Walking around the city of Rio de Janeiro or along the beach it is always easy to spot someone playing football. Some play foot volleyball; others fool around around imitating professionals by catching the ball in the nape of their neck and then proceeding to drop it neatly on their feet. Many train hard on the beach or on football grounds; a lot of them have serious matches on the pitches of the favelas. In the faces of these boys and men you can see not only a great passion for football but also a glimmer of hope that one day they might actually become someone.
In Rio and in Brazil football is not just a game; in the best of cases it is a way of improving ones social status and it is often a means to implore values in life. Obviously this is not always the case and not all the schools that we visited gave the impression of being supported by a just cause. Many, however, did give that impression.
A football trainer in a poor community called Robson Do Santos, 45, summarises to us in a few words the meaning and the reason of our study and of the numerous sport clubs:
“My main interest and the interest of many of the trainers is that of building citizens not champions. A lot of kids come to us to avoid falling into dangerous situations and we often come across problems that go far beyond the sport. We find ourselves in front of boys with no way of buying food to eat and construct a sense of community for them, sharing whatever we have between everyone. I’ve seen boys starting to cry in the changing rooms because they’ve seen their father hit their mother, or a gang member shooting his friend. We do our best to share the problems and instead of remaining personal problems they become something that they can talk about. I started teaching in the community called Vila João Lopes, near Maré, towards the East of Rio. It was a settlement similar to that of the Sem Terra, where my son and first wife lived and still live. They used to live in wooden shacks, the conditions were very difficult but now, thanks to God, they have managed to build themselves a house and my son is well. I started with a club of seventy-two students and I’m proud of having been able to reach my objective – that of creating good citizens rather than champions. It is important that they know how to communicate and live without risking of falling into problems that would lead them to marginalization and death. My boys are now seventeen and eighteen years of age and a lot of them have jobs, others are doing military service, they are all great people.”
Robson is friends and also works with Paulo Sergio Gomes and Paulo César Bento, better known as Cypa. They organise and run two renowned football schools: Rocinha Futebal Clube and the Escolinha Futebal Cypa. These clubs are found in two neighbouring favelas – Rocinha and Vidigal – who also happen to be run by rival factions.
Football players such as Vitor come from the Rocinha Futebal Clube – he was born in Rocinha and trained in the local club before moving on to the Raíz da Gavea society. After that he went on to play for Flamengo, then for Brasiliense and now for two years he has been playing in the Belgian second division. In Cypa’s club the football player Magno was born, who played in clubs such as Santa Catarina and São Paulo and who now plays in Majorca, Spain.
Cypo and Paulo both have similar views on life and they support one another in their causes. They both state that what counts is making good citizens, not champions, out of the boys. They say that football is educational and that if a kid has nothing to eat then it is in the club that he will find help. The two of them are very serious and make themselves heard to the team. They train and educate boys and teenagers (including a couple of girls too!) from four to seventeen years of age. Equally dedicated passionately to their work, they sometimes receive a salary when the council intervenes or participates in their project, or when they find an NGO to finance their activities. They often don’t receive any wage, but never get put off by this:
“When you start a job, you can’t just leave it half done,” Cypa tells me. The two of them live in the communities where they work. Paulo lives in Rocinha in an area known as Valão where, not long ago, the most famous and sought-after drug lord Bem-te-vi was killed by the police in a shoot out. Cypa live in Vidigal.
“Ronaldo was born in Bento Ribeiro, in the suburbs of Rio. He then played for São Cristóvão – a club here in Rio. From there he went on to play for Cruzeiro in Belo Horizonte, then to Olinda and finally to PSV Heindoven. Adriano was born in the favela Vila da Penha, near to where only recently a drug trafficker set fire to a bus, burning alive five people including a mother and her one year old daughter in her arms. From there he got transferred to the Olaria Football Club, where Ronaldo also played. From this school he went on to play for Flamengo and from there he went to Italy.
But these cases are quite rare, we do have a few players who trained in our club and are now playing for under21 teams for Flamengo, Vasco and Fluminense.” Paulo confirms.
“Tomorrow we are playing in the final of the championship for the under15 category. We have a strong and consistent team, and even though there are no obvious bright sparks we have a fantastic team spirit. We’re playing against Madureira, whose top team plays in the ‘Carioca Championship’ and where the strongest clubs in Rio play. They play well, but we will win,” Cypa tells me with a proud look in his eyes.
We decide to head away from the South of Rio to find out about different schools. So here we are, in the Baixada Fluminense, North of Rio and in a district known as Vila Militar. It is in fact a controlled military area, and relatively calm even with a couple of favelas near by. We go to visit the Heliopolis Atlético Clube whose first team plays in the third division, accompanying a few kids from Rocinha who will stay there a month or so to do a ‘test’. At the end of the month some of them might get chosen to stay on at the club to train.
We are introduced to the supervisor Alex Benevides, 38 years old, who tells us that the young team is part of the first division and that next year (in 2006) it will be one of the sixteen or eighteen teams to take part in the Carioca Championship. The director is a man called Carlos Cortazio who is one of the first people to discipline his staff in the philosophy of the team: taking the kids away from the streets and make them into good football players. “It is better to prepare the players and then send them to Sao Paulo, where the teams are better organized and the admin is superior to that of Rio. Our priority is in the quality of the players not their physical ability, unlike in Europe. We accept boys of all shapes and sizes as long as they can hit the ball, then we try to make them lose or gain weight, depending.”
A fitness instructor called Márcio Goulart de Oliveira, 33 years of age, tells us about his experience in Zico’s club. “I played for a few years in the CFZ, the Clube Futebal Zico. I had already reached professional status and was about to be bought by Ponte Preta when a friend proposed for me to follow him in Zico’s club, in the third division. It was absolutely incredible, as if from another planet. We were in the third division but trained on these amazing grounds in Recreio, the East side of Rio, with all the new mod cons. Zico’s philosophy was that of gaining a small salary, say around 1000 to 2000 Reais per month, on a pre-established day every month. This differs a lot from the big clubs in Rio, who offer you 10,000 or 20,000 Reais per month but sometimes make late payments and players find themselves working nearly a whole year for free! I try to communicate this to the young men who play in Heliopolis, who want everything there and then. They are corrupted by what the media tells them and think that they will immediately be put in a great team and start earning a load of money. I try to teach them that you gain things through hard work, day by day.”
We get a different opinion of Zico’s teams from the president of the Brasil Novo Atlético Clube, found in the suburb called Madureira in the East of Rio, Aumir Motta, 55 years old. “Zico has disappointed my club. Some of his representatives came to us and asked if they were allowed to use our training field, they said that in return they would have provided better equipment. We live in a poor area where even just to see there son play in Zico’s team parents paid sixty Reais per month. The CFZ used the grounds until they had no more use for them, leaving without even having built new bathrooms or changing rooms, having taken the monthly payment from the parents and giving back absolutely nothing. The only thing they fixed was the small box with metal bars in which the money was deposited.”
Within Madureira we are lucky enough to meet up with the ex-football player Milton da Cunha Mendonça, now 49 years old, who stopped playing at 38 after having played for Santos, Botafogo, Palmeiras, Portuguesa, Gremio and then going on to the State championship of America Natal. He also played in the Arab Emirates and in the world championship of 1982, in the team coached by Telé Santana and in the team that got beaten by the Italian team with Paolo Rossi. (Interestingly, we Italians remember winning 3-2 against Brazil, a game in which Paolo Rossi really made himself known. The Brazilians, however, remember it as the game in which Cerezo made a mistake on an easy pass and therefore gave the goal away to Rossi). When Mendonça played for Botafogo, the newspapers exaggerated the rivalry between himself and Zico, the number 10 of Flamengo, and they hoped that for him a brilliant career would also open.
He’s happy to be interviewed and to remember the good times he lived through. He now works as the coordinator for the Social and Sporting Centre for the Inhabitants Association in the streets Carlos Xavier and Vicinanze, one of the best social centres in Rio. Young men from the Fluminense under 21s train there, and with Mendonça having played in the first division here, they always have a chance to show off to the Botafogo under 21 team too. The administrator for the club is a man called Falco, 41 years old and member of the military police. Both of them show us pages from newspapers about Mendonça and underline the fact that their club is the only one in Rio that organises monthly blood donations. I ask Mendonca if there are any champions in the waiting line of the Social Centre. “We’ve put out a few players, more recently the goalies Derik and Flavinho, who play in the under 21 teams for Botafogo and Madureira respectively.”
The goal-keeper coach, Marinho, 49 years old, tells us that when Derik first came to them he was ten years old and quite chubby. However, Marinho noticed that he would be a great player. They trained hard twice a week on the beach for four years. Derik now plays for Botafogo.
Trasleted by Sofia Lisowski