In the first part of this series, we recalled how the greatest power in football took its first fledgling steps towards global supremacy. In the second edition of “Uncovering Brazil“, we take a look into the unique style of the Brazilians, how it originated and explore a forgotten hero who lit up the world stage with his amazing tricks.
Uncovering the Brazilian Style
Brazilians always played football in a different way. While the rest of the world emphasized on tactics and formations, Brazil was more content with just going out there and having fun. With no country to influence their style of play, football in Brazil charted its own path, laced with a healthy dosage of society and culture. This was the first country where a dribble was celebrated more than a goal, where individual brilliance mattered more than team tactics. This was one team, which focused more on dribbles, shimmies and flicks rather than a physical encounter.
But why so? Football in Brazil is always linked to their dance form – samba. In some aspect, it is true that the overall movement of Brazilian players from Garrincha to Vava to Ronaldinho was actually a carefully choreographed song and dance movement, where the player behaved more as an artist as compared to a footballer. For a country where football enthusiasts mostly played with a rag full of socks or a bag filled with paper, their level of skill was undoubtedly a class apart.
Controlling a uniform football is one thing, but controlling an irregular shaped ball of socks is a wholly new subject. No wonder, footballers from Brazil and other South American countries are so much revered worldwide. In addition, Brazilians look at football in a different way as compared to a European. While players in Brazil were encouraged to do what they liked – shoot from an impossible distance, carry the ball the longest, dribble between 3-4 players, their counterparts from Europe were more disciplined and definitely more organized. However, strangely it was only after the 1982 World Cup that Brazil started playing like Europe.
Racism too played its part in shaping Brazil’s unique style. Before white and black players started playing together, the general notion of ‘untouchability’ was widespread. If a black player even dared to touch a white player, he was not only severely beaten but also humiliated publicly. However, with the rise of football, it was not possible for white players to banish the blacks forever. The black players, on the other hand, devised an ingenious method to play football with the whites, and at the same time not get whacked for touching them.
They devised the technique of miudinho, which was basically a derivation from samba. In that form of dance, the dancers usually moved their hips side to side as they swayed with their partner. In Cultural Hybridity, Peter Burke speaks about how the Brazilian mulatto de-Europeanized football by giving it curves, by dancing with the ball. Their unique style of playing football was taking shape slowly.
Another aspect, which had a huge hand in shaping how Brazilians play, was Capoeira, a martial art that was disguised as a dance form to fool slave owners. Consisting of quick and complex manoeuvres, the dancers never touched each other but taunted their partner with their feet. This technique coupled with miudinho and untouchability formed the core of the Brazilian football style. Not only were they supremely skilled to play with an irregular object such as a bundle of wool, but these dance forms made sure that there will be minimal contact on the football ground while maintaining the eye-catchy nature of their free spirit. The modern day version of Capoeira was seen in the 2002 World Cup when Brazil faced England. Observe how Ronaldinho uses Capoeira to trick Ashley Cole.
The Story of Leônidas and the Chocolate
The 1934 FIFA World Cup was unique in many ways. It was the first time live radio broadcasts of the matches took place. It was also the first time when the host nation was made to qualify. In addition, with Uruguay declining to participate, it was the first and only occasion when a World Cup winner was not there to defend their crown. It also marked the entry of Leônidas in the biggest stage of them all. His first World Cup however ended on a sorry note as Brazil crashed out in the Group Stages itself, having fielded an under-strength team. Italy went on to win that World Cup, and hence the host nation won the Cup for the second time in succession.
The 1938 World Cup was played in the shadow of the Second World War and for what it’s worth, the tournament saw the first time the dazzling skills of the Brazilians. Failure in two successive World Cups led to an overhaul of the Brazilian squad. With top striker, Niginho starting from the bench, Leônidas turned this World Cup into his World Cup. In the first match, Brazil faced Poland with Leônidas scoring the first goal.
With Brazil leading 3-1 at the half-time break, Poland made a remarkable recovery to tie the score at 3-3. At one point, Leônidas was so frustrated with the muddy pitch that he took off his shoes and threw them towards the sidelines. However, he was forced to wear them after the referee intervened. The match ended 6-5 in favour of Brazil with Leônidas scoring three. That match was also the first time a player scored 4 goals and yet ended up in the losing side – Wilimowski of Poland. Leônidas came into that World Cup having an astounding record of a goal-per-game in all of the clubs he was part of.
Brazil next faced Czechoslovakia in what would be a brutal and physical encounter. The match ended 1-1, and hence a replay was needed to decide the winner. Leônidas scored in both the matches but he limped off in the second one. Two players suffered fractured limbs and three red cards were shown in that match as football took a back-seat. However, Leônidas was having a time of his life and with five goals so far, Europe was warming up to this elastic man with a penchant for the brilliant.
Then came the most debated match of the 1938 World Cup. Brazil were to face Italy in the semi finals. Italy, under the stewardship of Vittorio Pozzo and led by Giuseppe Meazza, Silvio Piola and Giovanni Ferrari had quietly made their way into the semis in a bid to prove that the World Cup victory four years ago was not solely due to home advantage. Strangely, Brazil coach Ademar Pimenta decided not to field Leônidas in the match – maybe due to over-confidence in his other players. This decision backfired and Brazil lost 1-2 to eventual champions Italy.
Leônidas was however not finished yet. In the third place match, he scored two goals and took his overall tally to 7 goals – a first for any Brazilian. He returned home as a national hero but still the World Cup remained an elusive dream for Brazil. Leônidas did not play in any other World Cup after that as the world descended into chaos and all football relations were kept on hold for the next 12 years. However, his place in football history is undeniable.
As one of the foremost stars from Brazil, he was a pioneer of the “bicycle kick”, a move which requires a tremendous degree of athleticism, skill and power. A move totally out of the blue but one which has far-reaching consequences in the outcome of a match; a move which not only demoralizes an opponent, but also highlights the chasm in skill between the player and the team.
Leônidas’ efforts in that World Cup led to the beginning of “Diamante Negro” – a chocolate brand in Brazil. He was often referred to as “Black Diamond”, which was perhaps the most famous of his nicknames. Upon his return from Italy, Leônidas endorsed the chocolate brand and thus was born Diamante Negro, which is still one of the top brands of chocolate in Brazil.
Leônidas thus became the first ever football player to endorse a brand. However, with the advent of the World War, football took a back-seat on a global scale, although Brazil were not involved in it. In his later life, Leônidas was engulfed in a major controversy involving forging of documents. As a result, he was imprisoned for almost a year. His image was tarnished due to this, and sadly, he was never selected to play for Brazil again. Brazil