The Alchemy of Football



Notes on football as a dramatic situation.

To the master, colleague and friend Alfredo, in memoriam.
homo ludens. (Johan Huizinga, Dutch philosopher, 1938).
“The method of alchemy is to transform one substance into another. Only the initiated do it” (Ajwyar Lubu al-Laurel, alchemist of Caliph Omeya Abderramán III, XNUMXth century AD).


A football game lights up in the depths of its officials, wherever they are, inside the field, in the stands, with their ears glued to the radio or exhausted in front of a screen, a whole universe of drama: the tragic, the comic, the tragicomic; the satirical, the ironic, the adventurous; the mythical, the realistic, the burlesque; the euphoric, the agonizing, the funereal; the pastoral, the delicious, the excruciating; the inaugural, the carpe diem, the nostalgic; the religious, the heathen, the blasphemous; the fury, the shattering, the resurrection; frustration, resentment, vindictiveness; or the hungry and thirsty, the fertile and orgiastic, the satiated and satisfied.

Football is ubiquitous: paradise regained, tense purgatory, hell of kicks and profanity. It is the permanent refusal of chaos. For decades a stronghold of the masculine, in which it pursued the feminine that was then absent: the hollow that gently rolls over the grass, that throws itself and stretches itself against the hammocks, that flies, like a moon close to the sun, a promise of amorous eclipses, that one avidly pursues with his hands, that another receives against his chest, that is cushioned by his thighs, that he lets himself run, but that sometimes still sees himself given over to the butchery of rage, the spiteful kick, the cowardly violence against a human being. physically weaker and unprotected. Because in football, if everything matters, the ball is everything.


The space of football is totality, made up of circles and quadrilaterals. The Universe fits in an imaginary circle; movement, as a desire and search for dynamic harmony and balance, in a quadrilateral that rotates. Thus, football solves the problem of squaring the circle, even though quadrilaterals are not exactly square.

This is the answer to this problem that has challenged thousands of philosophers and mathematicians since antiquity. In football, squares stretch, rectangles are made, desires for adventure. The circles open; they could be trapped in the Great Circle, in the center of the lawn, in the half moons at the head of the areas, in the quarter circles of the corners, in the corners between the bottom line and the sidelines. But no: they are there only to support and delimit the dynamic movements made by the ball and its requirements. At the end of the game, they delimit the position of the opponents; ditto in taking a penalty; when taking a corner kick, they demarcate the boundary from where the ball must come.

Football is not a solitary movement, nor is it a dance performance. It is a measure of the human being, in the face of the tragic circularity of the Universe, which measures human finitude in the face of the infinity of time and matter. Football is a desire to overcome the limitations of space, to rise beyond the weight of bodies, to fly through the tangles of time, as the goalkeeper does. Football is a festival of ubiquity: it is the anti-triangle, the opposite of stability. In football, the passage of time reigns, to the detriment of eternity. It is the insertion of the human in the planes where before the divinity reigned.

At first, the form of this insertion was very primitive: total presence of the masculine, absence of the feminine, although concentrated on the object of desire: the ball, and its possession. Nowadays this has changed: women have invaded the stands and the field. They also took for themselves what was exclusive to opposites, transforming what was a privilege into a right. In those sexist times, women, in addition to being apocalyptically symbolized by the ball, attended the stadium by the demonically stigmatized image of the judge's mother, vilified in pejorative expressions. There are still remnants of these times in the stadiums, but the change in the landscape of football fields is inexorable: women are there.

In this geometric festival, the stadium, even if it has another form, is the biggest circle, enveloping, horizon, above sun and sky. What you eventually see or saw (because today stadiums tend to be covered) of the city, or what remains in the memory of fans, is a shadow. It is the memory of a scattered time that is left behind. Here, in the stadium, there is only now: in the sacred circle of the stadium, time is compressed, concentrated, traversing the lines of chance and certainties of the ball and its pursuers. The ball, an inflated, inflamed, skimming/airy desire, contains within itself the flower of combat, the total time of life and death. The Roman circus did not do it for less, nor for more.

The stadium circle is empty. It has entrance rectangles, both from the street inside, and from the locker room catacombs to the field of glory or defeat. These input rectangles are doors to and from the past. Anyone who passes by is transfigured. Human beings, poor or rich, with family concerns and taxes to pay, disappear: players and fans enter, electrified by the stadium. Players, male and female, male and female fans, before assuming themselves as such, were scattered shadows, ghosts of a time that was left behind.

The stadium circle also has exit tricks. An exit that never becomes effective for the officiants, as long as they remain focused on that to always of combat. But when there is a goal, in those bouts of triumph and death, when one contender hurts the other irrevocably, everything is suspended. Some libido and energy leaks out of the circle; there is a last breath; something exudes to a beyond. The void of desire that everyone avidly pursued is suddenly filled by something impalpable, a crossing, a passage to a after, where everything starts again. The triumphant retreats to his own field; the dead are recomposed from their own ashes. The fight is not over.

One of the first international formations that football developed was the WM: the goalkeeper, two defenders, three midfielders, three back forwards (two wingers and the center forward) and two forward midfielders. Before that, everyone was chasing the ball a little haphazardly. WM combined the principle of zone marking with man-to-man marking. It was stable, containing the dynamic circles and rectangles of the pitch in a series of triangles, as the letters W and M suggest. This shape fell before the mobility of the 4 – 2 – 4 (four defenders, two midfielders and four forwards). While the WM was in effect, it was a classic start to the game. The striker (n.o. 9) passed the ball to a midfielder (no. 8 or 10), which delayed her to the mid-center (n.o. 5). The latter kicked forward, almost always to the side, looking for a hypothetical fast winger who had already ventured there. In this type of outing the ball would almost always end up at an opponent's feet. It was still a way of acknowledging his presence, of honoring him.

With its triangular shapes, although the players moved on the field, the WM scheme crystallized an image of tactical stability that hovered above movement, as if it were the manifestation of a superior spirit that hovered over the field. The 4 – 2 – 4 (of which the 4 – 3 – 3 was a cautious variation) imposed dynamism and movement as the ideal image, a mobile quadrilateral of advances and retreats with an equally mobile epicenter: the midfield.

This formation changed the character of the coach, who went from being the author of a design that the players must obey to being seen as an energy planner, even determining when they should be spent or reserved. The technician became a kind of production engineer, having at his side a foreman, the physical trainer, whose work became more valued, because the 4 – 2 – 4 scheme was the first to be enshrined in the imagination, as a basis of modern football, the body in its ubiquitous condition. The body has become a vector for the creation of empty spaces, a captor of the future. One of the most important moves that the 4 – 2 – 4 imposed was the one that “turned the game”, that is, reoriented, sometimes simply by changing the direction of one's gaze, the disposition of a team on the field.

One of the central problems of modernity is that of ubiquity. In a fragmented universe, how to capture in the contingency, in the transitory, in the fleeting, the permanent, the memory, the meaning? Football does not answer this question; but it gives a key to support it. This key began to become explicit with the adoption of the 4 – 2 – 4 as the preferred formation, consecrated by the selections of Hungary in 1954 and Brazil in 1958, although in the latter case, sometimes the selection played in the variant 4 – 3 – 3 In 4 – 2 – 4, with its mobility, the body becomes a captor of the future and the creation of spaces. Even the expression “future point” was adopted over time. The body became a vector of virtualities, opposing the minerality of the stadium, the vegetal character of the grass and even the animal, in the leather ball.

In the 1970s, the “Dutch Carousel”, also called “A Clockwork Orange” due to the color of its jersey, transformed the 4 – 2 – 4 quadrilateral into a dynamic circle where all 10 line players could play in all directions. positions. It can be said that this “Carousel” is still the circulation of the quadrilateral. The novelty is that in it the players dissolved their typical persona, becoming a variable functionality, incorporating to football the drama that in a fragmented universe identity can become an insoluble problem, being more a position than a substance, a series of bridges and passages that the adoption of a police card with a photo tries to contain. However, it is necessary to recognize that even in this fast circulation, the game continued to be organized around well-defined pivots, leaders who, inside the field, complemented the work of the coach and his foreman, the physical trainer, exercising a kind of meta- organizing function of a team as a whole.

These pivots are not to be confused with the captain of the team. They are the ones who organize a team's sense of space, making the game acquire the strength of a destination. In the case of the Dutch Carousel this leader was Cruyff; in the case of Hungary in 54, Puskas; in Germany winning that year, Fritz Walter. And in Brazil in 58 he was the immortal Didi, with his radical presence, for example, when Brazil conceded Sweden's first goal, in the final, and he, after picking up the ball in the back of the net, went step by step, without running, to the middle of the field to put it back in play. On that “walk of the century”, as my friend Emir Sader defined it, Brazil’s historic victory became a inevitableAnd gesture of Didi, in the sense of Brecht, confronting the entire colonialist path (because he would have said, in the epic moment: “let's end these gringos”, according to the caption), a memorable.

Perhaps this was the last time this star shone so brightly. The subsequent cups, whose pinnacle was the so-called “Dutch Ciranda”, inaugurated the decline of the personal aura within the four lines, making even their leaders momentary functions, prone to reproduce, inside the field, the vicissitudes of the idols of a society of consumption. The main diving icon in this paradoxical identity anonymity was the transformation of Pelé, the child prodigy of 1958, into Craque-Coffee, export product to the American see on Cosmos, from New York. Today, in the XNUMXst century, football, predominantly televised and Eurocentric, has consecrated the role of these idols with feet of clay: like chewing gum, they are chewed, sucked and spit out by the idolatry of consumption, symbolized by the fantastic number of labels and emblems behind them. in their interviews after success or failure.

More recently, with the increasing pasteurization of tactics, most teams have adopted a basic defensive position, from which fast counterattacks are launched: it is the 5 – 3 – 2 or 4 – 4 – 2, which has returned some of the stability to the tactical dispositions. from WM times.

When the defending team recovers the ball and starts the counterattack, the attacking team retreats and, if it has time, adopts the same tactical position as the opponent. These repetitive movements provoked two basic consequences. The first is that the former foreman, the physical trainer, has taken on enormous importance. Because this type of game depends more on speed than skill. With regard to this last virtue, the provision underlined the performance of attackers seen as gifted, the superstars, capable of withstanding the kicks of the defenders who pursue them and disconcerting the rigid defenses with their dribbles that also excel more in speed than in skill. ability.

Suddenly planetary professional football enshrined the fourth paragraph of Marinetti's Futurist Manifesto: “We affirm that the magnificence of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing car with its trunk adorned with thick tubes, like serpents with explosive breath... a roaring car, which runs under grapeshot, is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace”. Comparing, metaphorically, the current stars to racing cars is not entirely inappropriate, although one should update the image for Formula I cars. And the price to pay for this condition lies in the previous paragraph of the Manifesto: “We want to exalt the aggressive movement, the feverish insomnia, the running step, the somersault, the slap and the punch”. In this world of aggressive, turbo-charged soccer executives and millionaires, a star like Garrincha would never have the slightest chance.

Be that as it may, with more or less fleeting identities or idols, the successive formations of football have organized it as the space of a combat, which is distributed by the midfields (safety areas), by the large areas (imminence of triumph or death) , the small areas (exaltation, panic), the goalkeepers (penetration, injury), even the small quadrilaterals of the nets (passage pores that exude a scream/sigh beyond the limits of the game circle, but transposed only symbolically). In the old days, before synthetic nets, if a more powerful kick broke the net, a stupor would take over the field: it was necessary to recompose it before the game restarted, as this rupture metaphorized the advent of unbearable chaos, breaking the tragic circle and comic (not tragicomic) that a game represents. After all this, the stadium's exit gates are welcome, through which the crowd unburdens itself: home, that nobody is made of iron. Forgetfulness, drink, sadness or joy welcome the ex-officiants and ex-witnesses of the sacred, and the promise that tomorrow there will be work and new forms of alienation for everyone welcomes the exhausted spirits.


The game is directed by a foreigner, a viral body: the referee, assisted by his court, linesmen, auxiliary judge, and now even a television to resolve doubts. Priest (or Priestess, that the women also occupied this space) he/she can make or break joys and suspense with a serpent's hiss – the whistle. The judge is Fatality and Mourning. It is a fold in the game's compact time, traditionally covered with a black garment, although today, in these televised and virtual times, it can be disguised with other colors. The judge is a outsider, an empty set in the precise mathematics of the game, is a tangent in the geometry of the stadium: its gestures only point to where the ball should go, to the center, that way, that way, it is a direction sign. However, remove the judge from the game, and it becomes an action between friends. It's not a fight anymore. Although you win, you lose, you don't dies not even if relive therefore. The presence of Fatality is essential to the emotional impact of the game.

Who enters the field with the ball is always the referee. He deprives with desire without owning it. He is a lay priest, an ascetic in times of passion. The game activates the desire; the judge, the counter-mode of authority, to impose rules and conduct that discipline the trip. In a way, every game is played against the referee.

When a player deceives the referee, committing a transgression that he does not point out, as in the case of the famous goal from the hand of God committed by Maradona in the 1986 World Cup, in Mexico, against England, one side of the stadium is pleased with the cleverness and liveliness of the “bad example”, while the other boos, condemns and… envies the feat. Football provides that the sides can alternate, and that is part of the game. Today's disadvantaged may be tomorrow's beneficiaries.

Fouls are “necessary” parts of a game. Their punishment focuses more on the inability to commit them than on the nature of the transgression. In the days before this viral television presence in support of the referee, it was not uncommon for this to compensate the unfair benefit to a team with another benefit further than previously harmed. The act, if it was not in accordance with the rules, was in accordance with the legitimacy of the game, whose time is not linear, it is the time of a permanent spare.

The compact time of a game takes place in terms of expectation, satisfaction for some or catastrophe for others, and replacement. It is good to remember that a tie always tastes like a victory for one team and a defeat for the other. In game time, events do not pass, they accumulate, they balance. The game executes a design with an open beginning, as we do not know its end, but which becomes a Fatality, since once it has elapsed, it is irreversible.

Time only really passes where there are shadows that allow themselves to be crossed, as in everyday life, consumption or war. Although invaded by the morbidity of today's unbridled consumerism, symbolized by the transformation of the once sacred shirt of a team into small billboards of sponsoring companies, football still keeps its bridge with the sacred, even if it appears in ruins.

In sacred spaces, time accumulates events: it put, dis-put e re-put the Universe all the time all the time. The only possibility of living in this mesh, in this impassable network, is to play yourself radically, make the body profane – flesh, muscles, bones, sweat, scream, curse – one pro-faun, body re-immersed in nature, feeling the rhythm of need and the intimate presence of a form of alterity, of turn into another, letting yourself be involved by the consecration of a kingdom where the fleeting overcoming of the human condition, of its finitude, prevails.

The player deprives, in the goal achieved, in the great defense that prevents the goal, in the sublime pass, with the fleeting sensation of immortality. But there is the judge, the relentless force of fate that can annul everything with its – I repeat – serpentine hiss.

For this very reason, a game without faults, without transgressions, is unthinkable, it is an aberration, as much as a game absolutely truncated by its excess, or by its degeneration into rabid violence that serves ends other than the game. In this circumstance, the combat degenerates into carnage, into a rush, in which the judge has to play against everything and everyone. This degeneration also manifests itself when it becomes clear that the referee is blatantly favoring one team. Everything is frustrated. The Universe – its “balloon light”, in the beautiful saying of João Cabral de Melo Neto – collapses.


Each team focuses on owning the opponent's goal, a climax in which the enjoyment of life and the perception of death are confused. Each goal is an end in itself. To get there and penetrate that gap that the adversary guards, as if he were the priest of the Golden Bough described by Sir James George Frazer in his famous book of the same name, it is necessary to mineralize it, fragment it, reduce it to dust or ashes. This reduction focuses on the archer's fall, which generally follows the goal, or on leaving him sprawled, motionless, which amounts to the same thing. Mineralizing the opponent means breaking down his defenses, and this is achieved by advancing as a team and by individual dribbling. Dribbling means unbalancing the opponent, keeping your own balance and direction of movement. Moving forward means breaking the other team's sense of belonging, imposing its own on the field space. A complete dribble, which makes the opponent fall, is celebrated as a goal, and so it is celebrated. It is a harbinger of his symbolic death. In addition, when the goalkeeper makes a sensational save or a defender saves a goal right on the fatal line, admiration runs through the stadium, even among the fans of the other team, because it is part of the game to recognize all the manifestations of a great passion.

Even in a game between women, owning the opposing team's goal has a genital sense of fertility celebration. It is a libidinal possession remotely reminiscent of the permanent coitus between Uranus, Heaven, and Gea, Earth, in classical mythology, symbolized in rain.

It may seem paradoxical, this possession of a hole (the goal) by another hole (the ball) that penetrates it, but this paradox intervenes, in the relative a-temporality of Nature, which is always all the time all in its non-movingness, the radical human temporality. The hollow of the ball, covered in leather or now in another synthetic material, is a messenger of work, of the human hand, of the enclosure of Nature intended by the presence of humanity. When the ball enters the opponent's goal, it becomes the embodiment of teamwork, although sports chronicles sometimes deify only the scorer. With it, an entire team penetrates a protected space: a goal is an orgy. Proof of this is the fact that, when a goal occurs, even the goalkeeper of the scoring team celebrates, jumping and even raising their hands to the heavens.

This observation underscores the importance of hammocks, which a commonplace of questionable taste has called “the bride's veil”, a somewhat ridiculous metaphor, but expressive. Reaching the networks is sharing a universal fullness. Getting the ball lost between goalposts without nets can be a festive act, but it doesn't have the sacred grace of making the imponderable sway.

In its origins, football combat excluded the presence of women, often even from the stands of stadiums, a sexist habit that time has helped to overcome. But there you can see that the first steps of football were taken under the sign of exclusion. An external exclusion: the absence of women, as football was a “man's game”, and the stadium was a “man's space”, with all its depths. Another internal exclusion: this world of “macho men” built phratries of momentary and volatile identities, where these were hidden under the anonymity of the crowd. These sometimes disjointed phratries are perpetuated until today, as the stadiums remain vulnerable to all types of exclusion: homophobia, misogyny (prejudice identifies women who play soccer, disparagingly, as “dykes” and other words of equal carat), racism, regionalisms, nationalisms, etc. And in its Brazilian beginnings, football was an aristocratic sport, reserved for bourgeois clubs and their associates. Only with professionalism could players from the popular classes – including blacks – be able to occupy their space on the field, as the salary paid dispensed with belonging to the club's society.


Myth, character, thought; melody, diction, spectacle: if football combat evokes the tragic circularity of time, which replaces the beginning again, whether in the case of victory or defeat, the game must have something in common with those parts of tragedy described by Aristotle in his Poetic.

The difference is evident: in football there is no fiction, nor should there be any fable elaborated in advance (except in the case of previously established corrupt arrangements). There is, indeed, a present meaning: escaping defeat, death, through victory, defeating the adversary. “Kill” here means “neutralize”, and is the opposite of “exterminate”. “Dying”, here, implies “being reborn”, it is a trance of incorporation into memory. Both, victorious and defeated, and I remind you again that a tie tastes like victory for some and defeat for others, experience a relative loss of identity, opening up to another, as such is the condition of combat.

Even in the case of extreme rivalries, such as Gre-Nal from Rio Grande do Sul, Fla-Flu from Rio de Janeiro, Palmeiras versus Corinthians in São Paulo, Brazil versus Argentina, a game never repeats the previous ones, as each clash is a zero point. There's no point in a team having more wins than the other in the past if they lose that game that ali is disputed. The game imitates (in the Aristotelian sense of creative mirroring), with the forms of sweat, desire, clawing and screaming, the fullness of life, life in its fullness, always available to recover from mineralization and ashes, like the phoenixes of yesteryear and the threatened forests of today.

The characters (personas) on the field, although they have lives outside the four lines, and eagerly followed by their fans, are transfigured within them. They acquire generic tones, to begin with: the balanced elegant, the daring breaker, the quick astute, the tireless shipbuilder, the responsible maestro, the catimbeiro rogue, the unshakable brute force, the unpredictable violent, the careless individualist, the irascible obstinate, the simple however sincere and so on.

If I have used the masculine here, it is because the feminine characters are still at the point of being defined. The gallery of types is inexhaustible. They do not "represent" anything, nor are they entirely autonomous personas, nor are they, as is commonplace, fantasies of the stands or creatures of the media, although all of this may contribute to their construction.

They are moving emblems. The same player can even reach to be various emblems, depending on the moment of the game, although the most common is that each player has one mask (as in Greek tragedy) which is his favourite, to whose performance, like a musical theme, he devotes himself throughout the games. There may even be the case where the player dedicates himself to running various themes or wearing masks, as happened with Garrincha in 1958 and 1962, who became a true jazzman on the pitch, touching everything, dribbling everywhere, taking free kicks, setting up plays, in absolute improvisation.

A team is a flagship, a small encyclopedia of possible behaviors. Players are force fields; Fans have their own gallery of favorites, but they really admire the group, the whole, especially theirs. unforgettable teamTo memorable referring him to the idea of ​​a fleeting totality that he witnessed.

Close observation of a game belies another commonplace prejudice, namely, that players “think with their feet”. Like anyone else, the player always thinks with his whole body, from head to toe and vice versa. Players embody this primordial fact of humanity, which is the possibility of broadening one's vision. standing up. In the case of the goalkeeper, who plays primarily with his hands, these become wings, as he voa. When the opponent scores a goal, the goalkeeper almost always falls; your gesture brechtian of stand up symbolizes the re-articulation of the entire team, which recomposes its body.

The key to the behavior of these emblematic players is also their openness to ubiquity. Whatever the tactical formation, the success of an attack depends on the creation of “empty spaces”, dismantling the opponent's defensive system. The perception of these spaces defines the “view of the game”, the ability to throw the ball or launch yourself ali where the game not yet but soon will be. The players thus beat time, exchanging oracular messages that can also be deciphered by the opponent: the emblematic of football is total, it encompasses both teams in the same choreography, which is to momentarily beat time, because defeating the adversary implies deciphering his oracles, disenchanting the enigma, because you can only defeat what you know.

Two teams fight each other through the screams of the fans, the effort of its players and the technical production of its engineers, which now, in addition to the coach and the physical trainer, involves everything from nutritionists, to psychologists, to financial trainers. A team, therefore, builds a repertoire of processes and a peculiar way of capturing the strength, resistance and even malice of its co-religionists, on and off the field. This reserve, which involves everything from the availability of collective libido, from determination on the field, to the heavy world of finance, materialized, on the field, in the players' payroll, forms the thought of a team, defining the backbone and borders of its value system, exposing its characteristic “design”, a way of proceeding, which is updated with each game.

This design has roots or branches that go outside the stadium, but in the game it only counts what, like thought in action (if the context were different, I would say practice), translates its ability to circumvent mineralization, to overcome death, which is defeat. But death can also interfere in the game through the manic mode of euphoria, excessive self-confidence. To really enjoy a victory, it is necessary not only to reorganize yourself after a goal conceded, or a miss that would be in your favor, but also to know how to recover after each goal scored, or after each victory achieved. People also die of euphoria, and some historical catastrophes give us good examples of this. See the historical defeat of the Brazilian team in Maracanã, in 1950, against the Uruguayans. Or the defeat of the same Brazil in Sarriá, Spain, in 1982: the Brazilian team tied the game, which was enough for the classification, but instead of concentrating on, in the first place, maintaining the result, it continued playing “open” immediately, becoming vulnerable.

These catastrophes are testimonials about a “lack of energy”, of thought. In the 1974 and 1978 World Cups, Holland was a victim of this syndrome; after swallowing half the world in their then innovative Carousel, it was defeated by less skilled but more concentrated teams, namely Germany and Argentina. The same happened with Puskas' Hungary in 1954, against Fritz Walter's Germany. One last example, which is very dear to me: in 2006, in the final of the Club World Championship, after a crushing victory (4-0) over Mexico's América, overwhelming Barcelona faced the "obscure" (for Europeans) Porto Alegre International, in the final. As one of the Inter players pointed out, in a later interview, one month of Barcelona's payroll should exceed the annual payroll of the team from Rio Grande do Sul.

It cannot be accepted that Barcelona did not know Internacional; after all, one of its great stars, Ronaldinho Gaúcho, came from the same Porto Alegre. But the fact is that, on the pitch, Barcelona unknown the opponent, and entered as if he were the winner, in advance. Meanwhile, the Inter team studied Barcelona's game, not only how they won games, but mainly how they lost (the DVD about the game, Giant, directed by Gustavo Spolidoro and screenplay by Luis Augusto Fischer, is eloquent in this regard). There was no other: you only defeat what you know, and Inter won 1-0, with a goal scored in the 36th minute of the second half, as Barcelona gave up space for goals, suffering a fulminating counterattack, with their defenders retreating instead of fighting in the middle of the field . O thought of one team defeated the scattering levity of the other. Contrary to what the commonplace would say, put the logic in the field.

Playing in an empty stadium can be depressing, because there's no singing, no singing. In football, singing is choral, and its presence is so strong that for a long time TV programs, when reproducing the goals of a match, also staged recordings simulating a crowd. These recordings were even used in some of the games without an audience, in the times of the pandemic that we are now experiencing, as a stimulus for players.

In ancient Greece, the choir occupied the geometric center of the amphitheater, between the bleachers and the stage. In the soccer rite, the officiating choir is in the outer circle, forming a non-homogeneous compact, because it is divided, which defines the field, its four lines, as a center. In football there are not exactly spectators, as in modern theatre, passive ghosts who receive a message. There is libido in movement, body and song, agonic presence and passionate voice, effort and stertor. In football, the fans make mistakes with those who are making mistakes, they get it right with those who get it right, they despair with those who despair, they celebrate with those who celebrate, they cry and laugh with those who cry and laugh; is Stanislavsky cubed, there is not really room for any “critical distancing”.

The “more serene observation”, which is sometimes exhibited in the tribunes, in the captive chairs, in the boxes (since the choir space mirrors a class society) has nothing to do with “critical distancing”. Rather, it is ostentation of class. Intellectuals who despise “twisting” and privilege “the spectacle” only claim for themselves a facet of the myth of Narcissus. In football, critical observation and even irony come with passion, not against it, not in spite of it. “Objective” commentators can barely disguise their pre-defined bent. Irony (and ubiquity) is Pelé dribbling past Uruguayan goalkeeper Mazurkiewicz, in the 1970 World Cup, without touching the ball. Critical distance is a crowd booing your team because it plays poorly, even winning.

The chant, in the stadium, creates the compactness of a ritual time, in which everyone remains deeply immersed. The song surrounds the common dramatic situation: winning, losing, dying, being reborn, living all the time all the time, now, always, until the combat transforms the victors into dance and the defeated into statues of melancholy.

One of the theater's secrets lies in the unusualness of its diction. In ancient theater, verse articulated the gravity of the tragic character or the grace of the comic. In modern times, ironic prose, slipping ambiguities between the amorphous of everyday life, turns the most humble and simple characters into authentic jugglers in the face of chaos, like Vladimir and Estragon from Waiting for Godot.

The prose of the stadiums – the din interrupted by the screams, by the profanity-barbs, by the dry blows of the feet on the ball – similarly captures this unusualness of modern artistic prose, by the establishment of a perennial multiple point of view, moving, dissolute, interrupted , ubiquitous as the player. In stadiums, the dispersion of voices creates a landscape animated by the multiplicity of collective presence. This landscape is the opposite of a still life. The media tries to mirror – faintly, almost always – this multiplicity of concentrated life, through the multiplication of its points of view: narration, commentary, interview, variation in the angles from which a play can be seen, with slow motion replay in the case of the TV.

In the stadium, everyone mirrors that void of desire that runs through the field in the form of a ball covered in leather or encapsulated in synthetic material: they are throats that are there, comparing and competing against the nocturnal silence illuminated by the spotlights, as if they were sidereal stars descending to Earth, or solar fullness; or even the fertile fall of the rains.

The “goal” – that spill of repressed energies – is born in the victorious throats in a unison shout that in fact mineralizes the opponent even in the stands, reducing him to silence. After being born in the throat, in the guttural “g”, it fills the space with its round scream and will land in the root of the teeth, in that final “l”, like the ball, after swinging the net, will come to rest on the lawn. The diction of the “goal” is what makes it the voice of the absolute fleeting that, suddenly, takes by storm those who were already almost agonizing with desire, as is so often the screams or moans that make two loving bodies share their pleasure.

Football breaks the urbanity with which it lives. He creates a space where the profane is ritualized into the sacred, a compaction of the gestures of being born and dying at every step. In its rite, football evokes presences – earth, sun, wind, sweat – of an archaic originality and an agropastoral history among urban features, however much advertising and the media want to reduce it to a profusion of labels and stamps virtual.

In ancient theaters and ancient rites clouds, sun, earth, water ali they were, callable deities. In the space of football, no matter how much fans pray in all religions, there are no more deities to invoke, except those that run embedded in the bodies of exhausted players. For this very reason, football becomes a peculiar spectacle, as it does not have that “third look” that witnesses the dramatic. Everyone is immersed in the game. The maxim invoked by Guimarães Rosa is valid: God himself, if invoked in a stadium, when he comes, “may he come armed”. As an announcer said at the 1958 World Cup, after Brazil had a goal not scored, and then scored another: “God does not play, but He supervises”. In a stadium, even God takes sides.

Even so, there is a dramaturgy, which takes place as time goes by: let's imagine a theater play where the spectators are divided into two parties and root for this or that character, not knowing which end it will reach. There is a corporeal elaboration of this dramaturgy which, after the game is over, can be narrated in different ways, according to the likes and dislikes of the narrators.


The football game does not “represent” anything. As much as the stadiums, transformed into “arenas”, seek to isolate themselves from the world around them, the game triggers a common effort to coexist with and within Nature. A space where leisure for some is confused with “earning a living” for others, football becomes the image of an “anti-work”.

First, contrary to what another commonplace asserts, the game de-alienates the effort, in a making of emotions that occur immediately, without any illusion of exchange “for later”. Football organizes hearts, minds and bodies, transformed, by the alchemy of sweat, into vectors of harmony and pleasure, although this may include the pain of inevitable bumps and blows.

Outside the four lines, players, even the best paid, are modern slaves, well fed like ancient gladiators. They are slaves of themselves, of their entrepreneurs, they are “negotiable”, often bought and sold for their weight in gold. Inside the field, this wealthy slave transforms itself into winged, magnetic bodies that hurl themselves through time, creating magical presences where there should only be, by the logic of profits, the consumption of hypocritical entertainment. This hypocrisy does not disappear or fade: the cartel, the deals, the miliary contracts accumulate around the stadiums, penetrating their entrails, like rodents that devour a snack.

But without the game's alchemical magic all this would go flat and the millions in sight would go up in worthless smoke. So football creates a fetishism of merchandise in reverse: until the kick-off that opens the game, players are commodities valued at their exchange value; once the clash has begun, the commodities are transformed into use-values ​​in action, displaying all the mastery of their qualities and the problems of their precariousness.

Football makes the sense of the whole a challenge and an adventure of human passion, here happy, there melancholy. Deciphering the opponent so as not to be devoured by him is the motto of the entire game: to survive, between panic and euphoria, terror and cruelty, the vow of revenge and the aftertaste of pleasure. As there are no deities in this craft, there is also no compassion. Football is the realm of necessity, it is rigorous, methodical, rewarding even in defeat, as work should be, if this isn't what it is.

In everyday life, the prevailing capitalist society, which encompasses football, does not “create riches”, it devours them, as these are created against it and in spite of it. This society today dominated by rampant individualism creates phantasmagorias, illusions, fetishes and both its producers and consumers are covered by its shadows. The best-finished phantasmagorias are the dominant ideologies that preach the inevitability of the logic that for a few there is always more to gain, while for the immense majority, what remains is the compensation of the leftovers from the banquet. In this alienated world, work is the repetitive embodiment of catastrophe. In this flat land full of illusions, football is an escape, yes, but an escape to the only possible “real”, the “real” of a fragment that is subtracted from the train of non-existence.

The ideologies that claim to be hegemonic postulate the use of sport to better consolidate their hegemony, to organize their continuous production of fetishes. The icing on this cake, for its planetary reach, for its mixture of individualism and collectivity, is football. But in the ludic, something always ends up escaping this imposition of order: in the case of football, that something is a collective knowledge of the body and an ethics of desire. Is this the case in every sport? Could it be. But, no other, at least from the end of the XNUMXth century until today, had the reach of football. Thanks to this reach, together with the Olympic Games, evoking the passage from a pre-industrial world to another densely and rapidly urbanized one, football established a kind of “governance” of the sports world, managing from billionaire investments to the most valuable and small ones. childhood dreams.


I've written before that football creates phratries, and that these can become headless and fertile ground for all kinds of discrimination and prejudice. But it is true that they create a favorable field for the sense of reciprocity. In the collective game of football, more than in other sports, such as basketball and volleyball (here I discard sports that have zero or rarefied presence in Brazil, such as American football, rugby and hockey, which would be reasons for another analysis) , the opponent's presence is part of this immediate reciprocity, because football introduces the need for hand-to-hand contact. And the body-to-body establishes the need for respect for the other's body. This respect materializes when players from one team throw the ball away so that an injured player from the other team can be attended to, and when, in the sequence, the latter returns possession of the ball to the other.

However, sometimes, stupidity reigns in a stadium. Violence replaces skill, speed on the field, or the warlike chant in the stands, if the beating ends in them. There, despair and the law of lynching prevail. There are well-known scenes of “chase” of a star player, to neutralize him in the game, injuring him, as happened to Pelé in the 1966 World Cup. Or deadly attacks, such as that of British “hooligans” against Italian fans, in Belgium, in 1985, in which more than 30 Juventus fans perished.

Hand-to-hand combat disappears, giving way to war. War is always a manifestation of power, starting with the power of accumulated frustrations, leading to the power of modern secular idolatries: xenophobic nationalisms, contempt of race, the desire for immediate opulence. The moment war invades a stadium, with its shadows and fetishes, the feeling of extermination of the opponent begins to prevail, which is different from occasional curses, boos, harsh moves or fouls on the pitch. There is no energy or libido, replaced by tension and bitterness; there is no desire for victory, replaced by the thirst for power.

The compactness of time introduced by football is similar to a pressure cooker, in which human beings are transfigured into what the Quebecois poet Gaston Miron called “the beasts of hope” (remember João Saldanha’s 11 beasts), re-discovering the power of passions. If in the stadium, due to drinking or the outbreak of numbing idolatries, the hope of a good fight, which makes the game so charming, is overturned, only the “wild beasts” are left, carried by a feeling of murderous panic. Fans and/or players become soldiers, and t-shirts and flags become signs of a desire for extermination, as is usual in concentration camps.


In a not so remote past, which now threatens to be reborn, like an extemporaneous Dracula, several countries in South America were devastated and spiritually devastated by dictatorships of different styles, but with the common trait of the exhibitionism of Power reaching the football stadiums and the attempted manipulation.

When this Poder appeared at the stadium, it aimed to transform the game being played into a spectacle for it, Poder, and thus make itself a super-spectacle. Such a demonstration was not restricted to the Tribune of Honor, it could invade the field itself. I remember, in particular, a game between Internacional and Corinthians, in 1976, at the Morumbi stadium. The Military Police established a circle of police officers on the lawn, each accompanied by a sheepdog. When the teams entered the field, and later in moments of high tension, when the stadium, literally taken over, shook with the sound and fury, the dogs would roar: it was the Voice of Power.

But the operetta tyrannies of our America, today revived by the Usurper of the Palácio do Planalto from 2019, when they invade stadiums with their entourage of sycophants (which may include the media), demand deference, applause, flattery, hugs. The Power there wants to show itself “equal to the people”, although different; able to “have fun” in the midst of supposed military austerity; “human”, albeit hermetic.

This exhibition cannot disguise the feeling of being in front of a fancaria tamer, a fragile carcass handling a gigantic puppet, in front of the powerful beast, that “Povão” that terrifies him in nightmares. Poder identifies in the “People” a noise that hinders its functioning, and thus tries to neutralize it, organizing it in continuous applause, believing to carry in its veins the magical character of being able to placate the fury of the elements and “brute nature” of his majestic adversary. Power reaps dividends from its invasion. Deferences are never neutral, but it should not be forgotten that many times the applause obtained is the express recognition that, without that Chato taking a seat and feeling installed, the match does not begin its festival of essential pyrotechnics.

In any case, in matters of football, stadiums and now transmissions in virtual spaces, the power actually lies in other hands – in the league, in FIFAS, Conmebóis, UEFAS… Particularly in UEFA, the European Football Union, and its surroundings.

Says another commonplace that football is a metaphor for capitalism. I disagree. He é triumphant capitalism. It has a peculiarity: if the hegemon capitalist resides in the United States, the hegemon of football remains in Europe. Just as California's Silicon Valley sucks intelligence from around the world, European football, heir to centuries of colonialism, sucks Latin American and African stars, domesticating them for its flat-footed football, without edges, where giants like Maradona , Didi, Pelé, Cruyff, Kempes, Beckenbauer, Gordon Banks, Yashin, Schroiff, Fritz Walter, Puskas, Garrincha, would not have another chance. From time to time, a Messi appears in life; the rest is Neymar.


The essayist has the opportunity and duty of subjectivity. It's the hallmark of the genre. I don't run away from her.

In my eyes, football declines, in Brazil and in the world: it is the twilight without gods.

In Brazil, football reigned supreme between the Great Wars and the Cold War, during the populist euphoria and the first depressive mourning of the 64 Dictatorship. its blessings by the Conquistadors from outside or from within, the growth of a modern urbanity, even if precarious and surrounded by misery. A democratic struggle grew in the countryside. And football accompanied, even if metaphorically, these fights. Because football has an egalitarian flame.

With the exception of the psychological pressures captured mainly by the media, football is in fact a kingdom where the law applies to everyone, to the star player or to his humblest scorer. Football in fact embodies a meritocracy without heirs or legacies: no matter how historically qualified it may be, either a team prepares and wins that game, or he bites the dust of defeat. I recall the already mentioned case of the decision of the 2006 Interclub World Cup, Barcelona and its millions x Internacional and its thousands. It seems that the Catalan club's millions more hindered than helped.

Despite the regressive and violent impulses that prevail in Brazil and the world today, the fact is that, on average, we are less attached to patriarchalisms, homophobic tendencies, misogyny, disguised or undisguised racism, etc. So much so that the prejudiced people of the world struggle today to reverse these civilizing achievements. We are less prone to combat virility than we were 70 or 80 years ago.

Throughout the XNUMXth century, feet, more than hands, were the great characters in history, both due to forced migrations (today they continue to exist, but often take place by boat, in the Mediterranean, despite the marches in Central America in towards the United States) as to the marks of the military occupation, as in the case of the goose step characteristic of the Wehrmacht Nazi. Not everything has changed, but the urban outbreak, with the telephone, television, typewriter and later the computer and cell phones of life imposed a liturgy of the hands on the imaginary instead of the elegy of the feet. Fabiano, Sinhá Vitória and the children marched from the sertão to the big city; today the MSTs of life stay and settle down in the field: they plant, instead of marching.

Unbridled virility is domesticated and femininity imposes its presence: the violence with which male chauvinist mentalities still react to this circumstance attests to this. Perhaps the irruption of volleyball illustrates these new marks, with that popping of the ball from one side to the other of an untouchable and suspended net, in those fields that do not invade each other in a dispute in which psychological concentration and spiritual resistance weigh as much or more than than physical strength.

On the other hand, triumphant capitalism has desacralized everything, leaving only a few gaps free for the experience of the sacred (which is the opposite of rent religions) and solemn. In football, some of them can still be seen, with their magic capable of revealing real stadiums in a game with bottle caps in a corridor of a building, or with a ball of nylon socks in an improvised room, in a game of table football, button football, foosball , in fingerball, although this is becoming increasingly rare. In a landscape where the shadows of consumption increasingly invade the sacred shirts and consecrated fields, I confess that, in my eyes, football still rules; but reigns no more.

* Flavio Aguiar, journalist and writer, is a retired professor of Brazilian literature at USP. Author, among other books, of Chronicles of the World Upside Down (Boitempo).

Corrected, expanded and updated version of the essay published in the book Brazilian culture: themes and situations, organized by Alfredo Bosi. Sao Paulo: Attica, 1986.


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