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The Pleasures of Rooting Against Brazil

No team has ever acted so entitled to World Cup glory.

Photo credit: Ross Kinnaird /Allsport

My maternal grandfather came this close to playing professional soccer: When he was just weeks away from being selected as part of the elite squad for Mexico's Club América, his father told him it was time to choose—either pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a winger or settle for the much more acceptable path of studying medicine and hanging up the cleats for good. 

In a decision that he would regret for the rest of his life, he chose to become a cardiologist. In order to mend his own broken, soccer-yearning heart, my grandfather then became a soccer savant. I kid you not: he could predict the outcome of a game just by looking at each team’s formation. He knew every player’s weakness so well that he could have been a fantastic scout. But most of all he appreciated the rituals of the game.

Which brings me to the art of hating the opposition.

It must have been 1983. My grandfather’s beloved América was playing Guadalajara, the Mexican clásico. Even though my sympathies lay elsewhere (with the long-suffering Cruz Azul), my grandfather bought a couple of tickets and took me to the game. When we had reached our seats high up in the mouth of the gigantic Estadio Azteca, he looked at the field below us. “What are you doing?” I asked. “Looking for the referee and for Quirarte,” said my grandfather, referring to Fernando Quirarte, Guadalajara's fierce captain (nicknamed “El Sheriff”). It took him five seconds to locate them both. And then he did something I had never seen before in this stoic, rather reserved man. He let out two thunderous, fantastically vulgar shouts: “Chinga tu madre!” (which translates, basically, as “go fuck your mother!”). He then looked at me and, upon noticing my surprise (and delight), immediately remarked: “In football, passion for those you like is equally important as passion against those you really dislike.” He then sat down and asked for beer.

My grandfather was right: There are very few things as enjoyable as hating another soccer team and everything it stands for. Because it ends up being (mostly) harmless yet poignant, hate derived from soccer—be it from a legendary rivalry, a personal grudge or any other reason—is the best kind of hate. It might actually be the only acceptable kind of hate.

I have a long list of soccer antipathies. I dislike Spain's Real Madrid, América, Argentina’s River Plate, and many others. All have a common denominator: every one of these teams believe they are entitled to glory; they enter the field with the firm belief that, be it by divine intervention or real talent, victory will be theirs in the end. You might say I resent winners, but that’s not it. What I resent are teams who believe winning is their exclusive privilege before the referee (chinga tu madre!) has even started the game.

Enter Brazil, kings of entitlement.

Up to this day, Brazilians believe that the FIFA World Cup is their right, their privilege by virtue of a beautiful canary yellow shirt. They’ve thought so at least since the early 1950’s. Not even the most dramatic and embarrassing defeat in the history of soccer convinced them otherwise. Back then, though, Brazil’s sense of purpose was not hubristic: it was virtuoso determination. And it came, at least back then, with a sense not only of humility but also of an undeniable enjoyment. From 1950 until at least 1970, the Brazilians enjoyed a couple of decades of street-wise, joyous soccer, in which winning was important (of course it was) but was far from the only thing that mattered.

And then something happened.

Brazil slowly abandoned all those virtues, opting away from the sublime. The last hurrah came in 1982, when it had the audacity of playing at least four creative geniuses in what was, in my opinion, the most amazing national team ever to play the game. They played with almost sexual grace…but still they lost, eliminated by Italy in a bizarre match. Brazilians learned all the wrong lessons from that terrible day. The creative bliss of Pele, Sócrates, Falcao and Garrincha was replaced by the ruthless destructive prowess of Dunga and Mauro Silva. The jogo bonito became the jogo pragmatico. In the process, Brazil sacrificed every single endearing quality and—at least for me—became the yellow kings of arrogance.

The 2014 Brazilian squad wears that particular crown with ease.

The elegant talent of Zico and Eder has been replaced by the robotic muteness of Hulk or the overestimated antics of Neymar, a sort of puffed up Woody-Woodpecker. Even Brazilian extravagance has lost its class: Where before roamed Romario—beautifully defined by Jorge Valdano as a “footballer straight out of an animated cartoon”—now one can find Fred, who has the charisma of a chloroform soaked rag. And there’s more. This Brazil can become violent in an instant. The rough game (the antifutbol) was never part of the Brazilian repertoire. It is now and it has been for a while (ask Tab Ramos if he remembers Leonardo’s elbow). In the 2014 squad, even Neymar carries an axe. This is far from a joyful team.

It is, actually, Brazil at its most pedantic. Gone are the days of humility and street smarts. This is the Brazil of Oscar modeling Calvin Klein underwear and Marcelo and Thiago Silva carrying expensive suitcases in another ad for TAM airlines. They look like models or savvy entrepreneurs rather than ambassadors for the country where showmanship and style once mattered more than the golden cup. And they think they’ve got it made. Just like in 1950, the Brazilians feel they deserve the trophy even before the brazuca has started rolling. They have it all planned out, down to the final against Messi’s Argentina. The party, you see, is all but ready. That’s why I really want them to lose. In honor of my grandfather, who taught me how to profoundly and merrily dislike a team, I hope the ghost of Maracaná strikes once more. This canarinha deserves a banho de humildade.