World Cup 2014: Trouble in the land of legends with Brazil pair Ronaldo and Romario in dispute

A World Cup mired in controversy finds Brazil greats Romario and Ronaldo now on opposing sides, writes James Young in Belo Horizonte

Ronaldo and Romario once caused the same panic in the hearts of opposing defenders. But the second acts of the footballing lives of two of Brazil’s greatest strikers could hardly be more different.

As debate rages over Brazil’s hosting of next year’s World Cup, Ronaldo, who led the country to victory in 2002, is toeing the party line as a member of the event’s Local Organising Committee. “We will look back with a lot of pride and say we organised the best World Cup of all time,” he says. 

In contrast Romario, the hero of Brazil’s 1994 triumph, has reinvented himself as an outspoken congressman for the state of Rio de Janeiro with a particular axe to grind against the forthcoming World Cup. “It will be the biggest robbery in the history of Brazil,” he counters.

The controversy over Brazil’s preparations intensified recently following the accident at the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo that left two construction workers dead and  the news that this stadium, together with new World Cup stadia in Curitiba and Cuiaba, will not be ready by Fifa’s end-of-year deadline. Such delays are particularly hard to comprehend given that Brazil has known it was going to host the World Cup since 2007.

Two people died in the stadium collapse in Sao Paulo Two people died in the stadium collapse in Sao Paulo  

At the same time the £2 billion – and rising – the country has spent on stadiums, the vast majority of which will come from the public purse, has come under fierce criticism, particularly in relation to venues in cities such as Brasilia, Cuiaba and Manaus, where the local teams pull in crowds in the hundreds rather than the thousands.

Meanwhile, many local infrastructure projects – such as the monorail network in Manaus – billed as the most important legacy of the event for the Brazilian people, appear to have been shelved.

While most Brazilians are not opposed to the World Cup itself, there is considerable anger at the money being spent on the competition.

“I’m not against the World Cup, I’m against the excessive costs,” said Romario, who had stood grinning alongside the then Brazilian president Lula on a stage in Zurich when Fifa awarded Brazil the 2014 competition six years ago.

Those costs contributed to the seismic events of last June, when hundreds of thousands of Brazilians from all walks of life took to the streets during the Confederations Cup to protest about a wide range of social and political grievances, including low-quality public services and political corruption. The very visible symbols of glittering football palaces being constructed with public money while schools and hospitals went underfunded has stuck in the throats of many Brazilians.

Romario has been particularly outspoken. “Fifa comes here, establishes a state within our state, sovereignty above our sovereignty, and leaves with two or three billion dollars in profit,” he said. “And then what happens to the white elephants they built?” 

Another affront is the perceived sleazy past of the CBF, the Brazilian FA. Their former president Ricardo Teixeira, who was questioned in relation to fraud allegations and eventually resigned his post on grounds of ill health, now lives a comfortable life in Miami. When Teixeira finally departed, Romario crowed: “We’ve removed a cancer from Brazilian football.”

Ronaldo is part of the organising committee Ronaldo is part of the organising committee  

Teixeira’s successor, Jose Maria Marin, has also proved to be a controversial figure. Soon after his appointment, footage emerged of the new president putting a winner’s medal in his pocket at the Copa Sao Paulo junior competition – Marin said it was a gift and called the accusations a “joke”. But Romario is clear in his view: “The CBF is a corrupt institution, with a corrupt president,” he said in October.

“Do we deserve to have representing our most beloved, most popular sport, the pride of our country, a man who, albeit indirectly, is suspected of being involved in torture, murder, and the suppression of democracy?” Romario asked Congress.

It was a reference to Marin’s past during Brazil’s military dictatorship, specifically in 1975, when as a Sao Paulo state assemblyman he apparently supported a call for action to be taken against the opposition broadcaster TV Cultura. Soon after, the station’s editor Vladimir Herzog was interrogated by police and found dead in his cell. A year later, Marin fulsomely praised the work of notorious police chief and dictatorship henchman, Sergio Fleury, subsequently accused of operating a death squad during the regime.

And as the World Cup bandwagon gathers speed, the domestic game in Brazil is in a chaotic state. A group of leading players have formed a union called Common Sense FC to protest against an overcrowded fixture list and alleged non-payment of wages, and are threatening strike action if their demands are not met.

The Brazilian authorities are also as far away as ever from solving the problem of football violence. There have been a number of high-profile clashes between torcidas organizadas (officially fan clubs, more often than not hooligan gangs) this year and football-related murders remain alarmingly common.

The differing views of Romario and Ronaldo have led to some stinging verbal jousting between the two, and even Pele has not been immune to criticism.

The greatest Brazilian footballing legend of them all committed a huge gaffe during the street protests by suggesting that Brazilians should forget about demonstrating and get behind the team in the Confederations Cup, rather confirming Romario’s comment from a few years ago that “Pele is a poet… when he has his mouth shut.”

Ronaldo was not far behind in the foot-in-mouth stakes, saying that “you host the World Cup with stadiums, not hospitals”, although he later said his quote was taken out of context.

Romario has shown his countryman little charity. “There are some people who don’t know what patriotism means,” he spat recently after Ronaldo criticised his allegiance to the flag, before going on to reveal more than a little of his old self-aggrandising nature: “I love women, but I respect those who have different tastes.” Which has been interpreted by some as a reference to Ronaldo’s unfortunate encounter with transvestite prostitutes in 2008.

It was a cheap comment for one who purports to represent transparency and honesty in the murky world of Brazilian and World Cup politics. But there is no doubt that Romario, rather than Ronaldo or Pele, is more in tune with the feelings of ordinary Brazilians. “One of the big positives is that people have taken to the streets,” he said recently. “I want them to keep protesting until the [presidential] elections [in October] next year, and I believe they will.”

It is impossible to know if last June’s demonstrations will be recreated at the World Cup. But few would bet against the old penalty box predator’s aim being as true as ever.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
football
News
Tangerine Dream Edgar Froese
people
News
Rob Lowe
peopleRob Lowe hits out at Obama's snub of Benjamin Netanyahu
News
Davies (let) says: 'Everybody thought we were having an affair. It was never true!'
people'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
News
Staff assemble outside the old City Road offices in London
mediaThe stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century at Britain's youngest paper
Life and Style
The Oliver twins, Philip and Andrew, at work creating the 'Dizzy' arcade-adventure games in 1988
techDocumentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Arts and Entertainment
Krall says: 'My hero player-singer is Elton John I used to listen to him as a child, every single record
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
News
i100
Environment
Number so freshwater mussels in Cumbria have plummeted from up to three million in the 20th century to 500,000
environment
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

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us