Monday, July 24, 2006

Dopey is Brazil's New Manager

Dunga has been named the new manager of Brazil. (Dunga is the Portuguese name for "Dopey," of the seven dwarves.)

So apparently Germany and the Netherlands set the new trend with Klinsmann and Van Basten. Dunga has exactly no coaching experience, which is a negative, but he is not Paulo Autuori, which is a strong positive. So, all in all, Dunga is a good decision. As is always the case with Brazil, Dunga will have a deep talent pool to work with, and a year without a competitive match, so he can take the time to experiment. He was a hard-nosed player who was the antithesis of everything that Brazilian soccer is supposed to represent. Let's hope that he doesn't ask his team to play the way he did.

Thursday, July 20, 2006


Brazil's Impossible Choice

I am no fan of ESPN's soccernet, even though I check the site almost every day, but for once they got it right. Sort of. Actually, Reuters got it right, and soccernet is where I found it. Here it is.

The situation is both not as bad and worse than the article makes it out to be, so I guess that on the balance Reuters got it right. Parreira, in addition to playing boring and unsuccessful soccer, has left Brazil in quite a bind. He refused to play Brazil-based players (with the rare exceptions of Robinho and Cicinho), with the exceptions of those he was clearly paid to play (more on that in a moment). So there aren't, at present, obvious replacements for players like Emerson, Roberto Carlos, Zé Roberto, and Ronaldão (he's done, face the facts and stick a fork in him -- the phenomenon ain't coming back). Ronaldinho Gaúcho and Kaká should both have another World Cup in them, if they stay healthy, and that's quite a nucleus around which to build. But Parreira refused to give experience to the players who will make up the team around them, so the next year or two will not be pretty.

But Brazil isn't England (and long may that continue), and there's no shortage of raw talent here. Players will emerge -- the CBF hasn't yet screwed up Brazilian soccer so badly that talent won't rise to the top. The on-field situation isn't as bleak as the article says. If the next manager is more daring than Parreira (and that's almost a given) then he will find world-class talent in Brazil.

The problem is the next manager, and it's a far bigger problem than you would know from the article.

Vanderlei/Vanderly/Wanderley/whatever is one of the sleaziest characters around. He lied about his age? So what. His tax returns were only the start. He was taking money from agents to play their players because once a player represents Brazil his value skyrockets. Investigators discovered that Luxemburgo (whatever he may lack in class he makes up for by having a cool name) had cashed a personal check for 800,000 reais. (You can convert that to the currency of your choice here.) Who writes a personal check for that much? A player's agent, that's who. In two years as Brazil's manager, he used 91 players. Many of whom played once or twice, were bought by European clubs, and never heard from again. Their agents took a slice of the purchase price (which is perfectly legal), making the investment in Wanderley Luxemburgo's bank account (which is completely illegal) a wise investment. Parreira is an intelligent man, and lower-key than Luxemburgo (for what it's worth), but surely this is why Diego and Alex made a few appearances in 2004.

Luxemburgo is a talented manager, to be sure, but he is so sleazy (and was such a failure his first time around, which is far worse) that it's hard to imagine that the Brazilian people will accept him. Autuori is a different case.

I remember Autuori well from the two weeks I spent in Peru in 2003. I asked to be taken to a soccer game, so my friend Marta's father (her family graciously accepted when I invited myself to visit her) took me to see his team, El Boys. Sport Boys de Callao, or El Boys, played Sporting Cristal. At the time Sporting Cristal were the defending champions and were on their way to winning another, but their manager (Autuori) had them play an extremely defensive game against a hopeless mid-table team. I had already made up my mind that El Boys were my team (it helps that they have pimp colors), but some time during the second half I decided that Autuori was my enemy. (El Boys would have won the game 1-0, but a linesman ruled a perfectly valid goal offside. I would have joined in the "hijo de puta" chants but there was a family with young children sitting in front of me, and in a way I was their guest. At times I can be quite polite.) As Peru's manager, and then as the manager of São Paulo (where he won his second Copa Libertadores) he played the same negative tactics. His Botafogo team played the same way when they won the Brazilian championship in 1995. Nobody, probably not even his mother, is excited about the prospect of him in charge of Brazil.

And that leaves... nobody. Emerson Leão, who succeeded Luxemburgo, is a great coach, but he demands more attention than his players. And then the players resent him for it. After his six-month stint in charge of Brazil was over, he claimed publicly that the CBF would give him a paper on which to write the names of the players he wanted on the team for the next game, and ten names would already be there. The CBF told him, "You pick the rest." Of course the CBF and its president, Fat Bastard (his mother named him Ricardo Teixeira), deny this. Either way (and I'm inclined to side with Leão), Leão has burned his bridges and will not be in charge of Brazil again for a long time. There are talented coaches out there, but nobody knows where. The next two years could be long ones for Brazil.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

The Only Good That Can Come

The only good that can come of this result is that no one will ever again believe in the theories of Carlos Alberto Parreira. Never again will Brazil field a World Cup team of players based on their performances in the past. Never again will Brazil play in the hopes that the players can recapture their past glories.

Why was Adriano in Germany and not on some beach in the Pacific? Certainly not because of his play in the last six months. The same goes for Roberto Carlos and Cafu. And Emerson, and so on...

How many players, who weren't named Pelé, have ever "retired" from international play? The answer is none, if we don't count Romário (whose "retirement" was as much of a joke as he is these days). So why did Parreira have to change things?

Parreira didn't make Brazil any more "sophisticated," or whatever he called it. (He speaks something like eight languages, and Portuguese surely isn't his favorite among them.) He is one of the many Brazilians who wishes that he were American/European, and it showed in his teams' style. And that singular/plural isn't a mistake -- his 1994 team and his 2006 team were the same -- they tried to play just ever so slightly better than their opponents. In 1994 it worked, in 2004 it worked (Copa America), in 2005 it worked (Confederations Cup) and in 2006 it failed miserably.

Adriano was on the team because he played well in the Confederations' Cup. Which is very nice, but what, exactly, did he do for Inter in the last six months? If the answer is nothing, which it is, then why was he invited to Germany as something other than a spectator? Parreira cares much, much more about a players' name than his actual performance. And today we saw how badly that can backfire.

At their very best, Parreira's teams are constructed to play ever so slightly better than their opponents. At their worst, well, we saw that today, didn't we? Why not let the players play? Could the result be worse? Brazil is not a country that is satisfied with a trip to the quarter-finals.

What has Adriano done in the last year? What has Big Fat Ron done in the same time (aside from second place in Spain)? What the hell has Parreira done? Does he think Brazil is inhabited by the English, who would content themselves (hell, they would shit their pants and call it perfume) if they could only win a continental trophy? He probably wishes that were the case.

There are good Brazilian coaches. The best is named Emerson Leão (and I am only slightly biased because he won the national championship with Sport). His particular problem is that when he was Brazil's coach (he left Sport to assume the position) he claimed that the CBF gave him a sheet of paper with ten or so names on it and told him that the next thirteen were his to name. Given the myriad scandals associated with his successor, Wanderly Luxemburgo (or something like that -- he didn't know how to spell his own name [true story]), it's impossible not to believe Leão.

We have seen the ignominious end to the international careers of Ronaldão O Ex-Fenômeno, Cafu, Roberto Carlos, Emerson, Lúcio, Emerson, Zé Roberto, and most likely more (Adriano, Gilberto Silva, and -- sadly -- Juninho). At least we have seen the end of Parreira as well.


Feijoada is the “national dish” of Brazil the way hamburgers are the “national dish” of the US. Americans surely eat more pizza than hamburgers, but people outside of the US associate hamburgers with Americans. The same way people outside of Brazil associate feijoada with Brazilians, even though there are other foods that are far more commonly consumed in Brazil.

Feijão is Portuguese for bean, and the suffix –ada is added to food names to describe a dish based on, or at least heavily flavored by, that food. Meat sautéed with onions is described as “acebolada”, food with a lot of chili peppers is described as “apimentada.” And anyone who eats feijoada will understand this – the beans are the main part.

(I once met an unpleasant man who had worked for the foreign service, in Eastern Europe and in Brasília. He had been told, and believed – despite what should have been some familiarity with the Portuguese language – that feijoada was Portuguese for “lots of pork.” He described feijoada as “every part of the pig but the squeal,” but somehow neglected to mention that beans are involved. As a result I imagined, until I saw it, that feijoada was something much more exotic than it is. He also heard somewhere, apparently, that every city has its own traditional feijoada day and that Brasília’s day happened to be Saturday. But feijoada is served on Saturday all over Brazil, and Brasília hasn’t been around long enough to have much in the way of tradition. But enough about him.)

Feijoada was, according to the generally accepted history, slave food. Whatever bits and pieces of meat that were left over, or that couldn’t be cooked any other way (pigs’ feet, ears, and tails, for example) were thrown in the pot with the beans. Saturday is the traditional day to eat feijoada, but people make it in their homes on Sundays as well, and restaurants serve it on different days. Friday, in particular, is a good day to find feijoada in downtown areas near office buildings. It is important to point out that Brazilians would never think of eating feijoada for anything but lunch.

Now all Brazilians eat feijoada, regardless of their class or status. Feijoada takes hours to cook, so it isn’t worth the trouble to make only a small amount. (Feijoada freezes very well, and everyone knows that it tastes better after spending a few weeks in the freezer.) Feijoada is, like everything else in Brazil, a party. Large groups of people congregate in one house, drinking beer from 10 or 11am on, as one or two people (almost invariably the girlfriend/wife of the man who lives there and a female friend/relative of hers) stay in the kitchen making the feijoada. (They join the party later, don’t worry.) When feijoada is used with the indefinite article it means a party of this nature.

Feijoada is served over rice, accompanied by farinha or farofa. Farinha is a flour made from sweet cassava, and farofa is farinha fried, usually in butter, with any number of additions – onion, carrot, pumpkin, shredded beef, or bacon, to name a few. Traditionally it is also served with couve à mineiro – sliced collard greens fried in butter with bits of bacon and onion. Cachaça, a sugar cane liquor worth its own website, goes very well with feijoada (supposedly in São Paulo the feijoada is cooked with cachaça, but I don’t believe the source of that information), and after eating feijoada most people like to eat oranges.

Most Brazilians, the vast majority, believe that feijoada is difficult to make. It is not. (Brazilian supermarkets sell canned feijoada, but I can’t imagine buying it, and I have never seen anyone doing so. I asked a couple of friends about it, and they said that canned feijoada is for people who don’t know how to make feijoada. I told them it was easy to make, and they insisted that I am wrong. So maybe I’m doing it all wrong, because it sure seems simple to me.)

The basic ingredient is black beans. Lots of them. At least half a kilo, but if you have a big enough pot you should make a whole kilo. Let the beans soak overnight if you want, but the traditionally the beans are rinsed and then cooked without soaking. (If you soak the beans it is a good idea to cook the meat separately and then add it to the pot. Otherwise the meat might not cook completely. From here on I will assume that the beans are not soaked.) When you begin cooking the beans, dump all the meat in the pot as well. Traditional meats are sausage (specifically, cured low-fat sausage) sliced thinly across the link, pork loin and ribs, charque (jerky is a mispronunciation of charque), whatever kinds of pork are near at hand (and any bones with bits and pieces of meat on them), and the interesting parts of the pig that were mentioned above (I don’t care for the ear at all, the foot is okay, but the tail is particularly delicious). If you use charque, don’t put salt in the pot, if you don’t use it, then salt is necessary. That’s more or less the entire undisputed, uncontroversial part of the feijoada recipe. From here on out the opinions vary greatly.

Some people don’t season it any more than this. Other people add black pepper, cumin (and some don’t – one of my students jumped up out of his chair yelling his opposition to adding cumin to feijoada) or garlic. Some people add a tomato or two. Some people add onions. Others add (and I am a proponent of this idea) cilantro at the very end. Just a minute or two before turning off the flame, add chopped cilantro and stir it into the feijoada. Some people eat feijoada with bacon (or maybe that’s just fancy restaurant feijoada) – if you want to do that (it’s very good), cook and serve the bacon separately, because it will lose its flavor if it’s cooked with the beans.

After the feijoada is ready (you know what beans are like when they are fully cooked, same with meat, so I’m not going to say “cook it for x hours”, or anything like that), serve it as described above (with rice and farinha, at least, if not with couve à mineiro, cachaça, and oranges). The most important thing to remember is to eat too much. Do not exercise discipline. Do not refrain from eating thirds. Overindulgence is an important part of the feijoada tradition and is not to be neglected.

Hours after lunch, when you can move again, send me an email with your feijoada story.