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The Brazilian Lottery Part III

I would like to kindly introduce Mario, he is a reader and commenter on the blog who decided to email me with an idea. His idea was to use his Brazilian background to help shed some light on the issues surrounding the risk of signing a Brazilian player, their transition to Europe, and ultimately their value to AC Milan. This piece will run for the rest of the week in four parts so enjoy.

Part I
Part II

Part III

To understand why so many Brazilian players have discipline problems, one needs once again to look no further than Brazilian culture for the explanation. It is no secret that most successful soccer players, and most other athletes in the world come from poor beginnings. This is especially true in Brazil, where at least 80% if not more of the players that make it professionally grew up in the “favelas,” the infamous slums of Brazil. It is by looking at and studying the living conditions in these favelas that it becomes easy to understand where all these problems come from.

Life in the favelas is rough. Very, very rough. Money and food is scarce, while guns and drugs abound. For an accurate portrayal of what these people have to deal with every day, I suggest watching the movies City of God (Cidade de Deus), Elite Squad (Tropa de Elite), and Brazil. Violence is everywhere, caused by warring drug dealers who from a young age symbolize power and manliness to many kids growing up. With the drug trade being very profitable, the drug dealers are the only ones in the favelas with nice clothes, expensive watches,jewelry, and money. Inevitably, unless their parents do a very good job raising them (which is difficult since the mothers are most likely working 12-16 hours a day being a maid at a middle class or upper class home and the dad most likely works long hours in a factory or begging on the street) these kids start to idolize the drug dealers and what they stand for. It goes without saying that their education is also very poor, if existent at all, so they have never truly been taught how to act. Once they become professional players and start to get paid, they begin to emulate those they know who are also rich: the drug dealers. They have no other examples of how to deal with money, and so they believe that the correct thing to do is to blow it on clothes, partying, prostitutes, alcohol, and drugs akin to what they saw growing up.

You’re probably now thinking that while this all sounds plausible, you don’t see every single Brazilian player turning into a mess the minute they get money, and there is a very good reason for that; the disciplinary system among youth teams is incredible. From watching practices and interactions between caretakers, coaches, and players when I visited Cruzeiro’s youth premises, I saw firsthand how they managed to assert control over these kids. They all live in dormitories situated on the team’s youth facilities, they get little free time, have enforced curfews, and work almost as if they are in a boot camp. Misbehaving is simply unacceptable, so they behave; more because they are being forced to instead of doing so under their own volition. . Even among the first team, many Brazilian teams have dormitories for the players that they must sleep in one or two nights before games. They are shut off from the world for one or two nights prior, to ensure focus.

Throughout this whole process of growing up, playing in a soccer school, and joining a youth academy, one crucial part of any person’s upbringing is severely neglected: education. Simply put, a lot of these guys are dumb. Not for any fault of their own, they were just never given a a proper education. They were always working to get money, playing soccer, and practicing. I was shocked to learn from my aunt’s friend (who is a member of the board of directors of Cruzeiro) that many of these players are near illiterate. The youth academy has a school that they attend, but it is very basic and there is no real consequence for not passing classes. If the kids don’t pass, but continue to play well, they continue on the team, so there’s no incentive for them to focus on it.

Taking all this into account, what do you think happens when a player makes it big and secures a transfer to Europe? For one, their salary multiplies many times, even though they already have more money than they know how to deal with. Secondly, the bootcamp-like disciplinary institutions are removed. They are no longer playing for their hometown team (which they are happy to play for due to the love they had for the team growing up), and many are playing more for the opportunity to one day represent the country than for their love of their team. It is for this reason that we see players, such as Robinho, put in incredible performances when he plays domestically in Brazil as well as for the National Team, but looks disinterested and lazy in games for his club (Real Madrid and Manchester City). The same applies for Felipe Melo, who with the exception of his pathetic show of composure in Brazil’s last World Cup game, has always played much better for Brazil than he has for his club. In their excess of money, these players regress back to what they know and learned in the favelas: they turn to partying, alcohol, and even drugs.

There are obviously players that adjust better than others. Not all which I have just laid out happens to every Brazilian player, but at least part of it is true for most of them. Some drink too much, some don’t try on the pitch, some party too much, some simply don’t integrate well with the culture and long to return home due to either stubbornness or stupidity, while some are guilty of all of the above. This never happened with such frequency in the past because most Brazilian players would play in Brazil most of their lives. European teams would only take the Brazilians which they were sure could handle living outside of Brazil; so fewer would ply their trade abroad. With the globalization of soccer and more and more Brazilians making the switch to Europe every year, problems which have always been around simply become more magnified. Even in the past some Brazilian players had well documented disciplinary problems, such as Garrincha’s penchant for alcohol and easy women.

Players such as Kaka usually adjust better, for one he came from a middle-upper class family. He never lived in a favela, his friends were all normal adjusted kids, and he grew up with good influences and a whole lot of Jesus. He knows how to handle money as he saw his parents handling it well, and doesn’t have the same idolatry of the drug dealer/partying life as he was never exposed to that lifestyle, he was always given better examples growing up. There are other Brazilian players that come from middle or upper class families, and these have never had problems like the others. Unfortunately, these are the exception not the norm, and are usually not nearly as good as those who hail from more modest backgrounds.

Now that I have hypothesized why Brazilian players develop disciplinary problems, my final effort will be to tie all the parts together. In the next and final post, I’ll discuss how all this ties in to AC Milan, what it means for our transfer policies, and make the title I chose for the series clear. Once again, if you have any questions I’ll be reading all the comments and I’ll be happy to answer.