“Imagine na Copa!” – “Imagine what it’ll be like during the World Cup!” – is a wry catchphrase Brazilians use when contemplating the construction delays, mismanagement and blatant corruption surrounding the run-up to this year’s tournament. The implication is clear: if you think the planning has been shambolic, you ain’t seen nothing yet. However, one suspects the tournament will run smoothly enough, because it is more than the organisers’ and politicians’ lives are worth, possibly literally, to fail as Brazil, five-time winners, aim to add a sixth, and their first on home soil.
First published in 2002 and now updated, this exploration of football’s centrality in Brazilian society is amusing, enlightening and depressing by turns. Alex Bellos’s account of how a number of the country’s players came to ply their trade in the Faroe Islands leads on to an examination of how the country has almost become a brand name for footballing excellence: in 2012 1,429 of its players were transferred abroad, many to be cynically exploited by clubs and agents.
Lighter relief is provided by characters such as superfan Joe Radio, a retired policeman who blasts the opposition dugout with his radio and scabrous language at full volume throughout his team Sport’s home matches. When Joe had a heart transplant a rumour arose that the donor had supported a rival club, and the donor’s father felt compelled to publicly state that his son had indeed been a follower of Sport.
There will be much more said and written as the spotlight shines on the host country and its continuing love affair with “the beautiful game” before the World Cup kicks off on 12 June, but it’s hard to imagine anyone else doing a better job than Bellos of portraying the good, bad and ugly sides of this fascinatingly complex country. Brilliant stuff.
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