Decline '40 years' in the making

BELO HORIZONTE (Brazil) • It is not about humiliation. It is merely indifference.

One of the many myths about Brazilian fans is that they love football. The reality is that they love winning, and they revere winning beautifully.

But, as their national team drift relentlessly away from their glorious past, the fans have rarely been further from both of those things.

"The sport being bad here isn't anything new," said Tostao, a member of the country's 1970 World Cup-winning team.

A physician, he made his own diagnosis: "This isn't a sudden sickness. The standard has been falling for 40 years, getting progressively worse, with no medicine to quickly cure it."

For those who have not checked in on the patient since their 2014 World Cup implosion at home - when they were thrashed 1-7 by Germany in the semi-finals - the prognosis is no better.

The coach who oversaw that disaster, Luiz Felipe Scolari, was fired after the tournament and replaced with the even more pragmatic Dunga. But the results have not improved.

Besides their Copa America Centenario exit on Sunday, Brazil sit outside the qualification spots for the 2018 World Cup, with only two wins in their first six qualifying matches.

"Maybe our game is the worst it's ever been," said Juca Kfouri, one of Brazil's most-respected football analysts. "They had so many problems in that moment in 2014, but what did they change? They replaced Felipao with Dunga as manager, and that was it, when the problems run so much deeper.

"But the issue with our football is more structural than technical. The huge corruption doesn't allow it to get better, to be more professional, so we can actually tackle the problems."

One need look only at the three most recent presidents of the CBF, the national association, to truly understand the levels of disarray: All three have been charged by the United States Department of Justice in its investigation of corruption in football.

The incumbent, Marco Polo del Nero, was recently restored to his post despite his indictment but has no plans to travel to the Copa out of fear that he might be detained.

"There is a promiscuous relationship inside Brazilian football," Tostao said. "You have CBF administrators heading for jail, and this helped along and sped up the failure of Brazilian football.

"So much has to be changed to get better - the administration, the management of the football here, the players have to be created differently."

Listening to other Brazilian greats does not inspire confidence that change is on the way.

Zico, a star in the 1970s and 80s, described those controlling the Brazilian game as "businessmen with powerful economic interests, not men who want to see the best football".

Romario, a World Cup winner in 1994 and now a member of Congress, has called the CBF "a gang of thieves". And Kaka, a former world player of the year, recently lamented that "there's no organisation, nobody dealing with the future".

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 14, 2016, with the headline 'Decline '40 years' in the making'. Print Edition | Subscribe