Three idols from the 2006 World Cup squad have faced mixed reactions on their return from Europe
By Tim Vickery in Rio de Janeiro
The figure of the idol – the outstanding individual talent – is fundamental to the culture of Brazilian football. And, with almost all the idols based in Europe, there is great excitement at the fact that all three centre-forwards from the last World Cup have now returned.
A crowd of 68,000 went to the Maracana to watch Adriano’s debut in his second spell with Flamengo, against Atletico Paranaense, compared with a championship average of 15,000, and 18,000 for the club’s previous home game. They left happy as Flamengo won 2-1. Adriano scored one and could have had many more against a defence all at sea on crosses.
Perhaps Adriano overdid the celebrations. He failed to turn up for the next training session and did the same again a few days later, confirming an impression his return had little to do with football and a lot to do with indulging a wayward lifestyle.
Morale slumped and Flamengo then suffered two heavy defeats. After the second – 5-0 at Coritiba – Adriano chose not to fly back to Rio with the rest of the team, frightened of a violent reception from revolted Fla fans.
His former national team colleague Fred could no doubt sympathise. Recently back from Lyon, the striker failed to find the target for Fluminense as they were first eliminated from the Brazilian Cup, then beaten 4-1 at home by Santos in the league. An angry mob of supporters stormed the next training session and in the confusion shots were fired – apparently by a player’s bodyguard.
“It was worse than the Gaza Strip,” said Fred, who, if only briefly, must surely have been questioning his decision to come back from France.
As for Ronaldo, there has been no reason for Corinthians fans to complain as his latest comeback has exceeded expectations. But almost a decade and a half in Europe has reduced his tolerance for some of the more informal aspects of Brazilian organisation. In May he was critical as the podium caught fire when his club received the Sao Paulo state championship trophy. June’s complaint was about the sheer number of people on the pitch before games, disturbing his concentration as he prepared for kick-off.
One aspect holding back plans for the 2014 World Cup is the political structure of the Brazilian game. Long-term confederation boss Ricardo Teixeira has his power base among the presidents of the various state federations (Brazil is divided into 27 states). With 17 cities, from 17 different states, bidding to stage matches in 2014, Teixeira was reluctant to risk alienating part of his support by taking responsibility for excluding cities. So first he successfully lobbied for the number of host cities to be increased from 10 to 12, then, unusually, the final decision was pushed to FIFA, who announced their choices at the end of May.
There was disappointment for Belem, Campo Grande, Florianopolis, Goiania and Rio Branco, while the successful cities were Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Belo Horizonte in the south east, Porto Alegre and Curitiba in the south, Brasilia and Cuiaba in the central west, Recife, Salvador, Fortaleza and Natal in the north east, and Manaus in the north.
The salient point here is that it was all but certain that Brazil would be awarded the 2014 finals as far back as March 2003. Unwieldy politics means that it has taken over six years to sort out the host cites – eating into the time needed to carry out the work necessary to stage the tournament.
The biggest headache is likely to be transport infrastructure – especially airports – rather than stadium building. Even so, some of the media have been critical of the choice of Cuiaba, which does not have a club in the top two divisions, and Manaus, without one in the top three.
Will the World Cup help establish professional football in these regions, or will it merely waste money on facilities which will hardly be used once the party is over? l