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This blog reflects on soccer qua football all over the world. The blog has a specific investment in attractive, attacking football and, as such, focuses on Brazil, the most emphatic historical exponent of the beautiful game.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Brazil, Spain and the beautiful game: 2010 in Review

In recognition of the New Year, I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on what we as a community of writers and thinkers about football have accomplished since this blog was launched, soon after the 2010 World Cup, roughly 6 months ago. This year, in football, we saw the ascendancy of Spain as World Cup champions for the first time in history alongside the emergence of promising young teams from Germany, Ghana and Uruguay. Spain's passing game emerged as a model of tactical awareness and coherence for teams all over the world to emulate. Our postings examined the legacy of Carlos Dunga to the national team, Mano Menezes's efforts to renovate the Selecao, deadly strike partnerships such as Romario and Bebeto, teen Santos sensations Neymar and Ganso, AC Milan starlets Ronaldinho, Pato and Robinho, the brilliance of Lionel Messi, Kaka's recovery from knee surgery and the widely controversial appointment of Leonardo Nascimento de Araujo as coach of Inter Milan.

We have also begun a deeper investigation into the history of Brazilian football more generally. We have had the privilege to reflect on Brazil's historic loss to Uruguay in the 1950 World Cup final, the legendary team of 1982, the World Cup championship team of 1994 as well as the teams of 1998 and 2002. All this leaves us ample territory in the months and years ahead, to dig deeper into the history of Brazilian football by covering teams and players that have gradually been erased from historical memory online and, to a lesser extent, in print as well.

We saw glimpses of the beautiful game in Brazil 2002, when Luiz Felipe Scolari fielded 6 attacking players in the early matches in the form of Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Juninho Paulista, Roberto Carlos and Cafu. This year, Spain's Barcelona midfield quartet of Iniesta, Xabi, Xavi Alonso and Busquets gave us yet another tantalizing glimpse of beautiful football, but their elegant passing needs to be supplemented by more firepower up front in order to earn a place amongst the top 5 teams in footballing history.

We believe a historical investigation into Brazilian football will enable us to describe, recover and ultimately restore the true spirit of the beautiful game. We have an interest in stylish, attacking football and players and coaches that have a similar investment. And in all this, we have a larger interest in freedom, creativity, aesthetics and the capacity of sport qua art to enrich our lives with models of collaboration, mentorship, friendship, closeness, creativity and passionate modalities of self-expression.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Leonardo Nascimento de Araujo Quotes on AC Milan, 2009 - 2010

On coaching AC Milan for the 2009-2010 season:

"[AC Milan] was great...Thiago Silva needed confidence, directions. Europe isn't easy for a skilled Brazilian defender. Abate and Antonini had to improve mentally and believe: I can. It's nice to see Antonini on the national side. Borriello needed room. Dida never said anything, but he worked like a madman. He was great. Pirlo's silence was powerful. Ambrosini carried us in his first year as captain. Seedorf showed character. Ronaldinho regained his energy and enthusiasm. Occasionally he would start to fade and I would give him a push and he would come back. Pato's first season as a starter was marked by injuries and difficulties. Nesta returned after being written off. It was great. From the exterior they look like champions, but from an insider's view they are fragile, sensitive people. Leading them was personally an exciting and gratifying experience. It was great."

On his decision to leave and Silvio Berlusconi:

"Milan was so many things for me. I was a player, executive and coach for the club. At a certain point in time, after 13 years with the club, I thought that I would be with Milan forever. Instead, I broke it off. I'm going to need this year to change who I am, to see things objectively, not as part of the AC Milan organisation."

"Let's make two things clear. The first is that I would have never left after 13 years for tactical reasons, also because today Milan play the same way as they did before. The second thing is that I decided to leave. I forewent the final year of my contract to leave on the best terms possible. I left because my character and style were not compatible with his. I said all the same things to him. Narcissus does not like anything that is not a reflection of him."

Read the full text of the September 2010 interview with Leonardo here:
"Leonardo takes a Swipe: Berlusconi like Narcissus." La Gazzetta dello Sport. September 18, 2010. Interview by Luigi Garlando.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Leonardo appointed coach of Inter Milan

Former Brazilian international, World Cup champion and AC Milan manager Leonardo has been hired as coach of Inter Milan, just one day after the termination of Rafael Benitez's contract. Benitez's termination marked the end of a 6 month stint after the Spaniard took over from Jose Mourinho, who secured a historic treble with the club by winning Serie A, the Champions League and Coppa Italia in the 2009-2010 season. Defending champions Inter are currently in seventh place in Italy's Serie A, with 23 points from 15 games, while arch-rivals AC Milan sit atop the league with 36 points from 17 games. Leonardo's previous coaching experience is limited to the 2009-2010 season with AC Milan, as a result of which his team finished third in Serie A. The Brazilian is known for creating stylish, attack oriented teams that play with a 4-3-3 formation where possible. Like his compatriots Luiz Felipe Scolari and Zico, Leonardo's coaching philosophy is fundamentally Brazilian with its emphasis on one touch passing, dribbling through defenders and taking the attack to the opposing team. The Brazilian left AC Milan as coach after failing to get along with club President Silvio Berlusconi. Leonardo's appointment as coach of Inter Milan stuns the football world given his long standing history as player, scout, technical director and coach of the club's foremost rival, AC Milan. His appointment runs from December 29, 2010 until June 2012.

For an article on Leonardo and World Cup 1994, see:
Bringing Back the Beautiful Game: Flashback: Tears of Regret and Friendship: Bebeto and Leonardo in World Cup 1994

Friday, December 24, 2010

Flashback: Tears of Regret and Friendship: Bebeto and Leonardo in World Cup 1994

Pele's tears of joy after Brazil won the 1958 World Cup in Sweden are well documented in photographic and video archives, as are Mario Zagallo's tears of joy in World Cup 1998 and Romario's tears of sadness after failing to make the 1998 World Cup squad. Less well known are Leonardo's tears of regret after earning a red card for elbowing Tab Ramos in the Brazil v. USA second round match of World Cup 1994. The Brazil v. USA match famously marked the continued evolution of the Romario and Bebeto strike partnership, featuring, in this case, Romario's assist to Bebeto after overcoming a tangle of defenders. Romario's pass set up Bebeto's game winning, Carlos Alberto-like strike on goal past Tony Meola from the right flank. Bebeto described Leonardo's tears in a FIFA interview as follows:

"When I went into the dressing room at half-time in that game, I saw Leo, someone I've always been very fond of because we started out together with Flamengo. He was sitting there in the corner, crying his eyes out, so I told him not to worry as I would score the winning goal for us."

Bebeto returns to the dressing room at half time to find Leonardo bawling his eyes out and consoles him by telling him he will score the winning goal and negate the setback to the Brazil team created by Leonardo's red card. In this exchange, Bebeto performs what contemporary psychologists call self-actualization by visualizing himself scoring the crucial game winning goal. True to his vision, Bebeto went on to score in precisely the manner that he promised to his friend and teammate Leonardo.

Speaking of his promise to Leonardo, Bebeto remarked:

"And with the help of God I did. When I returned to the dressing room afterwards, he gave me a big hug and thanked me profusely. Without a doubt, I felt something very strong in that game. Something God-given."

Something viscerally powerful about the friendship between Bebeto and Leonardo sparks Brazil's victory. Leonardo's tears touch Bebeto to the point where he assumes responsibility for his friend's sadness, and he returns to the pitch intent to restore his friend's spirits. And after the ball touches the back of the net, Bebeto becomes convinced that Brazil will indeed become four times champions with a conviction that borders on the sublime. "From that moment, I was convinced that we would become four-time World Cup winners," Bebeto reflected.

A similar red card incident transpired the next time Brazil won the World Cup in 2002 in the quarterfinals against England. Ronaldinho received a red card for a foul on Danny Mills and this time, Cafu played the role that Bebeto had played in 1994, by putting his arm around Ronaldinho's shoulder as he was leaving the field and telling him with uncanny conviction: "Don't worry. We will win the game for you."

For more on Brazil v. USA, World Cup 1994, see:

Bringing Back the Beautiful Game. Deadly Striker Partnerships: Romario and Bebeto (Part 2 of 2)

Sources cited: Bebeto's FIFA Interview

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Report: Ronaldinho Considering Leaving AC Milan for Gremio, Palmeiras or Sao Paulo

Rumors out of Brazil suggest that Ronaldinho is seriously considering leaving AC Milan for Gremio, Palmeiras or Sao Paulo. Dinho has recently fallen out of favor at the Rossoneri under coach Massimiliano Allegri and has struggled to obtain quality playing time given the stunning form of recent signings Robinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Ronaldinho's brother and agent Roberto de Assis remarked that Dinho still had the desire to capture trophies that he had yet to secure such as the Brasileirao and the Copa Libertadores by returning to a quality club in Brazil. Gremio President Paulo Odone noted that he felt “optimistic” that Dinho will return to the club that marked the site of his formative years. "Ronaldinho feels that he owes our club something," Odone told Brazilian daily Zero Hora. "He told us he wants to return to Gremio and end his career where it started.” Gremio announced that “there is advanced contact between Gremio and the brother and agent of the player” and Odone feels the chances of closing Dinho’s transfer from the Rossoneri are high. Palmeiras and Sao Paulo have also expressed interest in signing the Brazilian playmaker whose contract with AC Milan is set to expire in the summer of 2011. Meanwhile, the legendary Brazilian striker Zico threw Flamengo’s hat into the ring for Dinho’s signing by recently announcing that Flamengo desperately needed a player with Ronaldinho’s skill to bring about the restoration of the club after this year’s disastrous season. January would be the optimal time for a Brazilian club to sign Dinho but a transfer in the summer of 2011 is more likely. That said, AC Milan’s recent signing of Antonio Cassano from Sampdoria has fueled fresh speculation that Dinho may leave Berlusconi’s nest in the January transfer window to return to Brazil, and ultimately conclude his career with a much anticipated swan song season at LA Galaxy in the United States in 2012. If Dinho were to return to Brazil, he would be following in the footsteps of his former World Cup teammates Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos, who, along with Santos sensation Neymar, have gradually begun to reverse the trend of Brazilian players plying their trade in foreign shores.

For more on Ronaldinho, see:
Bringing Back the Beautiful Game: Player Profile: Ronaldinho Gaucho

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Flashback: Tears of Sadness for Romario Upon His Exclusion from the 1998 Brazil World Cup Squad

"This is very sad for me, a big disappointment. This is a very difficult moment in my life. From now on, I will start to give value to other things. I just want to thank the national team for having given me the chance to become what I am."

--Romario, June 2, 1998, press conference in Lesigny, France, on his exclusion from the 1998 World Cup squad because of a calf injury

Romario broke down in tears at a press conference after it was announced that he would not accompany the Brazil team to the 1998 World Cup in France. Team doctor Lidio Toledo explained that a recent scan revealed significant damage to Romario's right calf muscle that would require 2-4 weeks to heal, and possibly longer. Coach Mario Zagallo remarked that a decision about Romario's inclusion in the 1998 World Cup squad had been delayed given Romario's status and unique ability to change a game, but that the scan had unilaterally made the difficult decision for the coaching staff. Romario broke down in tears three times during the press conference before he was ultimately escorted off stage. His exclusion from the World Cup squad put an end to the mouthwatering prospect of Romario and Ronaldo partnering together as strikers in front of goal. For at least two years before France 1998, football fans all over the world dreamed about the prospect of the legendary "Ro Ro" combination as the stage on which the World Cup would unfold. The "Ro Ro" combination featured the feared combination of Ronaldo, with his explosive pace and power, partnered alongside Romario, the best finisher in the penalty area in the modern game. Despite having forged an unforgettable strike partnership with Bebeto in 1994, Romario fully admitted that Ronaldo was his preferred strike partner, and Ronaldo in turn, said the same of Romario. In Romario's case, Ronaldo easily detracted the attention of 2-3 defenders, leaving him plenty of space in the box to turn and shoot when delivered the ball. And on Ronaldo's side, the relationship was very much that of an apprentice to a master, in which the 22 year old claimed that he still had much to learn from the 32 year old striker who brought Brazil their first World Cup trophy in 24 years. "We had plans for this World Cup," Ronaldo remarked, "but now they won't happen." As the World Cup in France wore on, news leaked that Ronaldo was missing his preferred strike partner up front because Bebeto was unable to serve as the decoy he needed to break down defenses. Conversely, Romario's tears spoke less about his investment in the World Cup itself, and more about his desire to play alongside the young sensation Ronaldo, his friend, student and mentor, all in one.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Boateng, Robinho and Ibrahimovic score in AC Milan's 3-0 victory over Bologna

Kevin Prince Boateng, Robinho and Ibrahimovic scored for the second consecutive game as AC Milan beat Bologna 3-0 today to go 6 points clear over Juventus at the top of Italy's Serie A standings. The sequence of goals by Boateng, Robinho and Ibrahimovic replicated their performance against Brescia on December 4 while Ronaldinho continued his stint on the Milan bench in the wake of Robinho's sparkling form. Boateng opened the scoring for the Rossoneri by latching onto a ball delivered by Ibrahimovic from the left flank, slipping in between two central defenders in the box and volleying the ball home. Boateng subsequently provided the assist for Robinho who maintained his balance in the wake of some staunch defending from Andrea Esposito and slotted the ball by Bologna keeper Viviano in the 35th minute. Ibrahimovic put the exclamation mark on an impressive victory for AC Milan in the 60th minute with a clinical strike on goal from the right flank. With 21 goals shared between Ibrahimovic, Pato and Robinho this season (9 for Ibrahimovic, 6 for Pato and 6 for Robinho), Massimilliano Allegri has reason to be more than satisfied with his strikeforce as the Rossoneri prepare for their final game of 2010 against Roma on Saturday, December 18. As the January transfer window opens, the obvious question now for Allegri and Berlusconi concerns Ronaldinho's future at the Rossoneri in the wake of Robinho's impressive form and Pato's anticipated return from injury early in 2011.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Flashback: Tears of Joy for Mario Zagallo After Brazil's Victory Against Netherlands

July 7, 1998, Stade Velodrome, Marseille, France
World Cup Semi-Finals: Brazil v. Netherlands (1-1; 4-2 on penalties)

Football fans await the World Cup with baited breath every four years, but the World Cup of 1998 figured exceptionally in the hearts and dreams of soccer fans all over the world because of one man: Ronaldo. The buck toothed Brazilian striker had been in blistering form in 1996 and 1997 with Barcelona and Inter Milan respectively. In the 1996-1997 season, he scored 47 goals in 49 games for Barcelona and went on to score 34 goals in 47 games for Inter in the 1997-1998 season, his first in Italian football. Although he had accompanied the Brazilian team to World Cup glory in 1994 at the tender age of 18, Ronaldo did not play in a single World Cup game in the U.S. and hence was widely expected to take the 1998 World Cup by storm. Now, at the age of 22, Ronaldo commanded the field as if he were a 30 year old after having had the experience of captaining Inter Milan in the latter stages of a gripping battle for the Scudetto that saw Inter inched out of the title by Juventus in the final games.

Having reached the semi-finals against Holland, only two games stood between Brazil and World Cup victory. Coached by Mario Zagallo, Brazil arrived in France as favorites, largely on the strength of Ronaldo’s shoulders and his ability to change a game. The team had just come through a thrilling 3-2 victory over Denmark in the round of 16, but they knew the Dutch would be more organized and exhibit a greater degree of ball control than the Danes. Zagallo fielded a 4-2-2-2 formation with Roberto Carlos, Aldair, Junior Baiano and Cafu in defense, Dunga and Cesar Sampaio in defensive midfield, Rivaldo and Leonardo as attacking midfielders and strikers Ronaldo and Bebeto up front wearing the number 9 and 20 shirts respectively. Full-backs Roberto Carlos and Cafu had carte blanche license to supplement the Brazilian attack by roaming up and down the flanks. As the tournament unfolded, Brazil fans warmed to the brilliance of Barcelona striker Rivaldo, whose golden left foot scored two pivotal goals in the preceding match against Denmark.

The Dutch fielded their share of world class talent in a standard, European 4-4-2 formation with Phillip Cocu, Frank de Boer, Jaap Stam and Michael Reiziger in defense, Zenden, Edgar Davids, Wim Jonk and Ronald de Boer in midfield, and the illustrious strike partnership of Patrick Kluivert and Dennis Bergkamp up front. The game featured two central match-ups: Dunga and Edgar Davids went head to head in the battle for midfield while Jaap Stam was given the Herculean assignment of man marking Ronaldo. Given the history of Brazil’s climactic 3-2 victory against Holland in the 1994 World Cup, both teams began gingerly, treating each other with tremendous respect and collectively creating a first half stalemate as the Dutch did well to contain Brazil's overlapping full-backs and render it difficult for Rivaldo and Leonardo to create space in midfield. Conversely, Aldair and Junior Baiano gave Bergkamp little room to play and shut down the supply of passes to Patrick Kluivert.

Scarcely had the whistle blown after half-time, however, than Roberto Carlos found Rivaldo, who in turn delivered a terrific through ball to a Ronaldo who raced into space behind the Dutch defense, fended off shirt pulling from Frank de Boer and buried the ball through the legs of Edwin van der Sar to open the scoring. In this piece of play, we saw Ronaldo at his trademark best, getting away from his marker Stam and maintaining his balance on the run despite Frank de Boer’s efforts to restrain him. But despite numerous opportunities for Brazil to capitalize on their lead, they failed to score a second goal and ultimately fell prey to the aerial strength of the Dutch in the form of a header equalizer by Patrick Kluivert in the 87th minute. Nevertheless, Brazil continued to threaten both deep into regular play and the 30 minutes of injury time. Denilson entered the game as a substitute for Bebeto in the 70th minute and he and Roberto Carlos took ownership of the left flank, creating multiple opportunities for Ronaldo and Rivaldo in the process. Ronaldo had a bicycle kick chance on goal that was defended off the line by Frank de Boer in addition to a curling, right footed shot saved by Edwin van der Sar as the game turned into a nerve racking battle with the prospect of the match ending at any minute in extra time given the golden goal rule.

At every moment in which play was suspended, Zagallo talked earnestly to his team. Stepping out of his usual contemplative position on the bench, he passionately delivered instructions to his team and waved his hands in illustration as the match wore on into extra time. As the referee blew the whistle for penalty kicks, both teams collapsed in exhaustion on the pitch. Zagallo began yelling wildly and moved from player to player, embracing their faces with his hands like a father and injecting a final dose of energy, power and belief into his team. He told them that Brazil was going to win the match and ultimately lift the trophy in the final. And after Taffarel made the final save in the dramatic penalty shoot-out, the "Old Wolf" as Zagallo is nicknamed in Brazil, burst into tears of joy.

The 66 year old Zagallo had broken down into tears after Brazil's thrilling 3-2 victory against Denmark in the quarterfinals. Flushed with deep feelings after the Denmark game, Zagallo required medication to calm his irregular heartbeat. But after the semi-final victory against the Netherlands, the Brazilian celebrations were even more effusive than against Denmark since the nerve jangling victory had required penalty kick conversions from Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Emerson and Dunga, and near clairvoyant saves from goalkeeper Claudio Taffarel. On the pitch, Dunga and Taffarel chest humped each other in celebration. Meanwhile, on the bench, Zagallo burst into tears as he was hugged by Zico and the rest of the Brazil coaching staff. Unable to contain himself, Zagallo strolled onto the Stade Velodrome somberly, took off his spectacles and wiped the tears flowing from his eyes as he took stock of the stunning victory. Despite all his experience as both a player and a coach, Zagallo wept on the field for two matches in a row like an Italian at the opera. Calming his racing heart, the Old Wolf celebrated with tears of joy as he looked ahead to the dream final where Brazil would defend their World Cup title against the home team at the Stade de France on Sunday.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Tears in Brazilian Football

In the spirit of the holidays, and the deep feelings and reflective moments specific to the season, "Bringing Back the Beautiful Game" will feature at least two articles on tears in Brazilian football by Christmas. Whether they be tears of joy, or tears of sadness, we will examine at least a couple of occasions on which the Selecao and its teammates have been moved to tears in various moments. Part of our mission in this blog is to reflect on the passions within the game and football's ability to transport fans, players and coaches to moving emotional states that are linked to powerful and beautiful actions. In an August 31, 2010 article, I wrote about Pele seeing his father cry for the first time after Brazil's shock defeat to Uruguay on July 16, 1950 in the World Cup final. The upcoming articles will shift their focus to tears specific to players or coaches. Suggestions for articles on the topic of tears are wholly welcome, so do send them our way. Thanks so much.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Kaka on His Swimming Pool Accident, Jesus and the Bible

Many readers have requested more details about Kaka's religious beliefs and how he overcame the swimming pool accident in which he sustained a broken neck in October 2000. In the following testimony, Kaka touches on his life trajectory and faith in Jesus in his own words.

By Ricardo Kaka, July 2010

When I was eight, I moved to Sao Paulo, Brazil (from Cuiaba, Brazil) where I began to play soccer (football). I have always loved to play soccer.

I played on the Junior Team for Sao Paulo in 2000. We were in the middle of the Paulista Junior Championships when I received a yellow card. I was suspended for the following game, so I took advantage of the free weekend to visit my grandparents, who lived in Caldas Novas at the time.

My brother, my parents, my grandparents and I went to a water park. As I was coming down one of the slides into the pool, I hit my head on the bottom of the pool and my neck snapped. I fractured the sixth vertebra in my neck. At the time, I had no idea what happened.

I returned to Sao Paulo to train on Monday, as well as on Tuesday, all the while with a broken neck. On Tuesday, I called the coach and the physical trainer and told them that I couldn't bear the pain any longer. They sent me to see a doctor at the hospital where they took another x-ray. It was in this x-ray that the fracture in the sixth vertebra was shown. Everyone, including the doctors, told me I was very lucky that nothing more serious happened. They told me that I could have become paralyzed and lost my ability to walk and to play soccer. I believe it was not luck. I believe God was protecting me during that time from anything more serious.

Many people think that I became a Christian after the accident, but that is not true. My parents are Christians and they raised me with biblical values. The accident happened in October of 2000 while I was playing in the "base" position on the Sao Paulo junior team. Throughout November and December, I had to wear a cervical collar and could not play.

I began to play again in January of 2001, and after about 10 or 15 days, I was called to play for the Sao Paulo professional team. Because of this, I believe God had a purpose in that accident. It is something that happened just before I had the great blessing of starring as a professional in Sao Paulo and initiating my career as a professional soccer player.

As I said before, my parents always taught me the Bible and its values, and also about Jesus Christ and faith. I did not have a specific conversion experience, but little by little, I stopped simply hearing people talk about the Jesus my parents taught me [about], and there came a time when I wanted to live my own experiences with God. One of these experiences with God was when I was baptized at the age of 12. This was a very important step in my walk with Jesus and soon after many things began to happen in my life where I could experience God in a real way.

I need Jesus every day of my life. Jesus tells me in the Bible that without Him I can't do anything. I have the gift and capacity today to play soccer because God gave it to me. The day He wants me to do something else, I will do that something else and this is why I need Jesus in my life every day. I am successful in my financial life and in my professional life, but all this has come from God and is a gift of grace from Him for my life. All that I have, I thank Him for.

The difference Jesus makes in my life is that I know I will always have victory, I will always have joy, and I will always have success. This is independent of the situations I face or will face. This brings me great peace.

I usually tell the people who ask, that the Bible is like the user's manual that comes when you buy a product. It has everything we need in it. It makes me happy to read the Bible every day, to study it and to be in fellowship with God and learn more and more about Jesus.

I will win many matches and I will lose many matches, but I know that in all of them, God has a plan. This is why I try to understand the plan of God for me in each moment so that I can have peace during times of pressure.

Everyone wants to be a winner, but for me, the true meaning of winning is having Jesus in my life. It is a life of prayer, a life of intimacy and a lifelong friendship, knowing that God is our Father. I can say that I am a winner and I am victorious because Jesus lives in my life. No, I will never stop following Him.

Flashback: Roberto Carlos Banana Free Kick At the 1997 Tournoi de France

In advance of the February 9, 2011 friendly between Brazil and France, "Bringing Back the Beautiful Game" will return to the history of national competition between France and Brazil, starting in 1986 all the way through the World Cups of 1998 and 2006. Along the way, we will take a close look at players such as Socrates, Zico, Michel Platini and Zinedine Zidane, four of the exemplars, par excellence, of the beautiful game. For now, however, we will begin with Roberto Carlos's celebrated, banana free kick that seemingly defied physics and the laws of gravity. Football has rarely witnessed a free kick with quite the degree of curve as this one.

Brazil ended up with a 1-1 draw to France and ultimately earned second place in the competition, finishing runners up to England. Even though Brazil fielded the "Ro Ro" strike partnership of Romario and Ronaldo that netted their share of remarkable goals, the tournament ultimately became famous for Roberto Carlos's 21st minute free kick at the Stade de Gerland in Lyon on June 3, 1997.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Fluminense clinch Brazil Serie A title

Fluminense clinched Brazil's Serie A title with a 1-0 victory over Guarani as contenders Corinthians stumbled to a 1-1 draw against lowly Goias. In the final match of the championship, Cruzeiro scored a 2-1 victory against Palmeiras to leapfrog over Corinthians into second place. Fluminense went ahead thanks to a goal by Emerson in the 61st minute and managed to retain their lead by maintaining possession for the vast majority of the game. Dentinho equalized for Corinthians after his team fell behind to a Goias goal by Felipe, but the away team failed to produce the game winner they needed to stay in contention for the title. In any case, a victory for Flu was enough to guarantee them the title as Muricy Ramalho's team went into the final match with a one and two point lead over Corinthians and Cruzeiro respectively. Fluminense's victory put a damper on any possibility Corinthians would salvage the title in their centenary year, in what could be the last competitive season played by their flagship striker and global celebrity, Ronaldo. Fluminense's victory marks the first time they have won Brazil's Serie A title since 1984. Last year's championship winners Flamengo ended their disastrous season by avoiding relegation and taking 14th place out of 20 with a 0-0 draw against Santos in their final game of the season.

Final standings:

Fluminense: 71 points
Cruzeiro: 69 points
Corinthians: 68 points
Gremio: 63 points

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Ronaldo of Brazil: The Retirement of the First Global Sports Hero of All Time

Brazilian soccer legend Ronaldo announced his retirement from professional football on February 14, 2011, citing difficulties maintaining his body and hypothyroidism, a medical condition which made it difficult for him to maintain an optimal weight.

Where will Ronaldo find his nest after retiring from professional football? Questions such as these about Ronaldo’s future hover like a ghost around the Brazilian legend's decision to retire in the wake of harassment from Corinthians fans because of the club's February 2 exit from the Copa Libertadores. After retirement, Ronaldo’s Selecao teammates Romario and Bebeto found careers in coaching, club management and, most recently, politics. Correspondingly, 1994 World Cup winners Dunga and Jorginho went on to coach one of the most tactically aware and defensively robust Brazil sides of all time. Right winger Leonardo coached AC Milan with considerable success from 2009-2010 and has transformed Inter Milan radically since taking over as coach in late December 2010.

Ronaldo has said little about his post-retirement plans but one senses he is less likely to pursue a career in coaching and more inclined to contribute to football in an advisory capacity for club teams or as a commentator on the game. As a global symbol of peace, goodwill and human rights for the United Nations at various moments during his career, Ronaldo may well end up following Romario and Bebeto in furthering causes for justice and the well-being of children worldwide, whether in politics or the non-profit sector. With respect to football, Ronaldo has professed an interest in remaining involved with his former club Real Madrid in an advisory role, and one would expect that he will continue to maintain close ties to Corinthians in subsequent years. But in all this, the question about Ronaldo’s retirement and attendant plans engages the fate of one of the first truly transnational sports heroes of all time.

Ronaldo rapidly became a symbol of goodwill and sportsmanship to generations of football fans all over the world. In the mid-1990s, his goal scoring feats and slalom runs catalyzed a renaissance of interest in the game that coincided with its emerging popularity in the United States and Asia. And most importantly, Ronaldo became the first truly global sports hero that men and women all over the world admired, shared and loved, beginning with his sublime goal a game ratio at Barcelona and Inter Milan, to his heart wrenching struggles with knee injuries, back to the glory of his 2002 World Cup victory and two goals against Germany in the final. Pele was never truly a global hero because he played in a historical moment that was not wired in quite the same way as the world is today with Google, YouTube and soccer websites and discussion boards in almost every language. Maradona had few fans amongst English football supporters and his greatness was ultimately eclipsed by his decline into cocaine addiction and alcoholism. Romario paved the way for the concept of a global super-hero, but his cat-like prowess around the goal mouth paled in comparison to Ronaldo’s almost superhuman speed, strength, dribbling ability and power. Moreover, the peak years of Romario’s career coincided with the dawn of the consumer internet era as opposed to the conjunction of the peak of Ronaldo's fame with the lightning fast proliferation of internet technologies across the globe.

Add to all this the manner in which football enjoys a global popularity that trumps basketball, tennis and golf, it becomes easy to understand how Ronaldo crossed national, class, generational and gender boundaries more so than Bruce Lee, Michael Jordan, Martina Navratilova, Pete Sampras, Roger Federer and Tiger Woods. His fame ushered in the conditions of possibility for a transnational sports hero embraced by fans all over the entire globe. In terms of fame and global power as a cultural icon, only Michael Jackson and Madonna bear him comparison. While soccer historians would do well to begin cataloguing Ronaldo’s dizzying array of goals and records, cultural historians should take stock of the way in which Ronaldo elevated sport in general, and football in particular, to a global language with the power to galvanize audiences in all corners of the entire world. Messi stands on Ronaldo’s shoulders because his circulation in the world of contemporary popular culture derives from Ronaldo’s unprecedented, organic creation of the concept of a truly global sports hero for the very first time.

The above article features a post-February 14, 2011 update to the original December 4 posting.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Kaka Poised for Real Madrid Return After Resuming Pitch Training

Things are suddenly looking bright for the Brazilian midfield after the uninspired play of Elias, Ramires and Lucas against Argentina in Doha. In parallel with Ganso's recovery from a left torn ACL injury, Ricardo Kaka appears to be steadily recuperating from a knee injury that required arthroscopic surgery in August. Today, Real Madrid's website reported that Kaka had resumed training on the pitch and begun proprioception work, strength training and stamina training under the guidance of trainer Carlos Lalin. Proprioception work refers to the body's sixth sense for understanding how muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints communicate with one another. In the context of a sports injury, proprioception training gauges an athlete's sense of balance as well as its ability to sense movement and pain. Real reported that Kaka did not feel any discomfort during training and is expected to return to the pitch in January 2011. Whereas a flurry of media reports in October and November suggested that Kaka was entertaining the possibility of transferring from Real Madrid to AC Milan, Sao Paulo or Chelsea, the Brazilian playmaker's future under Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid appears set in stone given Barcelona's 5-0 thrashing of Real Madrid the season's first El Clasico at the Nou Camp. Real Madrid's midfield quartet of Angel di Maria, Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso struggled woefully against Barcelona's one touch passing and attacking game. Mesut Ozil faltered when denied space whereas Khedira chased the ball relentlessly but failed to obtain any significant possession that could be supplied to Alonso and subsequently to Cristiano Ronaldo and Benzema. Against Barcelona, Real's midfield sorely lacked the creativity, vision and experience of a playmaker and attacking midfielder such as Kaka, who--in form--is probably the only player on the planet who can provide an effective counter-weight to Pep Guardiola's midfield maestro Xavi. Moreover, Higuain's probable absence due to back problems in the upcoming months means that Real could benefit from Kaka's trademark ability to swoop forward from midfield and score goals. Kaka's ability to compensate for the failure of Real Madrid's midfield should be painfully apparent to a master tactician such as Mourinho, so fans of the sex symbol from Sao Paulo should look forward to seeing the 2007 Balloon d'or and FIFA World Player of the Year in the number 8 shirt behind Cristiano Ronaldo as early as February.