How soccer shaped Brazil and how Brazil has shaped soccer.
As Brazil readies to host the World Cup, it also prepares for the world’s attention. Kittleson (History/Williams Coll.; The Practice of Politics in Postcolonial Brazil: Porto Allegre, 1845-1895, 2005) explores the development of soccer in Brazil and that country’s unique contributions to the world game. He also uses the game and many of its key Brazilian figures to explore the ways that soccer, society, culture, race, class, politics and nation have intersected in Brazilian history and helped to create the country. Though Brazilian fans expect to win, they also expect to do so in a particular way, a way that reflects brasilidade, Brazilianness, which in turn reflects a debate about futebol-arte (art soccer) versus futebol-força (strength soccer). The former embodies the idealized view Brazilians have of their own beautiful game, with its individual brilliance embodied in stars such as Garrincha, Pele, Ronaldo and others. The latter embodies a pragmatic, technical, European style of soccer. Central to all of these discussions is the role of race, as Afro-Brazilians are oftentimes seen as embodying futebol-arte even as Brazilian society is more riven by race than the country’s boosters acknowledge. Kittleson organizes the book chronologically, but within each chapter, he focuses on individuals who embody the period’s debates, styles of play and developments on the field. Thus, players take central stage, but so, too, do individual managers and cartolas—literally, “top hats,” but referring to the bosses who run the country’s top clubs and football infrastructure. In the process, Kittleson provides a work of both impeccable scholarship and compelling narrative.
Whether Brazil’s national side wins or loses this World Cup in its backyard, one can be sure that the debate will endure over how they won or lost and how it reflects or falls short of the ideals of brasilidade. This book provides a fine context to that debate.