One year ago they suffered the most painful, humiliating defeat in the history of football. Somehow things have got worse. To the extent that remarkably we have to ask ourselves: is there a way back for Brazil? Can the nation synonymous with football ever regain its special status?
I was in Brazil for the astonishing 7-1 beating at the hands of Germany and still not sure it has sunk in for any of us. The most successful football nation, virtually a brand (comparable to the All Blacks in rugby union) taken apart by the Germans like a school playground game, and in their own World Cup. We knew they weren’t particularly good, but that bad? Shocking. And maybe irreparable psychologically.
So what has happened in the year since, with no major qualifiers to deal with and the return of the pragmatic Dunga instead of the giant ego of Scolari?
Well not only have Brazil been pretty insipid in many of their friendlies, not only have new stars been thin on the ground, but they managed something extraordinary; to be worse in Copa America than they were at the World Cup.
At times Brazil were close to unwatchable in the South American continental tournament. We shouldn’t kid ourselves they have always been blessed with good teams – the World Cup team of 1990 comes to mind as mediocre and even the ’94 winners were hardly vintage, but this is a new level – conceivably in Chile they were a worse team than the World Cup team who fell apart at that seams.
In the Copa America group stage with Neymar there was some kind of hope – I find him paradoxically a superstar who is overrated, due to Brazil’s overall failings and Messi being his club team mate.
Without him – stupidly suspended for indiscipline – Brazil were awful. They deserved nothing against Paraguay in the quarter-finals in Chile and that’s exactly what they got. In a way, victory in the penalty shoot out would have papered over cracks that urgently need consideration.
Though maybe there is too much for Brazilians, who can talk football day and night, to address. Because the problems on the field are matched by huge issues off it.
It’s tough for Brazilians to look back at the 2014 World Cup fondly. Only success on the pitch could make up for the financial outlay. And though the protests of two years ago seem a distant memory they have white elephants to remind them. None with a bigger, whiter trunk than the stadium in Manaus. In a land where political statements so often usurp commonsense, building a stadium in a rainforest was a monument to misguided aims. No team plays there, no team was ever going to play there. It’s actually tragic that the project wasn’t halted before it was too late.
Yes there have been a few high profile matches played in Manaus. But it’s cosmetic. Can Brazil really afford to maintain a stadium like this with no team calling it home? Other World Cup stadiums have problems too. Brasilia’s Garrincha stadium has been hosting the occasional low profile friendly match (not the national team) while costing the city hundreds of thousands of dollars to maintain.
Brazilian club football is in turmoil too. Financially even the biggest clubs – Santos included – have struggle to make ends meet. Many have tax issues. They’d like more people paying to watch, of course they would, but the famed Brazilian mark of quality isn’t there. Underlined by embarrassment against Argentine clubs – oh cruel fate – in the Copa Libertadores.
Such problems are not disconnected with the running of the game in Brazil, where corruption appears to have lurked for decades – in domestic administration and in the FIFA scandals. The reputations of Joao Havelange and his son-in-law, former World Cup Chief Ricardo Teixeira have been battered by years of allegations and accusations.
What a mess.
An interesting time for Liverpool to have bought Brazil’s bright new talent to play alongside his international partner. Roberto Firmino, costing over $40 million to link up with and Philippe Coutinho. it may turn out to be an inspired move, but you can’t help sensing the whiff of desperation. A Chilean and the Uruguayan (Sanchez and Suarez) are the proven ones. Since when did clubs buy a Brazilian hoping they could emulate other South Americans?
But this is how the Brazilian status is slipping. In the brilliant book by Alex Bellos Futebol, the Brazilian way of Life there is a wonderful opening chapter about an unscrupulous agent managing to sell three terrible Brazilians footballers to a club in the Faroe Islands on nationality alone. One of them did forge a new life there…but not as a footballer.
These days Brazil may still be a brand but it is not the brand? It appears South America has become more of the brand on the whole. It’s the continent the all-powerful English Premier League seems most interested in mining for high quality players.
What a comedown for the nation of a record five world cups. The glorious golden shirts and the glorious fans. Pele, Garrincha, Zico, Socrates….Ronaldo….it seemed like Brazil would always be a football superpower.
There is too much history, too many footballers, for Brazil to slide too much further. But fully regaining their aura?
Maybe too much damage has been done, not least in that fateful semi-final in Belo Horizonte a year ago.
Lee Wellings is the Sports Correspondent for Al Jazeera English based in London. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Lee on twitter @LeeW_Sport