By Bill George, Yokohama
IF you love football, then you must have rejoiced at Brazil’s World Cup success. Their role in the global expression of football is intimidating, their responsibility immense.
They are not just expected to win; they are expected to win with style, with panache, with a flourish. When they succeed, as they did in Yokohama, then it behoves us all to celebrate, to be grateful.
The spirit of Brazil is the very essence of football as it should be. It is not just a game, not just a contest, not just an expression of nationalism, of superiority, of special, unique ability.
It is all of these things and yet it is much more besides. It is intuitive, imaginative, instinctive. It is a celebration of man’s ability to enjoy a God-given talent, to recognise it, develop it, express it in a way that is joyous and uplifting.
It is, in a word, inspirational. Ronaldinho, for me, is the very epitome of Brazilian football. Here is a young man of precocious talent, a young man possessed of rare gifts, of wit and imagination that is all too rarely found, a young man with the capacity to entertain and to punish, to delight and destroy.
His boyish expression and youthful demeanour are calculated to seduce, guaranteed to invoke support, encourage approval. But not everything is sweetness and light with the boyish Ronaldinho.
Within this lightweight frame there beats the heart of a true warrior. His foul on England’s Danny Mills was dreadful.
It earned for him a straight red card and kept him out of the semi-final against Turkey. He was lucky to escape with such a light censure.
He pleaded his case, of course, but the referee was totally justified in waving away his protestations. Ronaldinho went over the top in a way that would cause outrage in a monastery.
But, in a curious, inverted way, the action was quintessential Ronaldinho. It was significant that the victim of his misdemeanour was Danny Mills; not a man to be trifled with. Clearly the Brazilians had studied England on video tape. Clearly Mills’ reputation had preceded him.
Ronaldinho was well aware of who it was he was engaging. The instinct for self-preservation subjugated the spirit of the artist in him so he stepped out of line. A question - would you step in front of a double-deck bus?
The game against England was Ronaldinho’s “tour de force.” Football expressed in this way, practised at this level, is not just to be enjoyed, it is to be celebrated.
As interpreted by Ronaldinho, it is an art form.
He was not that prominent for much of the final, but that was a tribute to Germany’s remarkable defence. Defensive work is not as captivating or as sexy as creative play, but it is no less an art form. A form of German art.
Appreciation of Germany’s qualities will have to wait for another day. Right now it is time to savour Brazil’s win, to wallow in the luxury of a victory for all that is positive in football, all that is progressive, all that is exciting.
Brazil are as often cited for their failures as for their successes. It is a mark of their enduring excellence that historians can look back at victories such as that achieved in 1994 and comparative failures like that of 1974, 1978, 1986, 1990, 1998 and berate them for their lack of style and their lack of flair. Standards are applied to Brazil that are not applicable anywhere else.
Their football in Yokohama was exhilarating at times, and while Germany applied themselves so effectively that they dominated for much of the game and particularly in the early stages, Brazil were never prepared to compromise their standards. They came to play and they insisted on doing so, often at great risk. Even while they threshed about in search of a rhythm they were still prepared to eschew the pragmatic in favour of a little style.
Lucio epitomised their attitude for he and his centre-back colleagues, Edmilson and Roque Junior, were always prepared to spend time on the ball. They were not prepared to abandon their principles and even in the most hazardous situations within their own penalty area, took time to seek a constructive way out.
This is what makes Brazil so special, this desire on the part of all of their players to play ball. That same defence was often criticised by those who were not Brazilians but manager Scolari spoke with genuine pride of his centre-backs and goalkeeper when he described them as the best defence in the world after Sunday’s final.
There will always be room in football for the centre-back who will argue that the opposition cannot score if the ball is dispatched to the back of the stand and who will act accordingly.
What a joy it is then to watch Brazil. With youngsters like Ronaldinho to carry on their tradition we know football the Brazilian way will always be the Jogo Bonito - the beautiful game.