Welcome back to the Brazil Sports newsletter. Continuing the theme of looking back at historic moments in Brazilian football, I write a love letter to my favorite match of all time. Elsewhere, the billionaire hit facing the country’s football clubs, forced to down tools amid the Covid-19 pandemic. If you have any Enjoy your read!
BRL 1.1 billion: the Covid-19 bill for Brazilian football
In recent weeks, we have discussed the financial chaos set to ensue among Brazil’s professional football sides as a result of the Covid-19 stoppage. With the exact ramifications still unclear, sports financing consultancy Sports Value has predicted that the interruption of matches will result in a combined hit of BRL 1.1 billion to the revenue of the country’s 100 largest clubs.
Crunching the numbers. The most obvious loss will come in gate receipts. With no matches taking place, there is no way to sell tickets. Even once football resumes, there is every likelihood that matches will be played behind closed doors for some time. As a result, season ticket programs will also suffer — a crucial source of income for elite clubs in the 2010s.
- Elsewhere, broadcasters and sponsors are beginning to walk away from the game, as we reported in recent weeks. Furthermore, this BRL 1.1 billion figure doesn’t even factor in the loss of revenue from player transfers, with many clubs only managing to stay afloat by selling footballers to Europe and Asia.
No-one is safe. There was a belief that some sides — such as Flamengo, Palmeiras, and Corinthians — would be able to weather the storm thanks to their increased cash flow. However, national champions Flamengo recently took out a BRL 50 million loan from Santander bank, justifying it as a “safety mattress,” due to delays in payments from sponsors. If Flamengo has to resort to that scale of lending, imagine the rest.
The Match of the Century
Part of the job of sports journalists and writers concerns what we call narrative, taking a match beyond the pitch, court, or ring and placing it into another context. At times, these connections can come across as forced. A weeknight league match doesn’t always encapsulate a historic battle between two schools of tactical thought; an Olympic basketball game between the U.S. and China isn’t necessarily a proxy struggle for global supremacy.
Last Tuesday, Brazilian TV channel SporTV showed a full-length re-run of Brazil’s 1970 World Cup group match against England, the match that was billed “The Game of the Century.” This, unlike many others that came before and after, deserved its title as one of the most momentous, narrative-soaked encounters the sport has ever seen.
The context. Going into the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, the last three trophies had been won by Brazil (1958, 1962) and England (1966). Despite a performance called “shameful” by journalists back home four years previously, Brazil went into the competition fancying their chances of glory. England, the reigning champions, were the favorites. The surprise of being drawn together in the group stage — alongside the hotly tipped Czechoslovakia and Romania — only increased the anticipation ahead of this first-round clash of titans.
Tactical battle. At this point in the history of football, Brazil and England were the two most important nations in the tactical development of the sport. The former had pioneered the four-man defense and dazzled the world with its futebol-arte in 1958 and 1962. England, meanwhile, took the idea of a four-man defense and went one further, abolishing the idea of traditional wingers and winning the 1966 World Cup using a revolutionary 4-3-3 system.
Politics. Away from football, 1970 was a crucial point for both Brazil and the United Kingdom. With the decolonization of Africa, the British Empire had all but come to an end. In Brazil, the military dictatorship eyed the World Cup as a way to launch the regime’s soft power, sparing no expense in the team’s preparation and employing NASA training techniques to ensure the squad was in tip-top condition.
Bad blood. Brazil and England were at each other’s throats in the months leading up to the game. In a BBC debate between Sir Alf Ramsey and then-Brazil coach João Saldanha, England’s boss accused Brazilian football of being overly violent, to which Saldanha claimed that Ramsey’s team didn’t play by the rules, insinuating that they had only won the 1966 World Cup with help from referees.
“England always plays by the rules!”
“Since we invented the game!”
The superiority stemming from the “ownership” of football as a sport was evident in the 1970 England team, but their grip on the game was about to slip through their fingers.
The game. Brazil v. England turned out to be the tightest and most tense match of the entire tournament. England remained defensive, keeping plenty of bodies behind the ball and launching it up the field as quick as possible once in possession. Brazil dominated, but could not find a way through, sorely missing the vision and passing range of midfielder Gérson, who had picked up an injury in Brazil’s opener against Czechoslovakia. Contrary to popular belief, at the time of the 1970 World Cup, it was Gérson — not Pelé — who was considered the star of the Brazil team. His absence was evident throughout the match.
The goal. For such a closely fought 90 minutes — which included a legendary save from England’s goalkeeper Gordon Banks — it was fitting that the only goal would be one of such singular quality. In the 59th minute, Tostão picked up the ball on the left side of the penalty area, jostling and juggling his way past three defenders, putting the ball through Bobby Moore’s legs in the process. Far from goal and with his back turned to the penalty box, Tostão scooped out a sweeping cross that landed perfectly at the feet of Pelé, in what was arguably the only 30 centimeters of space in a packed goal area. Instinctively and without looking, Pelé rolled the ball to the right to the onrushing Jairzinho, who brought it forward and pumped the ball into the England net, with a shot resembling a blast from a shotgun.
Brazil has scored many beautiful goals at the World Cup, including others in 1970. For my money, however, none is more awe-inspiring than Jairzinho’s winner against England.
Eduardo Galeano, in his legendary book “Football in Sun and Shadow,” described the goal as England’s “steel citadel being melted by the hot breeze blowing from the south.”
The photo. As if in mutual joy at the spectacular show of football they had just put on for the Mexican crowd, the two sets of players buried the hatchet after the full-time whistle. As reporters flooded onto the pitch, Pelé swapped shirts with England captain Bobby Moore, who had lifted the World Cup just four years ago. The two shared an embrace, immortalized in a photograph taken by the Daily Mirror’s John Varley.
- The moment encapsulated everything about the match, which in itself encapsulated contemporary football. It was respect, adoration, camaraderie, and a passing of the baton. The Match of the Century.