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Last Updated: Monday, 22 October 2007, 09:18 GMT 10:18 UK
Tim Vickery column
Tim Vickery
By Tim Vickery
South American football reporter

England fans are having to learn once again that having the richest league in the world does not necessarily mean having one of the best national teams.

Ronaldinho is escorted out of his hotel in Bogota, Colombia, by police officers
Tight security surrounds Brazil's superstars when they play abroad

Football's globalisation has done away with any strict correlation between the two - which is hardly surprising when only 26 English players are registered to play in the Champions League.

Brazil has almost four times as many and from the other side of the Atlantic they can see the club versus country issue from a completely different perspective.

This past week made it abundantly clear that the term Brazilian football has become so vague as to be meaningless. In order to have any value, the term must be defined.

Are we talking about the national team or the domestic game? It is hard to mention the two in the same breath. The forces of globalisation have pushed them both in vastly different directions.

The Brazil national team, with their multi-national sponsors, are a global brand, who stage most of their friendlies in Europe or Asia. The players are treated like pop stars or movie celebrities everywhere they go.

All around the world people are wandering around wearing the famous yellow shirt but not too many are wearing the shirts of Brazilian clubs. In fact, the reverse is true.

No-one seems able to explain it but all over the country the last couple of months have seen a rise in attendances

Brazilian streets are full of shirts of Manchester United and Milan, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Arsenal - shirts worn by their idols who have moved across the Atlantic to seek their fortune.

Nowadays the domestic Brazilian game lives off scraps that Europe leaves behind.

It contains three types of player: youngsters on the way up who are dreaming of a move to Europe, those who have gone and come back, either to wind down their career or because the move didn't work out, and those not considered good enough to receive the call.

Last Wednesday Brazil hosted Ecuador in Rio's Maracana stadium. The following day the same venue staged the Flamengo-Vasco da Gama match, the city's biggest derby. The two events attracted different audiences.

The crowd for the Brazil's game was more prosperous and more family-based than that for the local affair. It was somewhat like a circus crowd, more in search of light entertainment than the gripping conflict of a well-disputed game of football.

The Flamengo-Vasco encounter, meanwhile, is usually linked to an excess of conflict. On Thursday there were scuffles inside the stadium and fights outside after the final whistle, with gunshots fired.

Last year one of my stepdaughters, a thoroughly streetwise 21-year-old Brazilian, found herself caught up in this very situation after a Flamengo-Vasco game.

She sheltered behind a car as the bullets were flying and panic reigned. When she asked a policemen what was the best exit strategy she was told that she should not even have gone to the game and that it was no place for a woman since the violence was inevitable.

Clearly every person in a position of authority who takes this view is a triumph for nihilism but there are signs of hope and, as is so often the case in football, they come from the bottom up.

Suddenly, to the delighted surprise of the sports press, the crowds are coming back.

No-one seems able to explain it; the quality of play has shown no vast improvement, nor has the comfort in the stadiums increased or transport infra-structure progressed.

There is no more money in the average person's pocket but all over the country there has been a rise in attendances over the past couple of months. Fans of different teams have been coming up with stirring new songs, based on originals from Portugal, Argentina and elsewhere.

It is a moment that showcases the potential of the domestic game. If it can be built upon, if the organisation can be improved, then perhaps in the future the clubs will be able to hold on to more of the stars they produce.

And then maybe it might be possible to talk of Brazilian football in a way that is relevant to both the national team and the domestic league.


Got a question about South American football for Tim Vickery? Email him at

Why is it that Brazil falter at high altitude?
Donald Williams

A question obviously based on their tepid display in the goalless draw away to Colombia - which, as you point out, is merely the latest in a long line of disappointments that Brazil have had in the Andes.

It is beyond doubt that altitude makes a difference - although the altitude of Bogota is fairly mild and Colombia have never gained any advantage from it anyway.

Part of it with Brazil is in the head but a lot has to do with their style of play these days. It is important at altitude to run as little as possible, to make the ball do the work.

It helps, then, to have central midfielders who can dictate the rhythm but this is the type of player Brazil used to produce in abundance but now struggle to produce.

Nowadays, the central midfield pair are markers or battlers, not passers. Their main role is to hold the fort and free the full-backs to push forward.

Brazil have become dependent on the full-backs to keep the pitch wide and provide attacking options - see the first goal against Ecuador in Rio the other night when Maicon got to the byline.

It is a hugely demanding role in physical terms - they have to hare up and down the pitch - and one which is almost impossible to produce at altitude.

Partly through psychological caution and partly through tiredness, they end up not carrying out this function at altitude - and the result is, as Robinho was complaining in Colombia, the team hump the ball forward from the back.

I wanted to know your views on the defensive midfield situation with Brazil. Gilberto Silva and Mineiro are both into their thirties and so is Edmilson, when he is back. Also, which other younger defensive midfielders are there to fill these shoes?
Imran Merchant, London

This follows on nicely from the previous question because I think it is clear that this is a problem area.

Gilberto Silva and Mineiro have their merits - defensive awareness and lung power respectively - but imaginative passing is not really one of them.

Their reserves in the current squad are Fernando of Bordeaux and Josue of Wolfsburg, who offer little that is different.

Like Carlos Alberto Parreira before him, coach Dunga gave every chance to Dudu Cearense (CSKA Moscow), an elegant passer who, it seems, is not comfortable playing so deep.

Hernanes of Sao Paulo is developing nicely and might be worth a look and there are two English-based players who can mark but also provide much more attacking ability, Lucas of Liverpool and Denilson of Arsenal.

Tim Vickery column
24 Sep 07 |  Internationals
Hiddink mocks England's tactics
21 Oct 07 |  Internationals


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