He played more games there – 54 – than anywhere in a 16-year career and became an itinerant player in the years after McFaul’s successor, Jim Smith, sent him home. He played out a very brief spell – three games – in Portugal, with the old Lisbon club Belenenses and also shipped out to Japan for a time before finding deep and belated affection in Fortaleza, as a player and manager.
That this hugely gifted striker should have needed to travel to England to find a club ready to pay him well says everything about the ramshackle Brazilian domestic game – an export business plagued by corruption and run by the loathed directors universally known as the cartolas (top hats). The same struggle stalks the Brazilian economy, leaving millions facing the same life of penury that many of the footballers still face below the top level, only without the chance to take their skills abroad.
Mirandinha is a proponent of the argument, expounded powerfully by Eric Cantona this week, that the World Cup can drag these people up.
“The people in Brazil have situations in some areas,” he says. “We know we have poor people in some areas. But the situations before the World Cup was coming here were the same, they never changed. It is the biggest event in the world and we cannot use this time to create problems for the foreign people who will be here with us. This is the time for us to show everyone in the world that we are a country that loves football and give special treatment to the people to come here to visit. This is my opinion.”
Brazil’s own campaign on the pitch may help assuage the doubters in this football-obsessed land, though there can be no guarantees, of course. Brazil’s perennial conviction that their national team will prevail does not always allow for the sheer unpredictability of the sport, and the consequences of defeat can be explosive.
An entire government inquiry was set up into the failure against France in the 1998 final. “Sometimes in football the result comes when you don’t think [too much] about it,” Mirandinha reflects. For the record, he – like many others in this country – fears the Argentinians most. “I would prefer to play the Germans.”
Expecting the tournament to salve social divisions and deliver Brazil the trophy seems like a vast expectation, yet the man who most improbably won Tyneside over has always believed that the next chapter will be the best one. An exhibition within in the Fortaleza stadium includes Newcastle Evening Chronicle clippings of his last game for McFaul headlined “That’s for you, Boss”. Football can deliver incredible things.
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