VALDIR Campos’ training regimen is unforgiving. At the ground of the fourth division team Centanario near Rua Pedro de Toledo in Sao Paulo, his young pupils, aged between eight and 12 years, are kicking and running hard under his watchful eyes. All the football paraphernalia are in place, from cones to drum up their dribbling to nearly two dozen balls to keep them busy with. After finishing the day’s training with a pep talk, Campos turns over the nine children, who are huddled around him, to the goal-keeping coach.
“Training every day is important in a footballer’s life, whether a kid or a man,” he says. Just like in the training ground of Campos in the industrial suburb of Sao Paulo — which was the venue
for the opening match of the ongoing Fifa World Cup — no talented child is left out in Brazil’s football programme.
In Brazil, football is a way of life. Training for the sport begins very early, includes all and is rigorous. Apparently, it is this ‘investment’ in the people that has turned out to be the key to the country’s footballing success. In the run-up to the World Cup, the country’s showpiece event, a few days ago, Brazilian sports minister Aldo Rebelo told this correspondent: “Our football factory uses as raw material the dreams of millions of children, who hope to match their heroes one day.” The Brazilian government runs programmes like the Segundo Tempo (Second Half) and Esporte e Lazer na Cidade (Sport and Leisure in the City) for children not studying in schools.
Football has come full circle in a country where the sport was originally brought for the recreation of its rich European settlers in the early 20th century. In the same way as the Afro-Asians dribbled their way into the pitch in the 1920s, ending elitism in Brazilian football and beginning an era of the ‘beautiful game’, people today want to use the game to end social inequalities.
The scattered protests surrounding the World Cup, the first after the 1950 event in which Brazil lost to Uruguay in the final at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro, explain the deep links between society and football. In a show of support for their national team, yellow-and-green Brazilian flags fly atop cars and homes in the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo in southern Brazil, a region that is