By David Levine and Langley King
The Origins of La Joga Bonito
Football is deeply ingrained in Brazilian culture to the extent that much of world sees the nation through the lens of the Brazilian National Football Team. Since football was brought to this South American country 115 years ago, Brazil has transformed football into a beautiful art form and tool for social cohesion. With 5 World Cup Championships, Brazil is commonly regarded as one of the best, if not the best, football nations in the world.
Charles Miller (left) and Oscar Cox (right)
Football came to Brazil in 1894 on the shoulders of two British visitors, Oscar Cox and Charles Miller. Strict tactics and deliberate player motion characterized early styles of play, and teams were made up of members from the Brazilian societal elite. The waning of European influence in Brazil over time led to a more democratic strain of football, with the game filtering down to the lower classes. Football became the game of the people. Whereas previously football was reserved for upper class whites, the game was picked up by black populous and truly became a game of the people. The effusion of football through Brazilian society was characterized by a transformation in how the game was played, and a drastically new style developed. The new game was highly flamboyant, with the defensive posturing and tactical movement of English football replaced by speed and flair. The growth of football in Brazilian led to the creation of the Brazilian Football Confederation in 1914.
Football in Brazil is more than a game. It is culture. It is life. This is best seen in Alex Bellos’s Football: The Brazilian Way of Life. Bellos explains the history of football in Brazil, from the grassroots beginnings through the 20th century. He creates a personal, politically-based story of how football took root in Brazilian culture. His quotations are indicative of the role of football in Brazilian life. “I was crying without knowing why. Crying of emotion, that was obvious: but of a pure emotion that was neither happiness nor sadness, that was neither certainty nor, doubt, but that was the whole lot… perhaps because I lost; I was crying for the innocent magic of that cold afternoon, of that hot afternoon, of that impossible afternoon.” In Brazilian culture, football is magical. It impacts people on a personal level and shared personal experiences drive the role of football in the national culture.
The international success of the Brazilian National Football Team was rooted in the initial squads of the 1930s and 1940s. Although Brazil was knocked out in the first round of 1930 World Cup, the team’s best player Preguinho shocked onlookers with his brilliant and exciting style of play. Brazil’s exciting style of play excited fans and was a breath of fresh air to the methodical, formulaic European style of play. With flair and flamboyance, Brazil was now on the football map.
Brazil finally won their first World Cup in 1958, led by a young Pele and Garrincha, Dominating opponents with speed, flair, and creativity, the Brazil squad played the game as if beautiful music were flowing through the stadium. The Brazilian National Team would go onto have even greater success, winning the World Cup in 1962, 1970, 1994, and 2002. 
Sporting Success Amidst Political Turmoil
The Brazilian presidential election of 1960 was one of the most contested elections in the nation’s history. National Democratic Union (Conservative) leader Jânio Quadros, whose credentials included governing São Paulo, was elected President. His presidential victory was opposed by the election of former Vice President João Goulart, a man whose leftist political leanings were often interpreted as radical Communism. 
After years of living under the liberal rule of Protásio Vargas, Quadros’s democratic election was a revolutionary step away from communism and towards conservatism. Although Quadros’s inauguration was highly anticipated by the citizens of Brazil, the majority party of Congress, still loyal to Vargas, opposed him from the very start of his presidency. In an attempt to expand the powers of his office through executive orders and political clout, Quadros lost creditability with many of his supporters and failed to enact the policies and platforms he had supported as a candidate. Quadros was eager to break ties with the United States, and he opposed American attempts to interfere with Fidel Castro’s communist affairs in Cuba; additionally, he made a strong push to gain the political backing of the Soviet Union. Despite his efforts on the domestic and international fronts, he abruptly resigned on August 25, 1961, claiming that opposition forces working against had been too strong for him to be an effective president.
With a government in turmoil as a temporary President took power, civil war appeared imminent. As João Goulart’s reign as president began, his radical leftist leanings were controversial, especially to the military commanders in the President’s cabinet. War Minister, Odílio Denys demanded that Congress declare the office of vice president vacant and hold new elections in an attempt to limit the power and influence of the recently inaugurated President. Despite Congress’s refusal to act upon the concerns of these military commanders, an insurrection by pro-Goulart military leaders prompted the legislature to compromise with the anti-Goulart military commanders. In 1961, in an effort to strip the Presidency of its power, Brazil adopted a parliamentary system of government, transferring most presidential powers to the newly created post of prime minister. In the midst of this political turmoil was severe economic danger. The national economy was suffering from hyper-inflation, the gross national product was declining, and the costs of living were rising sharply. 
The government played had little interest in football as a means of a social or political control; rather, the state merely saw football as a source of tax revenue. As the nation’s leadership was undergoing a very unstable transition, the Men’s National Football Team was enjoying great success. Having recently been victorious at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, the Brazilian squad traveled to Chile with great expectations.
Brazil did not disappoint, displaying an extraordinary style of play that enveloped opponents and excited fans and the media. In a 2-0 victory over Mexico, Brazil lost star footballer Pele with an injury; however, this did not stop the Brazilian squad as they defeated Spain, England and Chile to advance to the final. Manuel Francisco dos Santos, nicknamed Garrincha, dominated play, scoring four amazing goals and leading his team to the World Cup Finals. In the 1962 World Cup final, surprise finalist Czechoslovakia attempted to upset the defending world champions. The Europeans started the match with open, attacking football. After surrendering a goal to the Czechs early in the match, the Brazilian squad responded with 3 unanswered goals to take the match. Once again, Brazil had claimed the Jules Rimet Trophy.
“Project Brazil: Great Power”
After failing to escape the knockout round at England ’66, Brazil entered into the World Cup in 1970 with high hopes, but also as the domestic political situation in Brazil was deteriorating. A military government led by General Emlio Garrastazu Medici took control in late 1969 and quickly moved to centralize power, often using repressive tactics to achieve its ends. Historian Robert M. Schneider writes that “’Project Brazil: Great Power’ was the leitmotif of Medici’s administration, one where high rates of economic growth coexisted with ruthlessly effective repression.” Men and women accused of being revolutionary, often in the universities or other intellectual settings, were routinely rounded up and imprisoned with no trial. Amidst the divisive political climate, the country turned to football as the only appropriate way it could show national support. As writer Eduardo Galeano says, “In the ’70 World Cup, Brazil played a soccer worthy of people’s yearning for celebration and craving for beauty.” As if Brazil’s football team was aware of the inner turmoil of each Brazilian at that time, the team out-performed all others and, once again, became world champions.
Brazil in the 1970 World Cup
The Brazilian team of the 1970 World Cup is often debated as being the best national team in all of football history. A Seleção featured so much star power that they featured what many have called the “Five Number 10s,” with Pelé, Tostão, Rivelino, Jairzinho and Gérson combining for 17 goals en route to the title. The high acclaim it receives, however, can also be interpreted by the incredible importance the team had to its countrymen and women at the time. In many ways, the 1970 team gave Brazilians hope that their country would succeed beyond the political turmoil it was currently experiencing. By winning the 1970 World Cup, Brazilians were shown that their country refused to be defined only by the political instability and unrest it had come to view as normal.
In 2006, Brazilian filmmaker Cao Hamburger produced the film The Year My Parents Went On Vacation, the poignant story of the 1970 World Cup through the eyes of a young Brazilian boy, Mauro. What makes Mauro’s experience during the World Cup significant is the fact that his own parent’s leave him at the beginning of the film, as they go into hiding to avoid being arrested as dissidents. The film beautifully juxtaposes Brazil’s political unrest with the nation’s football fanaticism and nationalism through the sport and Brazil’s triumph at Mexico ’70.
The Year My Parents Went On Vacation
Brazil’s impact on the global game of football is clear. Its five FIFA World Cup titles stand as a record. Pele is widely considered as the greatest player to ever grace a soccer pitch. And it was a Brazilian, João Havelange, who ascended to the Presidency of FIFA in 1974 an transformed the organization from a clubby, Euro-centric body to a truly global sporting and marketing superpower.
Of course, football has also had a similarly powerful impact within Brazil’s borders, and as these examples show, the success of the Seleção during the tumultuous political times of the 1960s and 1970s provided something positive that all Brazilians could rally around, regardless of their political persuasion.
Click here to explore the biographies of some of Brazil’s greatest football players.
 David Goldblatt, The Ball is Round (New York: Viking, 2006), 377.
 Bellos, Futebol, 103-104.
 Alex Bellos, Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life (New York: Bloomsbury, 2002) 71.
 ibid, 97-99.
 Ronald M. Schneider, Latin American political history: patterns and personalities, (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2007), 302-303.
 Galeano, Eduardo. Soccer in Sun and Shadow. 137.
 Brazil-1970 World Cup.” Web. 4 December 2009. < http://www.worldcupblog.org/world-cup-2006/1970-brazil-world-cup-winners-voted-best-team-of-all-time.html>
 Richard Witzig, The Global Art of Soccer, (New Orleans: CusiBoy Publishing, 2006), 189.
Brazil Flag Illustration – Photoillustration by Will Flaherty