Where do you begin when describing Portugal’s role in the building of Brazil? It would be logical to start with the fleet of ships commanded by Pedro Alvares Cabral, which arrived on the northeast coast of South America on 22 April 1500. From that moment onwards, an endless list of events brings us to the present, and the repercussions of the relationship have yet of fully their course.
For fans of the beautiful game worldwide, FIFA.com is continuing its series focusing on the football ties between the nations taking part in the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ and the host country.
In this case the roles are reversed. Instead of analysing the Portuguese presence on Brazilian football pitches, we have to flip over the coin. From the pioneering work of Otto Gloria to the stunning achievements of Luiz Felipe Scolari, Brazilians have left a lasting mark in the land of its forefathers.
In 1954 the 37-year-old Otaviano Martins Gloria left his native Rio de Janeiro for Lisbon, taking his first steps as a full-time coach. His youthfulness did nothing to dampen a brash attitude, whereby he insisted Benfica either did things his way or he would catch the first flight back to Brazil. In his home country football had taken root, had developed technically and a host of strong clubs had been established, including two originating in the Portuguese emigrant community: Vasco da Gama, in Rio de Janeiro, and Portuguesa de Desportos, in Sao Paulo.
Gloria did not do things by halves, and he insisted on a complete overhaul at Benfica. The directors yielded to his demands, and the history of the Eagles would change significantly from the moment he signed his contract.
The coach influenced how Benfica was run on a daily basis from top to bottom, implementing a degree of professionalism that was in stark contrast to the erstwhile prevailing romantic notions about the sport. Innovative training methods and tactics were introduced. The “Benfica Home” was constructed, a kind of retreat where players could focus their minds and which even directors were seldom given access to.
Players’ diets were controlled and psychological aspects were worked on in an overarching approach that went into the finest of details, until 1959, when Gloria left the club for the first time. “He taught us everything,” says Palmeiro Antunes, a Benfica player between 1956 and 1959.
His work led to league and cup triumphs, but above all paved the way for the club’s golden era at the start of the 1960s, including two successive European Cups. The team contained Eusebio, Mario Coluna and other legends, and would be the foundation of the Portugal side that finished third in the 1966 World Cup in England, the best ever result in the country’s history. “He revolutionised Portuguese football,” the Black Panther said in the Vitórias e Património documentary.
It was Gloria himself who coached the 1966 team, leading it to victory over his native Brazil in the group phase. Brushing aside provocations before the match – even the spherical properties of the footballs used in Portugal were brought into question – A Selecção das Quinas did their talking on the pitch, striding to a conclusive 3-1 victory. From the Goodison Park press room the journalist Carlos Pinhao dictated the headline to the editorial office of A Bola: “The terrible revenge of the square ball” topped the article, before describing how the two-time world champions had been silenced.
Gloria also managed FC Porto, Sporting and Belenenses. He would return to Benfica between 1968 and 1970 and the national team in 1982. He left the post, however, after a thumping 4-0 defeat in a friendly match played in Coimbra against none other than Brazil. It is Gloria who is credited with the following nugget of widely assimilated football wisdom: “When the team wins, the coach is a genius; when the team loses the coach is a fool.”
Waking a football nation
Portugal would have to wait 40 years to reach their next World Cup semi-final, and again it was under the command of a Brazilian, Luiz Felipe Scolari. Scolari’s revolutionary input was very much in the psychological field. He had a fabulously talented generation to work with, but there was little empathy between the team and the general public. As UEFA EURO 2004 hosts, he tackled the issue head on, instigating a movement that enthused far more than his squad of players.
“It was Scolari who called on people to put flags in their windows and to sing the national anthem for all they were worth, inside and outside the stadiums,” explained goalkeeper Ricardo, talking to FIFA.com, who was between the sticks as Portugal finished runners-up. “On the way to the stadium in the team bus the players stood up the whole time to look at the cheering crowds that lined the entire route.”
In the words of midfielder Maniche, another regular in the team, “it was Scolari who made the Portuguese have pride in their national team again. He was aware that for years the Portuguese public had lost interest in its team, and he brought back their belief in us, which helped drive us forward to success. He’s a master when it comes to psychology,” Maniche told FIFA.com.
Scolari also faced Brazil twice in friendlies as Portugal boss (2003 and 2007). In the first game in Porto he won 2-1, then, in a match played in England, he again came out on top, winning 2-0. Curiously, when Scolari took the reins again for Brazil, the two teams met again in a friendly international, and he admitted it was a strange sensation.
“I experienced this situation when I played Brazil as Portugal coach; it brought a lump to my throat. Now the same thing happens, even though I’m not Portuguese,” he said. One thing did not change. He came out of the match the victor, this time with a 3-1 scoreline.
The Portugal team that was beaten in the friendly played in the United States included central defender Pepe. Born in Maceio, he left his home country as a teenager and has played his whole career in the Iberian Peninsula, for Maritimo and FC Porto, before transferring to Real Madrid.
Today, he is one of a set of Brazilian players who made their names on Portuguese pitches and represented the national team of their adopted country. Two others are striker Liedson and midfielder Deco, who were part of the squad for another Portugal-Brazil encounter at South Africa 2010.
“There are no negative feelings, just the opposite,” said the midfield genius, who won trophies aplenty with Porto and Barcelona told FIFA.com. “I’m Brazilian, I naturalised for a country where I lived for many years and which gave me everything, that’s all there is to it. At the end of the day we are talking about another big game.” This time nobody came away licking their wounds, a goalless draw seeing both countries progress to the knockout stages.
Born in Sao Bernardo, Deco returned to Brazil 13 years after having left its shores. Discarded at the start of his career, his standing in the game was unquestionable by 2010. “To be honest I do feel this respect. I realise I am admired for the career I achieved abroad, but I also know that it will count for nothing when the match starts because when the whistle blows everything is forgotten,” he said at the time. Deco would subsequently return to Brazil and win the national championship twice while at Fluminense.
Now at Brazil 2014, it is Pepe’s turn to return, though he will not be the only one surrounded by special circumstances. For the entire squad simply being in a country that speaks the same language is not a common event, in spite of the fact that Portuguese is the fifth most spoken language in the world and is also the official language of Cape Verde Islands, Sao Tome e Principe, Timor-Leste, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and Angola.
For Pepe’s centre-back partner Bruno Alves there are other factors at play. Bruno was born in Portugal, but his father, an ex-footballer, is Brazilian. Washington Alves is a former Flamengo defender who crossed the Atlantic to play for Espinho, Varzim, Rio Ave, Vitoria de Guimaraes and Lusitania de Lourosa. He fathered an authentic football clan that serves as a symbol of Portuguese-Brazilian unity on the pitch, having two other sons who are also professional footballers.
At Brazil 2014 he has chosen his team. “I’m going to support the country my son plays for,” he told FIFA.com. But his position affords him certain benefits. If things do not work out for Portugal, he has always got a second chance. “Obviously I am still Brazilian, but if the Final is Portugal-Brazil I’ll be a happy man. I’ll root for my son, but I can’t lose,” he said.
The Alves family and thousands of others will be torn. For these “brother” countries however, this will be just one more chapter in a shared history that goes much further back.