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Last Updated: Monday, 11 June 2007, 09:17 GMT 10:17 UK
Tim Vickery column
Tim Vickery
By Tim Vickery
South American football reporter

Ze Roberto
Ze Roberto sacrifices for the cause

All the fuss about the air miles David Beckham will have to clock up to keep playing for England throws some light on the sacrifices South America's top players have to make to turn out for their national sides.

What Beckham will have to do is standard practice for the South American stars.

Admittedly, Brazil and Argentina have all but given up on staging friendlies at home - under pressure from the European clubs to cut down on the amount of travelling time their players have to endure.

But come South America's marathon World Cup qualification campaign there is no escape from the old red eye.

It's a case of on to the plane and across the Atlantic, little time to re-acclimatise and then straight to the field to take part in matches where the rivalry is fierce and the technical quality is high.

The players are not always given first-class tickets - often they upgrade out of their own pocket to ensure they arrive as rested as possible.

But if results are disappointing they run the risk of being called mercenaries by supporters and journalists back home - for whom it has been hard to adjust to the contemporary reality of the global marketplace of footballers.

Football has an enormous value for the Brazilian people

Brazil legend Tostao

It is questionable whether many European players would put up with all this - but pulling on the shirt of Brazil, Argentina or Uruguay, to name just three, is different.

That shirt is the most potent symbol of the nation. It is the form through which their country appears in front of the whole world for positive reasons.

One of the brightest people ever to wear the shirt of Brazil was 1970 centre-forward Tostao.

He reflects on the importance of football to Brazil, but his words could apply equally to Argentina or Uruguay.

"Football has an enormous value for the Brazilian people," he says.

"Firstly, they just like the sport, and secondly, in a World Cup it turns into something for the nation, something heroic.

"I'm sure a player for the Brazil national team feels more pressure in this respect than a European - he's aware of the responsibilities.

"It's through football that our people feel avenged - it's like a message that's saying you might be the First World in other things, but we're better at this."

But the First World has its ways of striking back.

Last week, Ze Roberto was named in Brazil's squad for the Copa America, which gets underway later this month in Venezuela. He has already pulled out.

The veteran midfielder went back to Brazilian club football after last year's World Cup.

But the social problems of his country have scared his family and he has chosen to return to Europe.

He says that his destination is not yet defined, but one of his former clubs, Bayern Munich, made it clear that they were interested in taking him back - as long as he declined the invitation to play in the Copa America.

In fact, Ze Roberto may well not have been named in the Brazil squad had Kaka and Ronaldinho not previously declared themselves unavailable.

Kaka's request came armed with statistics Milan had given him, showing the risks of possible burn-out by going to Venezuela.

There is no doubt that the big European clubs, at times, put pressure on their players not to answer international calls.

In the case of the South Americans, they can occasionally be successful - but only in limited cases.

Ze Roberto is 32, and feels that his Brazil career has come to an end.

Kaka and Ronaldinho are established stars who believe that missing out on the Copa America will not harm their long term prospects of playing for their country.

What is harder to find is a South American equivalent of David Bentley - a youngster from Brazil or Argentina would be looking for any opportunity to make his name.

If he doesn't take it, there are plenty more on the way up who will jump at the chance, no matter how many air miles they have to travel.


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

Having watched the Copa Libertadores semi-finals and seeing an Argentine team Boca Juniors and a Brazilian team Gremio reach the final, which league would you consider to be the strongest of the two? And who is your money on for the final?
Ryan Dickson

The Brazilian league has more strength in depth - that, with a population more than four times larger, is only to be expected.

So Brazilian clubs find it easier to replenish their stocks after selling their players.

There was a good example in this year's Libertadores. In December, Parana qualified for the competition for the first time. By January they had lost their coach and their best players.

But they regrouped, and quickly built a side that was unlucky not to make the quarter-finals. This would be beyond an Argentine club of the same size and tradition.

At the top there's nothing to choose between the best teams in Brazil and Argentina.

I wouldn't put money on it, but I make Boca slight favourites. They're not great defensively, but with the sorcerer and his apprentice, Riquelme and Banega in midfield, they move the ball so well, and if striker Palacio can hit form they might just have enough.

There are a few high profile Brazilian football coaches who never played the game professionally, like Paulo Autori, Antonio Lopes , Carlos Alberto Parreria and now the Gremio coach Mano Menezes. How is this possible and why doesn't it happen so much in Europe?
Jonathan Slack

This comes from the fact that, in contrast to the happy go lucky samba and beach myths, Brazilian football has long been treated like a science.

As far back as 1958 the Brazilian delegation included a psychologist and a dentist - England went to the 1962 World Cup without so much as a doctor.

The key idea behind the running of Brazilian teams has long been the technical commission - a team of specialists working together - physical preparation specialists, physiologists, doctors, physiotherapists, goalkeeping specialists - all giving support to the coach.

Most of the coaches you mentioned are graduates in physical education who were physical preparation specialists and worked their way up.

I think we can identify one event that strengthened the position of the technocrats against the more romantic approach of the coaches who were ex-players. - the football played by Holland in the 1974 World Cup.

The new total football of the Dutch appeared to make traditional South American football look slow and obsolete - it presented a new challenge, to which the technocrats tried to supply the answer.

This also helps explain why since then Brazilian players have become bigger and stronger.

Long-haul Beckham
07 Jun 07 |  Football


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