Soccer in Brazil, oh how I love you. I want to start by addressing the 2014 World Cup and any left over Brazil haters. I was not a huge fan of the way the team performed, and I agree with many people that some of the player selection was confusing. However, Brazil (including the Brazilian soccer league) is already on top of it, and I am confident they will continue to produce some of the most exciting players in the World as they have been doing for years. It is no wonder people want to learn how to play like soccer like a Brasilian.
Yes,I do have a bias towards Brasil. As I mention below, I trained there for about a month, and I have family there in Sao Paulo. During the Holocaust in Germany, half of my Dad's side of the family went to China where they would spend 8 years before coming to the States, and half went to Brasil. I grew up getting Corinthians jerseys as gifts, hearing about the legend of Pele, and kicking the ball around with family who lived and breathed Brasilian futebol. Undoubtedly, there is something special about they way they play, and it is worthwhile to explore.
Between samba, futebol (soccer), capoeira, jui-jitsu, surfing, and now apparently Crossfit is becoming popular, the country of Brazil loves to move their bodies. For a moment, recall or Youtube the likes of Pele, Garrincha, Jairzinho, Carlos Alberto, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Robinbho, and more recently Neymar; all Brazilian star players with African decent. Not only do each of them have superb ball control and speed, but each plays the game with a powerful grace. When I was 21 years old I spent a month in Brazil training with various levels and almost never do I see players in America move the way they do in Brazil. Brasileiros not only love the ball and have high command over it, but it also has to do with how they contort their bodies around the ball.
"The ginga is the sway, the fluidity and the rhythm that seems to come naturally to Brazilians. It is an indescribable form of movement that only they seem to possess. It is the ginga that sets Brazilian players apart, and makes Brazil the legitimate possessor of Futebol-Arte (“Soccer-Art”).
History of Soccer
Historians and writers describe the birth of the ginga which arose from the historical mixture of the black, indigenous and the white populations, along with samba and capoeira.
The first soccer ball was brought to Brazil in 1894 by Charles Miller, a descendant of British migrants who came into contact with soccer during his education in England. In the beginning, soccer was only played by the white elite, but with time the poor and the afro-descendants started to participate more in the game. And what was one of the main activities practiced by the poor and the afro-descendants back in those days? Capoeira!
Antônio Risério, writer and special adviser to the Minister of Culture in Brazil, wrote in the article Futebol: Barroco-Mestiço1 how Brazilian people recreated soccer through a process of ethno cultural formation. This refers to the mixing of races, trickery, samba & capoeira. He says that a Brazilian’s body:
“was created in the gingas of samba and capoeira rodas, halfway between dance and fight, being now applied to soccer…samba & capoeira undoubtedly have the same base as our soccer. Everybody can see that. The way Brazilians play is invariably close to the movements of samba and capoeira.”
“…the gestural relationship between the repertoire of capoeira strikes and certain body movements of the Brazilian players is evident. The so called “bicycle kick” of Leônidas, for example, brings to memory the body spins in capoeira. And so does the dummy or feint, the slide tackle and the scissor kick.”
Risério also quoted the historian, teacher and Brazilian writer Joel Rufino, who wrote in the article Bola Brasilis published in the collective textbook Brazil Bom de Bola:
“…around the 1900’s, the Brazilian people had nothing. They only had their body and the street. When the authorities managed to eradicate [ or supress] capoeira, around the 1900’s, the people adopted soccer. Is capoeira ginga? Let us play soccer with ginga. Is capoeira dribbling? Let us make the dribble our main move.”
In the book “Introdução à Sociologia dos Desportos” (Introduction to the Sociology of Sport), João Lyra Filho2, asserts that capoeira:
“…is the forerunner of soccer as it is played in Brazil, between juggling and weavings that seem peculiar to mulattoes.”
“…in the mulattoes soccer game, as before, in the capoeira game, there is a lot of simulation and deception.”
With that being said, it is no wonder that when Zico, voted the third best soccer player in Brazil, coached the Japanese National team he appointed a capoeira instructor to teach the Japanese players how to ginga.
The nominated goalie for the 2014 Brazilian team, Jefferson, said in an interview that he used to play capoeira between the ages of 7 and 15 years old. He had to stop to dedicate himself fulltime to soccer. He also said that capoeira has helped him in his soccer game and he wants to go back to training capoeira once he retires."
O Rey Pele doing some Capoeira training.
Success in soccer and playing beautiful (joga bonito) requires more than skill. Start thinking of your body as a piece of art - a way of expressing your personality and character. I am not saying you have to sign up for Capoeira classes, although learning a couple of the moves can do wonders for your flexibility, grace, and help you prevent injuries as your body can go in and out of drastic positions with ease. At the very least, go take a dance class or go out dancing. As you learn to loosen up and add grace to your movements, your entire game will change for the better. But ultimately, I hope you start seeing the game and your body as more than just a sport where we play to get accolades and to win. Soccer is so much more than that. Every time you touch the ball whether it is the biggest game of your life to passing the ball with a relative, you are part of a game that has spanned the globe touching cultures and generations. Your individuality and the vastness that is the World's game.
My favorite moment from the film Pelada was this quote from Italian author Cristiano Cavina in his book Un’ultima stagione da esordienti (A final season for debutants, 2006) :
"This is what I’m going to think when I’m old. So then, seated on the traces of this circular life I notice a young boy who is alone. He is seated next to me, and I, finally old, would tell him of a fantastic championship and speak of the ball that can transform the weakest into Gibraltar. I would talk to him of the football god and the magic he confers. And the boy would be courageous enough to believe me and follow me into the dusty corners forgotten by the earth. Because there is a god for those football fields. Not for the big famous ones, but for the small ones in the provinces. And if you have the courage to believe in it football will give you much more than you can give it."
PS. If you're not subscribed to the blog, consider it. That way when I write more articles or come across things that can help your game and/life, you will get a friendly reminder.