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THEIR OWN BALL GAME

Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life By Alex Bellos, Bloomsbury, £ 9.99

Brazilians take great pride in Brazil being regarded as a football country. Justifiably so. No other nation can claim to be branded by a single sport as Brazil is by the game of football. Brazil has produced Wimbledon winners, car-racing champions as well as beach volleyball stars, yet it is the magic of football that has swayed the life of the nation.

Futebol is Alex Bellos’ dedication to the magical mystery of the Brazilian style of football. Whenever the blue-green-gold jerseys appear, the game takes a remarkably different hue. Drama and excitement flow in profusion, originality overrides set theories, tactics become secondary to personal skill and strategies go haywire as genius evolves designs of its own.

Brazilians play soccer as they live. Without inhibitions. Carefree and spontaneous. Relaxed and artistic. They enjoy their kick-about and in the process provide enjoyment to the spectators. Shackles of theories are unknown to them. Modernists tell us that the world has changed and so have football trends. But no football system has been able to submerge the Brazilian footballers. Vava, Didi, Zico, Rivelino, Tostao and Ronaldo are as revered for their footwork as the talent of Pele and Garrincha.

The only change that has taken place in recent years is that every Brazilian footballer wants to play in Europe because of the fabulous money on offer. In 1999, about 650 players had gone abroad. This year no less than 2,000 opted for foreign shores. They are economic migrants no doubt; but more important, they are the best cultural ambassadors that the country could ever wish to have.

The game is integrated into every aspect of Brazilian society. Where else would one have people using cars to play soccer' Rodeo-stars playing football with bulls' Where else but in Brazil can one have off-shore oil rigs with 5-a-side football pitches' Or find coffins with club crests'

In Brazil, football idioms come into serious conversations, football results are debated in assemblies, trade and commerce depend on the outcome of football performance.

The chapters on Garrincha and on Socrates are remarkably expressive as these two best represent the Brazilian football culture. Such is their penchant for action and excitement that it is extremely difficult to find a volunteer to tend the goal. The artistic skills of the Brazilians however did not begin with Pele and Garrincha in the Fifties.It was always there. But the advent of colour television coverage in the Mexico World Cup of 1970 gave the world a stunning exhibition of the Brazilian style of football — its gaiety and freedom, its skill and artistry. The dance and the music. Almost overnight, as it were, the status of the Brazilian football players soared.

Football came to Brazil with a Scottish engineer’s son in 1894. Immediately, the locals took a fancy for the game. The simplicity of the equipment and the easy-to-follow rules attracted attention just as they did in other parts of the world. The only plausible reason for the game’s wide appeal could be that the quick pace of the game, the opportunity for individual talent and the element of physical danger probably found a perfect match in the creative trait of the Brazilians.

Although an unabashed fan of Brazilian football, the author has not shirked from exposing the weak nature of Brazilian football administration. He has highlighted the corrupt practices, the power-play of egoistic officials and the favouritism that goes with it. Despite all odds, Brazilian footballers have proved time and again that money does not produce skill. It is passion that produces magical football. No passionate follower of football should miss this book.

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