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Brazil, drawing political conclusions from the 2014 World Cup

Most Brazilian coaches do not have any international experience and do not even speak English. That has posed a huge barrier to a greater exchange of ideas, tactics and best practice.

Leonardo Paz Neves
21 July 2014

The 2014 World Cup hangover has been extremely interesting for us Brazilians. Naturally, we are all sore from the drubbing that we suffered at the hands of Germany. But on the bright side we have been treated to a great multitude of reactions and analyses of this event. The most interesting ones, in my opinion, are those that try to see in the problems of Brazilian football a reflection of those afflicting Brazilian politics and society at large.

The first major target of criticism, paradoxically, zooms in on one of our most cherished characteristics  – our improvisatory skills. Many Brazilians celebrate our last-minute, problem-solving capacity, powered by our exceptional creativity. The problem here is that we have become so cocksure of ourselves that our improvisatory skills are not longer used as a last resort or in an exceptional case, rather it has become the rule. That has enormously hindered our planning skills. Those who are not good planners and rely too much on improvisation, do not make good reformers: they tend to depend on quick fixes when confronted with problems.

A disconsolate Brazil fan during the 2014 World Cup semifinal against Germany.

Stefano Gnech/Demotix. All rights reserved.

This tendency was somehow reflected in our national football team (and its technical group). National team preparation seemed lacking, the team did not display much tactical application and the somewhat improvised substitutions were not trained beforehand. By chance, in the event that situation became even grosser. Fate would have it that we should concede our biggest defeat to Germany, a country not only renowned for being a nation of good planners but also endowed with a national team that has been under reconstruction for the last 14 years. Many commentators in Brazil said that this match was the head-on clash of improvisation vs planning...

Notwithstanding, this is also one of the main criticisms that has been directed at our government. Especially in the last few years, many of us have had the feeling that Brazil has squandered a great opportunity. Instead of taking advantage of our economic expansion to foster much-needed reforms (fiscal, pension, labor, etc.), we have applied a series of quick fix solutions to the problems that we faced. In economics the term “creative accounting” has become famous, if only because of the innumerable tricks that the government has deployed in the last few years. The energy sector seems in line to be the next victim of this lack of a more comprehensive plan. Experts say that in the near future, prices will probably soar as a result of the scarcity of investment and the lack of wide-ranging solutions.

A second set of criticisms revolves around the dichotomy between individualism and the collective. The Brazilian team was not a real team. Once the touching scenes when the National Anthem was played were over, what we saw was a series of one-man-shows take the field. And as if that was not enough, the whole burden of expectation of Brazilian success was weighing on the shoulders of one single player. Added to that, as the Brazilian media has stated, we had a coach who did not have the humility to recognize his shortcomings and preferred not to see the problems that were dragging down his team. On the opposing side, the Germans displayed a team that had its share of stars, but not a single sun. Moreover, it also had a coach who did not sacrifice his tactics or his philosophy no matter how surreal the situation which confronted him.

Again, that individualistic approach is often levelled against us Brazilians, and naturally, at the government. To keep the list short, I will mention only the most interesting connection between the Brazilian team and the Government that I have heard. It has been said that the Brazilian ministries can fruitfully be compared to our Brazilian players (despite the fact that they are almost four times more numerous than a football team), since each of them plays its own game and rarely works with another – they are almost rivals, depending on the political party sponsor. Add to this, that the government head coach is similarly unwilling or unable to identify the team´s problems, or to develop sound tactics, and has been dodging the necessity to implement comprehensive plans and reforms.

It is also very instructive to compare some of the solutions proposed by Government for the “reform” of Brazilian football, with the economic policies implemented by the government so far. Especially in recent years, the Brazilian Government has been fielding waves of criticism over its alleged protectionist policies. A major example is the guidelines drawn up by the government to oversee the exploration of oil from the pre-salt layer, considered a highly nationalistic initiative. The initial reactions to the World Cup fiasco seem to be in consonance with this protectionist spirit. President Dilma has herself already identified a major problem in our defeat. For her, we have been exporting all our star players and this it is that has led to the demise of our Brazilian football. Her solution is to create mechanisms to prevent Brazilian players from ever leaving the country.

Brazilian football today is already an island unto itself. Foreign players were always an exception. Just recently, more South American players have been coming to Brazil (thanks to our bigger salaries). But in this influx, foreign coaches are practically nonexistent. In fact, most Brazilian coaches do not have any international experience and do not even speak English. That has posed a huge barrier to a greater exchange of ideas, tactics and best practice. In that regard, adopting “protectionist” measures to prevent Brazilian players from leaving the shores of Brazil will, probably, only widen the gap between our football and that of the big centres worldwide.

Laying all that aside, there remains one million dollar question: will the World Cup result impact on the coming elections?

Well, it definitely will not help. In fact, the first reaction of the President after the defeat against Germany was to rapidly dissociate her image from the team and praise instead the ‘successful’ organization of the Word Cup as a whole. Although the government has only managed to deliver on 50% of its promises…

Unfortunately, I do not believe that the range of criticisms displayed above will have much impact on her chances. I do believe that the World Cup outcome could influence the mood of the population when it encounters future problems, crises or scandals. A win could have elicited much more Brazilian forgiveness for ongoing government deficiencies.

As the elections approach, one should keep an eye on the next set of scandals (Petrobras has been targeted a lot lately) and possible protests. Should the protests manage to attain the same scale that they did last year, and the police react with their customary violence, the President’s chances may well also be damaged.

 

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