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Saturday, 1 June, 2002, 11:50 GMT 12:50 UK
Doctor with cure for Brazilian football
Brazilian football supporters
Brazilians wonder if game has been destroyed by money

Just imagine the scene - a middle-aged British couple on Rio's Copacabana beach, busy smearing on factor 15 when a young Brazilian man strolls up and asks them where they are from.

Sunderland they reply - that's in northern England.

Brazilian football fans
Brazilian football fans are known for their passion

"How do you like your new football stadium?" says the young man knowledgeably.

They gape at him open-mouthed as he continues: "I hear that the Stadium of Light is great but that it's not like the old days at Roker Park when you could feel the bite of the North Sea on your cheeks."

Alexandro Gontijo has never been to Sunderland but he knows details about its football club that lifelong inhabitants of the city would be pushed to come up with.

Alexandro is a professional fan, a walking encyclopaedia of football trivia.

I met him at Rio's famous Maracana stadium. We were standing just outside under a large ramp - which extended about 40 feet from the ground.

A matter of life and death

"Two fans died when they jumped from there," he said pointing upwards. "Were they drunk?" I asked. "No, they committed suicide after Brazil lost to Uruguay in the 1950 World Cup final," came the reply.

I grimaced disbelievingly. "It's difficult to understand if you are not Brazilian, but for us 1950 World Cup was like 11 September, or Hiroshima.

"We were the hosts, the favourites. We built the largest stadium in the world to stage it and then we lost in the final. It was tragic."

Brazilian football is like a beautiful whore who sells herself to the highest bidder - there's no loyalty

Alexandro Gontijo, Brazilian football fan
I was still staring upwards trying to understand why losing a football game would make you want to kill yourself when Alexandro confided in me his passion for Scottish football.

I turned my head and looked him in the eye. Surely this was a wind-up. But no - his gaze was steady, wistful even, as he reeled off the names of his favourite Scottish clubs starting with Aberdeen.

Fan of Scottish football

Celtic and Rangers were not on his list, he said, because they stood for bigotry and in Brazil football was the symbol of a multi-racial society. There's no place for racism in our football, he said proudly.

"Yeah and you guys also play some of the best football in the world," I added. "Or at least you did until recently.

"How can you come from a country that produced players like Pele, Zico and Ronaldo and hanker after Aberdeen? I just don't get it."

Ronaldo (left) and Brazil's coach, Luiz Felipe Scolari
Failure in the World Cup could lead to a revolution in Brazilian football

Alexandro looked at me patiently. "It's easy to love a beautiful woman," he explained. "It's much more difficult to love an ugly one.

"I admire the Scots and their loyalty to their game. Brazilian football is like a beautiful whore who sells herself to the highest bidder - there's no loyalty."

Alexandro's admiration for Scottish football may set him apart from other Brazilian fans but his belief that the beautiful game has been destroyed by money is widely shared.

A 14-month parliamentary inquiry recently concluded that Brazilian football was awash with corruption.

It said that the best players were being sold off to European clubs to the detriment of the national game. Most of the clubs were virtually bankrupt; and that the $7bn turned over in Brazilian football each year goes into the pockets a few very rich men.

Football's doctor

Alexandro told me that the only man who could save Brazilian football was the former captain of the 1982 World Cup team.

One of the most highly politicised, radical footballers the world has ever produced - and certainly the one with the best name - Dr Socrates.

He was medical student who didn't take up football until his mid-20s.

He lived up to his name by famously setting up a players union at his Sao Paulo club entitled Corinthians Democracy while Brazil was still a military dictatorship.

I went to meet Socrates in a bar in his hometown of Ribero Preto.

Socrates in 1982
Dr Socrates wants to democratise Brazilian football
Over a few beers he explained his philosophy of football.

"I think the national coach should be elected by plebiscite.

"We must democratise football and in doing so we can democratise Brazil. Do you know that when our national team plays well our GDP goes up?"

Socrates' ambition is to take over the Brazilian Football Confederation, currently run by a man who has been charged with several counts of corruption.

He said it wouldn't happen for some time because the confederation is a closed shop of club directors..

"What we need," he says, "is a revolution in football and for that to happen we need a major disaster in Brazilian football."

"Like what?" I ask.

"Well, if Brazil was to be kicked out of the World Cup in the first round - that might be the catalyst."

And then he raised his glass towards mine. "Here's to the revolution!" he said, and with that I found myself toasting Brazil's defeat in the World Cup with the former captain of its national team.

See also:

27 Mar 02 | England
12 Dec 01 | Americas
23 Aug 01 | World Club Championship
17 May 01 | Americas
24 Nov 00 | Americas
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