The Craque and the Favela

By | February 20, 2019

At the end of Roger Kittleson’s book, “The Country of Football,” he comments on how representations of Brazil have changed in the past decade or so: “The rich culture of the povo, understood for so long as the source of the tropical essence of Brazil, has taken a backseat to images of Brazil’s natural beauty––its palm-lined beaches and verdant rain forests—in portrayals of the country’s tropicality” (223). When Brazil hosted the 2007 Pan American Games, city officials blocked off roads to impoverished neighborhoods, and when Brazil hosted the 2014 World Cup, the government notoriously cleared out poor neighborhoods to make space for sports facilities (221). Rather than claim its indigent barrios as the great mixing bowl of race that birthed many of Brazil’s all-time greats, the country has shifted its brand towards a safe, tropical haven. The mythology of the craque from the slums, however, has remained integral to the Selecao. During the 2014 World Cup, I will never forget seeing the Beats By Dre commercial “The Game Before the Game,” a five-minute tribute to the mental preparation a player must undergo before noise of the stadium vibrates upon you. The commercial focused on Neymar and the gravity of his “game before the game” as the Selecao would be playing on home turf. The opening shot pans across the great pacific and then cuts to a favela above Rio as a voice speaks, revealed to be Neymar’s father, asking his son on how he’s feeling before the match. As their conversation ensues, the camera cuts back and forth between the Selecao’s team bus pulling into the stadium amidst cameras and reporters galore and a boy in the favela attempting to fix his family’s television satellite. The rest of the commercial features cameos of athletes, announcers, and soccer fans in their own pre-game rituals, but the ending returns to Neymar as he walks down the stadium tunnel and sighs before the blinding light. The weight of expectation can be felt on his shoulders. In the video Neymar never appears with his teammates in the commercial but only as a lone soldier of the pitch, underlining the Brazilian craque as an enduring obsession with fans, especially considering the fact that his style of play is emblematic of the Brasilidade and has been likened to Ronaldinho’s style. And the camera’s tendency to linger in the back alleys of the favela where barefoot boys play peladas reinforces the “rags to riches” journey that many of Brazil’s craques have famously traveled.


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