Thursday, 8 October 2020


For a long time, this blog has been a feed of links to articles I have written elsewhere. The idea was that all my work on Brazil would be in one convenient place.

I can no longer be bothered to do that – sorry! – so this will be the last post.

Thanks to everyone who read and commented over the years. I'll leave everything up so the next generation of Brazilian football fans can marvel at how sketchy my writing was in 2010.

You can read all my stuff on The Athletic and follow me on Twitter


Saturday, 26 September 2020

How do you replace Dani Alves?

Dani Alves turned 37 earlier this year. He has made no secret of his desire to play at World Cup 2022, yet he will be pushing 40 by the time it begins. It is a lot to ask for him to maintain his level until then.

This represents a challenge for Brazil in two respects. Most straightforwardly, there just aren’t that many Brazilian right-backs around at the moment. Then there is Alves’ particular interpretation of his position. 

He may once have been a rampaging touchline-hugger in the traditional mould, but at Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain especially he took on more creative responsibilities — not just from the flank but increasingly from central areas.

With the cupboard relatively bare, it looks as though Tite is going to try something a little different in an attempt to find an alternative for Alves. Read how on The Athletic.

Tuesday, 1 September 2020

Does Thiago Silva have something to prove at Chelsea?

Thiago Silva is not fulfilling a lifetime ambition by moving to the Premier League. 

He made it very clear that he wanted to stay at Paris Saint-Germain this summer, and his hand was forced by Leonardo's desire to refresh the first team at the Parc des Princes.

But the move to Chelsea does present him with a series of opportunities: to help guide a young, exciting team; to keep himself in the Brazil conversation until World Cup 2022; to prove, after eight seasons in France, that he could have cut it in any of Europe’s top leagues.

And, of course, that PSG were wrong to let him go.

Read my piece on Silva — an excellent defender who hasn't always convinced everyone — on The Athletic.

Monday, 10 August 2020

The giant heart behind Richarlison's scowl

When Richarlison signed his first sponsorship deal with Nike, he did not celebrate or lord it over his team-mates.

No, he went back to his dorm room, stuffed his old clothes into a suitcase, then went into town and handed them out to homeless people. 

This is just one of the stories I heard from those who know Richarlison best. "He’s just spectacular," one of his former coaches said. "The kind of person who seems to have been designed differently by the big guy up in the sky. I get emotional just talking about him.”

Read the rest of this piece, about the giant heart behind Richarlison's scowl, on The Athletic. 

Monday, 29 June 2020

The Alexandre Pato conundrum

Alexandre Pato is still only 30 years old.

It is really not difficult to conjure an alternate timeline in which he has racked up hundreds of goals for a Champions League team and is gearing up for a fourth World Cup as Brazil’s No 9.

Instead, he is toiling away for São Paulo, his best run of form in the last decade having come not in Europe but in the Chinese Super League. He dreams of a return to Milan, but that possibility looks well beyond him now. He last played for his country seven years ago.

It is a dizzying contrast. And so the question persists: What on earth happened?

I tried to answer that question, with the help of James Horncastle, for The Athletic. 

Thursday, 25 June 2020

The feud that overshadowed Brazil's greatest football song

Football and music have never collided as beautifully as they did in the song “Fio Maravilha”, Jorge Ben's nimble tribute to the Flamengo striker of the same name. I

t was the final cut on Side A of “Ben,” one of Jorge Ben’s most beloved albums. Almost 50 years later, it remains a staple of his live show, its sparkle undimmed.

Yet the story of Brazil’s greatest football song also contains its share of shade. It is a tale of opportunism and idiocy, of good intentions undone by bad judgment. It forced Jorge Ben, one of his country’s great lyricists, into a hasty rewrite and left a bitter taste in his mouth. It turned Fio Maravilha from a folk hero into a pariah.

Read my piece on the song and the story behind it on The Athletic. 

Monday, 8 June 2020

Sandro Orlandelli talked a doorman into letting him into Highbury. He became Arsenal’s South American scout

Sandro Orlandelli, who spent a decade as Arsenal’s man in South America and later reprised that role for Manchester United, is under no illusion that his path into top-level European football would be almost impossible to follow.

It is a tale of pluck and persistance, bad English and fuzzy logic, the cogs oiled by the goodwill of strangers. This might also be the only Premier League interview you read this month that references a night spent shivering in a central London shopfront.

Now technical coordinator at Red Bull Bragantino back in his homeland, Orlandelli laughs heartily as he tells the story of his big break. “Sometimes I couldn’t believe it was reality,” he says, and for good reason. If it had not actually happened, you would struggle to make it up.

Read my interview with him on The Athletic. 

Thursday, 4 June 2020

Yaya Toure and Botafogo: a soap opera story that reveals much about Brazilian football's jumbled priorities

“Botafogo is no place for cowards,” said Ricardo Rotenberg, pointedly.

The flirtation between the club and Yaya Touré lasted three months, but that was the end of it. Touré had pledged his future to Vasco da Gama, then turned his back on them, too.

But the most interesting part of this twisted novela was not what it says about Touré's career choices, but what it says about the Brazilian game. (Spoiler: nothing good.)

Read my piece on the affair on The Athletic. 

Saturday, 9 May 2020

Wellington Silva interview: Where it went wrong for Arsenal's best-ever Brazilian triallist

Those who work regularly at the Arsenal training ground see many young prospects come and go but few stick in the memory quite like Wellington Silva

Even after his first few training sessions, word began to spread through the club about the boy from Rio with the big smile and the silken touch. "He was, quite simply, the best triallist we’d ever seen," says one insider from that time.

But Wellington never appeared for the Arsenal first team. Arsenal did sign him permanently but work permit problems meant him spending several seasons out on loan, drastically impeding his development. “I have good memories I will always carry with me,” Wellington reflects. “Unfortunately, things didn’t quite turn out as I hoped.”

Read my interview with Wellington Silva – written up with the excellent Arsenal correspondent James McNicholas – on The Athletic.

Saturday, 2 May 2020

Who should play up front for Brazil?

"He's the new Ronaldo," purred Daniel Alves. "He is going to be one of the greats."

High praise indeed, but Gabriel Jesus deserved it. For the first two years of Tite's Brazil stewardship, he looked the striker Brazil had been seeking for a decade.

Cut to 2020 and the picture is slightly less clear. Jesus, after some ups and downs, remains an important player, as well as a symbol of the Tite era. Yet he now has significant competition for the central striking berth, much of it from the same small patch of north-west England.

For now, Roberto Firmino is the incumbent, having ousted Jesus after the World Cup and impressed as Brazil won the Copa America last summer. Then there is Richarlison, who played up front for his country before doing so at Everton, and who is viewed by Tite as the most direct, physical option.

There are other alternatives – there is a growing lobby for Flamengo's Gabriel Barbosa, for instance – but the battle to lead the line for the Selecao at the next World Cup looks likely to have a distinct Premier League flavour.

Read the rest of this piece on The Athletic.

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Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Whatever happened to Adryan?

As a teenager, he was compared to Zico and tipped for superstardom.

But now, aged 25, former Flamengo forward Adryan finds himself at a rather lower altitude. After an up-and-down jaunt around Europe, he is back in Brazil – not at one of the country's big clubs, but in the second division.

What went wrong for him? Was it a question of talent or attitude? And did that 'new Zico' tag weigh heavily on his young shoulders?

Answers to those questions on more in a piece with Leeds United correspondent Phil Hay for The Athletic. Read it here. 

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Tuesday, 28 April 2020

'A bit weird' but great fun: when Brazil played Barcelona

April 28, 1999, at Camp Nou: Barcelona vs Brazil.

Blaugrana vs Canarinha. Figo, Guardiola and Kluivert vs Rivaldo, Ronaldo and Romário. Catalans vs samba fans, plus a thousand other woozy stereotypes.

It was, in the words of Bolo Zenden, who played for Barcelona that night, “a bit weird”. It was also rather wonderful.

Read my piece about the game, which features interviews with Zenden and former Brazil forward Márcio Amoroso, on The Athletic. 

If you have yet to sign up, you can get a 90-day free trial here. 

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Denílson interview: 'Gilberto Silva used to invite me over, but I just stayed at home. Alone, watching Prison Break'

As soon as he arrived at Arsenal in 2006, Denílson looked like a future star. This, it was hoped, might be a natural long-term midfield partner for Cesc Fabregas.

For all his promise, however, Denilson never felt comfortable in England. He was homesick, for a start, but it was more than that.

He felt all alone, separated from his new team-mates by age and culture, and from his support network by the Atlantic Ocean. It was a crushing, unshakeable loneliness that eventually undermined his Arsenal career.

I interviewed Denílson, who opened up on his difficulties in England. Read it on The Athletic. 

If you have yet to sign up, you can get a 90-day free trial here. 

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

The end of Chelsea's Brazilian era?

“At that time it was rare to see Brazilian players in the Premier League," says Juliano Belletti.

“When I found out that Chelsea were interested in me, I knew that it was a big opportunity. And it was incredible. The club, the fans, the city… they were great times.

"We went out together as a group sometimes and had family meals at each others’ houses. There was real friendship between us."

Belletti was not the only Brazilian to find a home at Chelsea, but with Willian set to leave this summer it now looks like the end of an era. I take a look at the trend with my colleagues at The Athletic, Liam Twomey and Simon Johnson, here.

Friday, 10 April 2020

Tite's gap year: How coach's 2014 sabbatical helped lay the foundations for success with Corinthians and Brazil

Tite watched the 2014 World Cup from home.

There had been offers of television work but he had turned them down, preferring to hole up in his office and really focus. He recorded and watched every one of the 64 matches, taking copious notes. He pored over defensive lines and midfield pivots. For someone with a burning interest in tactics, it was a dream month.

Most coaches wouldn’t have had the luxury of being able to obsess over the tournament to quite such a degree. They would have been worrying about training sessions or thinking about transfers. But Tite, in the summer of 2014, had all the time in the world.

He was midway through a sabbatical year that would breathe life into his coaching career, laying the foundations for success with Corinthians and Brazil.

Read my piece on Tite's sabbatical year on The Athletic. 

Monday, 6 April 2020

Rafael Cabral won the Libertadores with Neymar at Santos. Now he’s shining at Reading and hoping for a Brazil recall

Rafael Cabral has been one of the breakout stars of the Championship season, putting in a series of spectacular displays for Reading.

But anyone who witnessed Rafael’s first steps in the senior game would be forgiven for being slightly puzzled at his CV, particularly the most recent sections.

This is a player who, for a time, was regarded as the next great Brazilian goalkeeper; who was a key man for Santos during their most successful spell since the 1960s; whose profile was such that he made a cameo in a Brazilian teen soap opera alongside Neymar.

Now, after a tough spell in Italy, he appears to have his mojo back. Read my interview with him on The Athletic.

Monday, 30 March 2020

Meet the man helping Real Madrid sign Brazil's most exciting talents – and forget their Neymar frustrations

In 2017, Real Madrid signed the most exciting young forward in Brazil. A year later they did it again. Eighteen months later, they did it again.

It remains to be seen whether one of Vinicius, Rodrygo and Reinier can reach the level of Neymar – a player Real were close to signing on three occasions, but who eventually joined Barcelona.

But whatever happens next, credit must go to the club’s man in Brazil, who has put them in a position to find out.

You probably haven't heard of Juni Calafat, but those who know him say "he makes the difference" in the Brazilian market. Read about him in my latest for The Athletic. 

Monday, 23 March 2020

Ronaldinho in prison: this is a tragedy, not a comedy

As he celebrates his 40th birthday behind bars, Ronaldinho has time to do some thinking.

His playing career was a study in shimmering, off-the-cuff virtuosity, but his existence since his retirement — he officially called it a day in 2018, over two years after playing his final match for Fluminense — has been defined by amateurism and cringing ignominy.

The photos of football’s last great libertine wearing handcuffs in a Paraguayan jail have gone around the world. While they may jar at first glance, this feels like the logical endpoint of a slow journey towards the abyss.

Read my piece on the mortal behind the Ronaldinho myth on The Athletic. 

Thursday, 19 March 2020

Glauber Berti played just six minutes' football for Man City. How exactly did he become such a cult hero?

Vincent Kompany, David Silva, Sergio Aguero: these are Manchester City’s modern icons. You could make a decent case for a Yaya Toure wing or a Pablo Zabaleta sun lounge.

Glauber Berti, the Brazilian defender who arrived in Manchester in summer 2008 and left a year later after playing just six minutes of first-team football, shouldn’t really be in the same conversation.

Yet in his own way, Glauber is the ultimate City cult hero. While the reasons for that might elude the casual observer, they are both legitimate and instructive, revealing plenty about the complex tides of fandom.

Read my interview with the one-game wonder on The Athletic. 

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Seven games, 24 goals conceded and a reputation ruined: the inside story of Roque Junior's doomed spell at Leeds

"I couldn’t see it in him," says Eddie Gray.

"I’m not saying he couldn’t play, because he was a World Cup winner; he must have had plenty of talent. But when I watched him train, I never saw it. The positioning, the defending… none of it was good enough."

He was not the only one to come to that conclusion during Roque Junior's torrid, error-strewn spell at Leeds United in 2003. The Brazilian arrived on a season-long loan in September but was sent packing four months later after a string of inept displays under Peter Reid.

For The Athletic, I tell the inside story of Roque Junior's ill-fated dalliance with English football, with input from former coaches, team-mates, and the man himself.

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.