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BBC TwoNewsnight
Page last updated at 12:33 GMT, Monday, 3 April 2006 13:33 UK

No flair please, he's Brazilian

By Daniel Pearl
Deputy Editor, Newsnight

Arsenal's Gilberto
Gilberto: warm and relaxed
Think glamour, think flowing locks, think mazy dribbles and geometrically impossible freekicks; think Pele, Zico, Socrates, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho.

Where would Newsnight's week of Latin American politics and culture be without a shot of pure Brazilian futebol?

So, when the producer in charge of our foray into all things Latin asked me to interview a world cup winning "Seleção" - I expected to be flying off to Barcelona, Madrid or even Rio.

Instead I found myself spending a rainswept afternoon sitting in a rather pleasant prefabricated shed overlooking junction 22 of the M25.

Hot water

This is where the Arsenal team train and this is where I found the unassuming Brazilian Gilberto Silva.

Now I should let you into a secret. The truth is that as an Arsenal fan assignments don't get much more exciting than this.

The last time I got this amount of pleasure from work I had just knocked a jug of semi-boiling tea over a particularly obnoxious interviewee (who shall remain nameless).

Anyway, back to the football.

Paxo's arm rest

So, I love Arsenal, I own a season ticket in the West Stand and am currently considering whether I should buy my seat (Block R, Row 7, Seat 115) when they dismantle the old stadium.

The club are offering us the opportunity to buy a seat for £19.99. This amazing offer doesn't include the legs, frame, or in fact very much of the seat. You get two pieces of red plastic flatpacked in a cardboard box.

Arsenal could reap just under half a million pounds from this sale, perhaps enough to buy a new centre back. It got me wondering.

Watching Gilberto Silva is a bit like watching Bradford
What if the BBC followed Arsenal's lead and auctioned off its own office furniture? How much would people be willing to pay for Jeremy's swivel chair? Surely more than £19.99.

And we'd definitely throw in the legs and maybe even an arm rest.

Not very Brazilian

Now Gilberto Silva may not be a household name but he was the only player to have played every second in every match of Brazil's world cup winning campaign in 2002.

He's known as the "invisible wall" due to the fact that whilst he appears to be doing very little, in reality he plays a pivotal role. He does the dirty work, makes sure that everything's ok, that others are free to express themselves.

All in all - not very Brazilian.

Now there used to be an ironic chant sung by Bradford fans that it "was just like watching Brazil". Well, watching Gilberto Silva is a bit like watching Bradford.

He runs, he tackles and he makes extremely short passes. A whole season can go past without you realising he's been on the pitch.

Brazilian idols

Gilberto and Daniel Pearl
Gilberto and through-and-through red Daniel Pearl (right, blue suit)
But whilst Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Robinho, Juninho, Adriano and Kaka compete for a couple of Brazilian forward berths at this summer's World Cup, Gilberto Silva is more or less guaranteed to play a role in many if not all Brazil's matches.

Without his graft, the forwards would never receive the ball. They would never get the opportunity to do the things Brazilians are expected to do.

Meeting Gilberto was a delight. He was intelligent, warm and incredibly relaxed. He wanted to talk about his Brazilian idols.

His was Zico. Real name Arthur Antunes Coimbra.

Zico was perhaps the best player in the world to have never won the World Cup. He got close three times, losing in 1982 to Italy and in 1986 was knocked out by France on penalties.

In total Zico scored 54 goals for Brazil in 78 games, wasn't the biggest or strongest player, but could score unbelievable goals.

Gilberto recalled Zico's freekicks with awe. They, he said, inspired him as a young boy in Brazil.

More grit

Zico played in perhaps one of the best teams to ever play football: the Brazilian 1982 World Cup team. As well as Zico, this team included Socrates and Falcao.

Ironically, perhaps the reason these insanely talented players never won the World Cup was because they didn't have a Gilberto.

They could score from 35 yards, nutmeg defenders and lift the crowd with a backheel. But perhaps they needed more grit, more defensive nous, an invisible wall to protect them.

Gilberto also spoke at length about his charitable work. He helps out with Street League, an organisation that provides sport programmes for the young and socially excluded.

A little bit of Bradford

A few years ago Gilberto was involved in taking a Street League team from London to visit Brazil and play football against local Street football teams. He enthused about the impact this trip had on both the English and Brazilian participants.

Gilberto said that he felt he had a duty to help people less fortunate than him, as he was now in a financial position to do so.

He has undertaken his charitable work in the same manner as he plays his football - no fuss, out of the media spotlight, quietly and efficiently.

Gilberto's attitude is very unlike the flash egocentric model of many overpaid modern footballers.

Perhaps even during Latin America week we all need a little bit of Bradford in our Brazilian mix.




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