Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Since the politicians have not done anything outrageous this week, the Curmudgeon turns his sights upon football, where outrage aplenty is available. More to the point, he will rehearse the saga of Diego Costa, age 26 and a rising star in Spanish football.
Brazilian born and raised, Diego was shipped off to Spain at age thirteen to play football. There he remained and played and, after a few years of relative anonymity, became a star striker. “Big Phil”, coach of the Brazilian national team, last week invited him to play for Brazil. He refused, because he’s decided he’s going to play for Spain.
The outcry from CBF, the Brazilian football association, was predictably ferocious. He was called a traitor to the country. The CBF President, a superannuated troglodyte and an unrepentant supporter of Brazil’s military dictatorship, even called for Brazil to revoke Diego’s Brazilian citizenship! Happily, the Ministry of Justice told CBF to sit down and shut up (in slightly more decorous language, of course).
It was not always so. Back in 1970, when the Curmudgeon lived in Brasília, local TV showed every game of the World Cup, live and in color. Every game was a victory and after every game the entire town became one huge spontaneous party. People poured into the streets to dance and shout out their joy at (finally) something positive about Brazil, after 6 horrible years of military dictatorship.
The ruling generals, trying to identify football passion with patriotism, had sacked Brazilian coach João Saldanha just before the World Cup, mostly because he was an avowed communist! His successor Zagalo completed the job. Brazil won the cup and won over the hearts and minds of its supporters, even those who (like the Curmudgeon) are not Brazilians.
We Brazil rooters toiled in the wilderness for the next 24 years, through thick and thin–mostly thin, as several Brazil teams (1982, 1986) entered intervening World Cups as odds-on favorites only to crash out before the finals. In 1994, as fate would have it, Brazil would play Team USA in the second round—and on the 4th of July! Whom to root for? Our passport or our passion?
Several of us Americans married to Brazilians watched the game on TV and although we really tried to work up some enthusiasm for Team USA, after about 10 minutes of watching the Seleção do its thing, all of us wound up joining our spouses and rooting loudly for Brazil! Which won the game! And won the Cup! Parties in the Streets!
In football, passion trumps passports. Diego Costa is still a loyal Brazilian citizen who will come back to Brazil when his football days are over, but Spanish football is his passion, because it has afforded him the opportunities Brazil did not. So of course his heart roots for Spain.
The Curmudgeon has similar divided loyalties, as Brazil has afforded him opportunities the U.S. did not. Although he will be cheering for the Seleção, win or lose, the Curmudgeon wishes Diego Costa well. The Curmudgeon’s prediction for the 2014 final game is Spain vs. Belgium, with Brazil battling Germany for third place. You read it here first.
Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, fetched up on these shores exactly 36 years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)