Gabriel Jesus, the new kid on the block for Manchester City, is a throwback. He is the embodiment of the now-distant past of Brazilian football. And he may well be its future. But let’s go back into the recent past, to the 8th of July 2014, a day that will live in infamy.
That was the day when Brazil, playing in a World Cup semi-final hosted in their own country, suffered a 7-1 defeat at the hands of the Germans. It is without a doubt one of the most memorable games ever played. In the aftermath, Brazilian society as a whole was in shock.
Estado de Minas, one of Brazil’s biggest newspapers, ran the headline “The Biggest Shame of Brazilian Football”. That night, Brazilian football died. Gone were the days of the scintillating, extraordinary skills of Ronaldinho, the direct, unstoppable threat of Ronaldo, the iron-will and dignity of Cafu and Carlos Alberto. Instead, all the fans had were David Luiz and Fred, crying bitter tears as they walked off the field in defeat.
This was not the Brazilian team any of us recognized. For many of us, when growing up we always held that team in bright yellow up as the mythological ideal of footballing perfection. What had gone wrong? How could it be put right?
Even the Germans felt bad about the defeat they were inflicting. They let up pressure and muted their celebrations as the goals piled up. In a way, that is the ultimate insult: pity. Patronizing them as if they were children. Although ask any Brazilian and they will probably tell you that childish behaviour was exactly the problem with that team.
In the wake of that disaster, the axe fell and heads rolled. Scolari resigned in disgrace, Fred retired, David Luiz is still to this day nothing more than a meme in Brazilian culture. They don’t watch the Premier League and see his great performances for Chelsea. To them he is now part of a common catchphrase “today I am more lost than David Luiz against the Germans” when having a bad day.
But there was more to the shame than just the scoreline. It was the way Brazil played as well. Neymar, unable to partake due to injury, was the golden boy supposed to lead the country to glory. He wasn’t on the pitch that day, maybe things would have been different. At any rate, he was somewhat spared criticism. There is still great hope for him, he is young enough and untouched by the shame of the 7-1. He is also the skilful, brilliant player that Brazil has been looking for. Someone who recalls the days of Garrincha rather than the days of hard-working, powerful athletes that ultimately fail to deliver like Hulk.
But even Neymar is often derided for his personality, his lifestyle. He represents the same “Instagram/selfie” generation that became obsessed with hair, salons and flashy boots. He is maturing into more of a leader now. But it is another young, skilful striker who can perhaps be the icon that brings Brazil back to its golden days.
Gabriel Jesus is becoming more and more popular, not just in England where his early performances have drawn comparisons to Ronaldo, but in Brazil too. He is a throwback in both style and personality to the players of old. His social media activity, interviews, fashion sense: all humble and reserved. He is the opposite of the emasculated “loser” generation that is so reviled in Brazil.
Jesus is the figure that Brazilians can truly rally behind. Under the management of Tite, Brazil have not just begun to return to positive results, but positive attitude. No longer is it about grinding out results and imitating the styles of European tactics. Brazil are playing with flair, with skill, with belief.
Nothing will erase the shame of the 7-1, that moment is eternal. And yes, many of the players who were on the pitch that day such as Marcelo and Fernandinho are still first-choice players, but now Brazilian football isn’t about the past, it is about the future. Brazil are looking for redemption.
If anyone thinks they can’t do it, maybe it is they who need to look to the past. The last time Brazil experienced a defeat like the 7-1 was the Maracanazo, when they were beaten by Uruguay in the 1950 World Cup final. It was a period of shame, of soul-searching, of rebuilding and redesign. A player emerged; Edson Arantes do Nascimento, just when they needed him. Pele. He delivered Brazil to salvation, maybe Jesus can be a second coming.
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