Iron fist coaches consigned to history
I came across a wonderful story this week in an interview in the magazine Brasileiros with Sao Paulo coach and former player Muricy Ramalho.
He recalled the start of his career in the early 70s when the club's coach was Jose Poy, an Argentine who had spent over a decade as Sao Paulo's goalkeeper. Poy was a hard man and the thing most guaranteed to put him in a bad temper was players splashing money on cars before they had got themselves established by first buying a house.
Serginho Chulapa, a good club centre-forward who was to prove sadly out of his depth in the 1982 World Cup, turned up for training one day while still a youngster in the Brazilian-made version of the Volkswagen Beetle.
As the player had yet to buy a house, Poy was furious and ordered him to sell the car. Serginho was physically imposing prospect and had a fierce temper of his own - he later missed the 1978 World Cup after picking up a lengthy ban for hospitalising a linesman - but he was so scared of Poy that he told the coach he had sold it.
After that he drove it close to the training ground and then walked the rest of the way, only showing off the high-prestige car again when he had at last got round to buying a house.
Some two decades later Sao Paulo were coached by the legendary Tele Santana, another one of the old school who despised displays of conspicuous consumption.
By this time Brazil's economy had opened up a bit, and, at a huge price, imported cars were available. Striker Macedo bought one, but according to Ramalho, Santana forced him to get rid of it immediately.
Times have changed. These days the balance of power is with the players, rather than the coaches. The players have freedom of contract, the global market has opened up and the potential rewards from the game are greater than ever before.
After two years of top-class football a player can be financially set up for life. Well before this he can buy any car he wants and no one is going to stop him. But this has come at a price because if the rewards are greater, then so are the sacrifices.
According to Moracy Sant'anna, one of Brazil's most respected physical preparation specialists, in the mid-70s it was generally true that players were covering around 5,000 metres per game. By the mid-90s that figure had doubled, and now some are even reaching 12,000.
So the physical intensity of the game is greater than ever before, and with the growth of the Champions League and the crowded modern calendar there is no respite. It is match after match, physical challenge after physical challenge.
This twin dynamic - greater rewards, greater sacrifices - helps explain why we are seeing so much inconsistency at the elite level of the game.
Is a player physically capable of delivering week in, week out? Does he have sufficient motivation to put up with all the sacrifices? The latter question is especially pertinent since his bank balance puts every conceivable temptation well within his grasp.
It is a narrow line he has to walk. Does he have the psychological structure to deal with all the conflicting pulls and pressures?
Complicating the picture still further is another dynamic, the one which has been hard at work in the cities of the Third World, breeding ground for so many stars of the global game.
In his book Planet of Slums, Mike Davis comments that "policies of agricultural deregulation and financial discipline enforced by the IMF and World Bank continued to generate an exodus of surplus rural labour to urban slums even as cities ceased to be job machines... Overurbanisation is driven by the reproduction of poverty, not by the supply of jobs."
He points out that in the 1980s there was a tendency for government to scale back its activities, and in a difficult economic climate, those at the bottom suffered most, as infrastructure lost the race with population increase.
This was the world that Adriano was born into in 1982. He comes from Vila Cruzeiro, a Rio favela that attracted worldwide headlines in 2002 as a consequence of the gruesome death of TV Globo journalist Tim Lopes.
The retreat of the state left a power vacuum that was filled by the drug trade. Lopes was investigating the drug business in Vila Cruzeiro when he was captured, 'judged' tortured, killed and cut in pieces.
Adriano's father, Almir, was a victim of violence in the neighbourhood. In 1992 he was caught in a shoot out, and had a bullet lodged in his skull, which may have been a contributory factor to his sudden death in 2004.
Losing his father, as Adriano told me last year in an interview for Sports Illustrated, had a delayed but devastating effect on his career. Pleasing his father had always been one of his driving forces to succeed in football.
Now he even considered the idea of giving up the game. With little motivation and lots of temptations, he was filling the void with alcohol.
For a while his career was in the balance. There may be the odd slip along the way, but he says now that he can accept that his father is no longer around, that he has learnt from his excesses, and that happiness lies in simple pleasures - like kicking a football.
On form and focused, Adriano is an improved version of Serginho Chulapa - big and powerful, with a howitzer left foot, but subtle with it. He would not have been disgraced playing in front of that magnificent midfield that Brazil had in 1982, and represents a real threat to Manchester United's Champions League ambitions.
Comments on this piece in the space provided. Other questions on South American football to email@example.com, and I'll pick out a couple for next week.
From last week's postbag:
Being an Everton fan, I remember a Brazilian midfielder we had on loan from Botafogo several years back by the name of Rodrigo. Unfortunately his time with us was plagued by injury and I believe he only played a handful of games. I was wondering what ever became of him. Did he move elsewhere in Europe, what is he up to now and was he ever any good? Any information you may have would be great - my searches have not yielded much.
It's a real shame he suffered that injury. He was a good player and a bright bloke who was loving his time at Everton and with more luck might have made an impression playing as a kind of left footed version of David Beckham. The injury effectively ended his top class career - he went back to Brazilian football and bounced around from club to club, attracting comparisons with Beckham more for his looks than his football.
He never really regained fitness, looked well overweight and was unable to reach anything like the standard he set at Botafogo. I think he lost motivation - he's from a wealthy background, and didn't need to make money from the game, and there was also a problem with his wife's health. I last remember him a year ago playing for a minor Rio team called Boavista.