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You win some, you lose some

Study shows how performance on the field influences the tone of Portuguese newspapers covering the trajectory of Brazilian coaches on the Portuguese National Soccer Team

Scolari leading the Portuguese National Soccer Team: hope and distrust

AFP PHOTO / NICOLAS ASFOURIScolari leading the Portuguese National Soccer Team: hope and distrustAFP PHOTO / NICOLAS ASFOURI

Colonizer and colonized always engage in a delicate dance, even if the relationship ceased to exist almost 200 years ago as in the case of Portugal and Brazil. A Brazilian professor of communications at São Paulo State University (Unesp) in Bauru and son of Portuguese immigrants with dual citizenship, José Carlos Marques spent three months in Lisbon in 2014 conducting research in the archives of seven local newspapers on a topic in which the historical political relationship – likened to headquarters and a branch office – has been inverted: soccer. With a ball at their feet, Brazilians are seen as the masters and the Portuguese as their apprentices. From the world of the turf, Marques analyzed one specific issue: how these newspapers depicted the trajectory of two Brazilian coaches in their rise to leadership of the Portuguese National Soccer Team at two different times in the team’s history. Rio de Janeiro native Otaviano Martins Glória (1917-1986), known as Otto, led the Portuguese team in its first World Cup competition in 1966 in England, and Rio Grande do Sul native Luiz Felipe Scolari, after winning the world championship for Brazil in 2002, led the Portuguese team from 2003-2008.

As a rule, Marques has noted that the Portuguese press skewed its coverage based on the results produced by the foreign coaches leading the national team. Praise for the renowned (and good side of) Brazilians’ roguish reputation, which served to offset and complement Portuguese levelheadedness, was lavish when the team was winning, but the tone changed when things went downhill or if the coach did not deliver as he should have. “The brotherly love between the two sibling peoples gave rise to intolerance and declarations that came very close to a sort of hysterical xenophobia,” according to Marques, who was a soccer referee for the São Paulo division two soccer league in the 1990s. In his study, he analyzed the language in four general circulation newspapers (Diário de Notícias, O Século, Público and Jornal de Notícias) and three publications specialized in sports coverage (A Bola, Record and O Jogo), and he consulted 900 separate newspapers.

The first issue that intrigued Marques was the discrepancy in approach to Otto Glória as a member of the Portuguese National Team in the Portuguese and Brazilian press during the 1966 World Cup. Marques says that in Brazil, Portugal’s achievement in finishing third on the turf in England – to date, the best the team from Portugal has ever done in a World Cup – was routinely attributed for the most part to the presence of the Rio native at the team’s helm. “Brazilians don’t really seem to know that while Otto Glória was Portugal’s coach on the field, it was Manuel da Luz Afonso from Portugal who managed the team and chose the players drafted,” says Marques. In other words, even though he was an important figure, Glória was an assistant to Manuel da Luz Afonso in his recruiting activities. Portuguese media made it very clear that these men occupied very different ranks. In an article dated July 7, 1966, on the eve of the World Cup, the newspaper A Bola plays up the stereotype associated with inhabitants of Portugal’s former colony when it says that Portuguese coach Afonso is “as phlegmatic and serene as a Brit” while the Brazilian coach has the “cunning, cleverness and craftiness of a ‘Portuguese man from the tropics.’”

As Portugal advanced in the World Cup, having beaten and eliminated the existing world champion Brazil, Otto Glória slowly lost his green and yellow hue, becoming more green and red in the eyes of the Portuguese press. “Newspapers began to call him the Portuguese coach – or at least the ‘80% Portuguese coach’,” says the Unesp professor. The characterization had some truth to it. Otto Glória was of Portuguese descent and before joining the national team, he had lived and worked for soccer clubs in Portugal since the 1950s. The clichéd description used by the newspaper Record to describe him on August 6, 1966 – “Brazilian by birth, Portuguese at heart” – was not too far off the mark.

Otto Glória (center), leads the Portuguese team in practice at the 1966 World Cup: “Portuguese man from the tropics”

JOSÉ SANTOS / AGÊNCIA O GLOBOOtto Glória (center), leads the Portuguese team in practice at the 1966 World Cup: “Portuguese man from the tropics” JOSÉ SANTOS / AGÊNCIA O GLOBO

Scolari family, Portuguese style
The tone in Portuguese newspaper coverage of Scolari’s long years at the helm of the Portuguese team was also driven to a great extent by the results achieved on the field. Even though he had just led the Brazilian National Soccer Team to victory in the 2002 World Cup, the Rio Grande do Sul native was initially viewed with some reservations by the local papers. “Unlike Otto Glória, he didn’t know anything about Portuguese soccer when he became the coach of the national team,” says Marques. “His winning résumé inspired joy and hope, but because he was a foreigner and knew nothing about Portuguese soccer, his selection also stirred up some distrust and repudiation.” To make things even more challenging, one of Scolari’s first acts in March 2003 was to invite Deco, a Brazilian player who had been playing in Portugal since 1997, to join the national team.  In 2007, Scolari invited another Brazilian named Pepe, who had become a naturalized Portuguese citizen, to wear the green and red uniform.

In the midst of the debate about the invasion of Brazilian players on the national team, Scolari posted solid results in his first games. He led Portugal to a second place finish in the 2004 European Championship, despite losing in the final round at home to a weak Greek team, and earning a fourth place finish at the World Cup in 2006. The Portuguese version of the “Scolari family,” a group of players united under the anthem and flag of Portugal, was a big success overseas. “Whether you like Scolari a lot or a little, or whether – and this is quite understandable – you don’t like him at all … there is no question that he, and he alone, is responsible for building up the team spirit of the Portuguese National Soccer Club,” wrote Santos Neves in a signed editorial in A Bola at the outset of the 2004 European Championship.

Notwithstanding all of the acknowledgement he received in Portugal, Scolari was still roundly criticized when his team lost, and he was the target of prejudice. And yet, Marques says that no event was more traumatic – or resulted in more condemnation – than his departure from the team after the 2008 Eurocup. “The news that he had signed a million-dollar contract with an English team [Chelsea] came out early on in the competition, and it was viewed as a betrayal by the Portuguese newspapers,” says the researcher. “At that moment, the issue of the coach’s Brazilianness came to the fore again, and he was accused of being a mercenary.”

The Road to Discovery in Reverse: the notion of Brazilianess in Portuguese newspapers arising from the presence of Brazilian soccer players and coaches in Portugal (nº 2013/18479-0); Grant mechanism  Scholarship abroad – Research; Grant recipient José Carlos Marques (Unesp/Bauru); Investment R$28.988,49 (FAPESP).