Sunday, 12 January 2020

Brasília’s underused, unloved World Cup stadium: a 7-1 triumph of vested interests over the common good

The first thing that strikes you is just how barren the surroundings are.

Brasilia is a weirdly disconnected place at the best of times but the Mane Garrincha is entirely dislocated from anything approaching civilisation, sitting in the middle of a dust bowl next to a main road. There is nothing but undulating gravel around it. To call it under-developed would be to give it too much credit.

There are metal railings everywhere, to no obvious end. The colossal car park is empty but for a cluster of turquoise city buses; the local government has re-purposed the space to create a temporary depot. An underground tunnel that once took journalists through to the media centre is now padlocked shut and filled with scrap metal. The concrete on the concourse is turning to rubble.

I went to visit the Estádio Mané Garrincha in Brasília – the second most expensive football stadium ever at the time of its completion – to see what it looks like now. Read about it on The Athletic. 

Saturday, 21 December 2019

How "beautiful madman" Jorge Jesus brought the good times back to Flamengo – and shook up Brazilian football

Flamengo have spent the majority of 2019 being rightly celebrated as their continent’s most entertaining side — a pulse-quickening concoction of slick collectivism and individual talent.

“An historic team,” former Brazil striker Tostao has called them, and a glance at the final Brazilian league table only rams home the point. Palmeiras have, objectively, one of the best squads assembled by a South American club in the modern era. Santos, led by Jorge Sampaoli, had a heartening campaign. Flamengo finished 16 points ahead of them both.

To say that Jorge Jesus has had a transformative effect on the club would be to undersell his impact by an order of magnitude. While the foundations were in place before his arrival in June, the Portuguese has crafted a daring, cohesive side, and imbued it with belief.

Read my piece on Brazil's best team on The Athletic. 

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Meet Matheus Pereira, the sparky young Brazilian lighting up the Championship with West Brom

West Bromwich Albion had been told that Matheus Pereira could be high-maintenance, but they signed him anyway.

But their calculated gamble has paid off handsomely, the 23-year-old Brazilian emerging as the key creative force in Albion’s rise to the top of the Championship as the season approaches the halfway point.

And at some stage in the next few months, possibly as early as January, the Sporting Lisbon loanee will become a permanent Albion player in a deal worth just £9 million. Given his thrilling performances in 18 games so far for the club, the cost of the pending transfer is puzzlingly low, to the extent that fans, pundits and even some inside the club are wondering whether there must be a catch.

Read my piece on West Brom's promising young Brazilian on The Athletic.

Thursday, 14 November 2019

Meet Gabriel Veron, the natural-born dribbler aiming to follow Gabriel Jesus from Palmeiras to the big time

Gabriel Veron is a born dribbler.

He is fast – very, very fast – but also measured. It’s all very well haring down the flank, but you have to know when to slow down, when to bide your time. It’s in the hips – ginga, they call it here – and it’s in the eyes: you tell your marker a story and then change the ending. One minute you’re there, and the next you’re not. Veron is still young, but he has all of that.

“It’s the essence of Brazilian football,” Brazil Under-17 coach Guilherme Della Dea says. “He’s already a master at it.”

Read my profile of one of the exciting Palmeiras winger, who is currently shining for his country at the U-17 World Cup, on The Athletic. 

Friday, 25 October 2019

Whatever happened to Leandro Damião?

Eight years on from the season that shot him to fame, Leandro Damião could barely be further from the gossip columns.

He is 30 and playing in Japan. He has not featured for Brazil since 2013. He scored against Chelsea in July, but that was in a pre-season friendly, and his chances of ever playing in the Premier League have now dwindled to precisely zero.

His name, once synonymous with irrational hope, now evokes a sort of bruised nostalgia. When people think of him at all, they do so in the form of a rhetorical question: “Whatever happened to Leandro Damiao?”

So, what did happen?

Find out in my latest for The Athletic.

Saturday, 12 October 2019

From Elkeson to Ai Kesen: The Brazilian at the vanguard of China's quest to end their World Cup exile

When the opportunity arose to join Guangzhou Evergrande in the Chinese Super League, Elkeson leapt at it.

It was a way to secure his family’s financial future for decades — generations, even. It likely meant forgoing a shot at international football – he had been called up from Brazil two years earlier – but it was a price worth paying.

This week, however, Elkeson played in a World Cup qualifier. He took to the field at the Tianhe Stadium in Guangzhou wearing a red jersey with the number 11 on the back. Local commentators spoke in excited tones about him but didn’t use his birth name.

They called him “Ai Kesen”. He was playing for China.

Read my piece on China naturalising players in a bid to end their World Cup exile on The Athletic.

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Almost three years after the Chapecoense plane crash, families are still looking for answers, and for redress

In London's financial district, eight other Brazilians are staging a protest. They are wrapped up warm against the wind, coats zipped to the very top and gloved hands firmly jammed into pockets. Some hunker down on a bench. Others stand on the pavement, holding the edges of a banner they brought over from their homeland.

"Fighting for justice, we are stronger," it reads.

A few passers-by to ask what is going on. Those who do hear the latest chapters in a story that once held the world's attention but has since slipped off the radar.

Three of the protesters are lawyers. One is an activist. Four are widows of footballers who died when the aeroplane carrying the Chapecoense squad to the final of the Copa Sudamericana crashed in Colombia on 28 November 2016.

The ninth protester is Neto. He was on that plane.

The reason for their presence in the UK? Almost three years after the crash, the Chapecoense families are still looking for answers, and for redress.

Read the rest of this piece in The Athletic.