One of the darkest moments in Brazilian football – and the divide that still runs deep

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An illustration depicting the dramatic scenes in Salvador as Brazil fans burned the national flag at the 1989 Copa America's opening match at home to Venezuela
Fans in Salvador reacted dramatically – it went additional than football

It took Charles Fabian a great couple of minutes to get the full image.

The younger ahead had simply completed dinner at Brazil’s crew resort in the north-jap metropolis of Salvador when the president of native aspect Bahia stormed in.

“You can pack your bags because you are not staying here,” yelled Paulo Maracaja as he grabbed Charles by the arm.

It was June 1989. A house Copa America was about to start and Charles, then 21 and a Bahia participant, had not lengthy since damaged into the nationwide set-up. He did not know what to do. Unable to search out anyone from the Brazilian FA, he ended up following the order to depart.

As it turned out, Maracaja had taken issues into his personal arms after being instructed that Charles was amongst three to be lower from the remaining 20-man squad. He was livid his participant had been dropped.

The omission would have dramatic penalties. What occurred subsequent lives on in the nationwide consciousness as one of the darkest moments in Brazilian sporting historical past. It felt like simply one other betrayal to a individuals who had lengthy felt marginalised – and who proceed to really feel so as we speak.

Short presentational grey line

Brazil’s opening match was the following day, in that identical north-jap metropolis – Salvador.

Charles was an area icon, and it had been years since a participant from one of the area’s groups had been picked for the nationwide aspect.

Only 13,000 followers turned up for the 3-1 win over Venezuela – lower than half capability – however the message despatched couldn’t have been clearer. Supporters burned the Brazilian flag, booed the nationwide anthem and pressured teaching employees to flee from the dugout by throwing flares in their route. Outrage spilled out from the stands.

“I had mixed feelings that day,” Charles says. “On one hand I was happy with the support I received, but on the other I was sad because of what happened. No-one wants to see your country’s flag in flames.

“The protest was legitimate, though, in my opinion, it may have been carried out in another way.”

Clearly, this wasn’t just about football. Charles ended up being dragged into a debate that has been around for decades, the Brazilian divide between its two major population centres – the wealthy south-east and the impoverished north-east, which trails behind in every social and economic indicator.

This is a component of the nation the place hundreds of thousands earn lower than £20 a month, the place hundreds of thousands endure from starvation, the place unemployment has soared over 50%external-link throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is such hardship that forces many north-easterners to migrate to places like the south-eastern cities of Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro. But once there, often life doesn’t get much easier – among the obstacles that still persist is prejudice.

For almost his entire career, Barcelona legend Rivaldo complained about not being treated by the media in the same way as other Brazil superstars such as Romario and Ronaldo. According to him, there was only one reason for that: he was from the north-east. When he officially retired in 2015, the general feeling was that his talent had never been truly appreciated.

O Globo newspaper report on Charles Fabian's omission from the Brazil squad in 1989
O Globo newspaper’s report on Charles Fabian’s (left in the picture) omission from the Brazil squad in 1989

In Rio de Janeiro, people from Brazil’s north-east are stereotyped and universally referred to as “paraibas” (someone from Paraiba state) regardless of where they’re actually from. To some extent, the same happens in Sao Paulo, where they’re called “baianos” (from Bahia state).

One episode is particularly famous in Brazil – the reaction of former international Edmundo, who is from Rio state, to being sent off in a match in 1997.

He stated: “We come to play in Paraiba [the game actually took place in another north-eastern state, Rio Grande do Norte] and you set a ‘paraiba’ [the official was in fact from the north-eastern state of Ceara] to referee the recreation. It may have by no means labored out.”

There are examples from the country’s highest office, too – in 2019, Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro, born in Sao Paulo state, was caught referring to the governors of the north-east states as “paraiba governors” in a leaked audio recording.

In the south, people from the north-east are often considered socially or intellectually inferior. It’s not unusual to see their local accents mocked and laughed at.

Former Porto and Zenit St Petersburg star Hulk, who is from the state of Paraiba, went through that at a national team news conference before the 2014 World Cup.

The 35-year-old forward was asked by a journalist, referring to people from the north-east, whether “it is their accent that makes them humorous”. As a passionate son of the region, he couldn’t believe his ears.

“Unfortunately, we all know that prejudice is still round, regardless of your space of work or occupation,” says Hulk, who is now back in Brazilian football with Atletico Mineiro.

“But the north-easterner is a fighter, a winner, and can overcome all this. I’m proud of being from the north-east, carrying our banner and defending our folks wherever in the world. I’m very grateful for all the love and assist I’ve all the time acquired.”

Roberto Firmino
Firmino, born in the north-jap metropolis of Maceio, moved on to Figueirense, in Florianopolis, aged 17

Despite being the country’s second most populous region, with approximately 57 million people, 27% of the national population, the nine-state area has never seen a footballer from a local side represent Brazil in the World Cup.

Over the past 15 years, just two players from clubs in the north-east have been called up by the national team – Sport Recife forward Diego Souza in 2017 and Nautico left-back Douglas Santos in 2013.

Part of the problem is that talented players usually don’t stay around at these clubs for long, often heading south after the first lucrative offer, sometimes without even making their senior debuts. Rivaldo, Bebeto, Juninho Pernambucano, Dida and Roberto Firmino all took similar paths.

With much smaller budgets, it’s simply impossible for local outfits to compete financially with powerhouses like Flamengo, Palmeiras and Gremio. So they lose their best players.

One way to fight this would be to sell their young talents directly to Europe, but although the situation has improved in recent years, that very rarely happens. The vast majority still go to the south-east first and then on to other leagues. The French-Algerian agent Franck Henouda believes there is a reason for that.

Henouda has worked as Shakhtar Donetsk’s emissary in Brazil for almost two decades, overseeing the arrivals of Fernandinho, Willian, Fred, Douglas Costa and many others. Of the 13 Brazilian footballers he recruited for the Ukrainian side, none came from the north-east.

“If a membership involves me and says I’ve bought a boy from the north-east and one other from the south, I’ll advise them to signal the latter. He could also be dearer, however the dangers are decrease,” Henouda says.

“Brazil is a continental nation, so solely after transferring there in the 2000s, I observed the variations between the locations. And Rio Grande do Sul, Parana, Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais stood out for me – they produced extra footballers succesful of thriving in Europe.

“Players from these areas are physically stronger and don’t struggle with hunger growing up. They have those colonial breakfasts in the south. It’s totally different in the north-east.

“The different day, I used to be watching an Atletico Goianiense ahead from there – I like him lots, however he has a brief stature and small bones, as a result of they did not develop correctly resulting from an absence of calcium in childhood. He might be extra inclined to accidents.

“When you are closing a deal, you have to pay attention to all these details, even the kind of studs the athlete wears. If he’s from the north-east, he will probably have worn rubber studs his whole life, even on wet, heavy surfaces, so when he moves to Europe, he will require some time to get used to boots with metal ones. Not every team is willing to wait for it after paying 10m euros.”

Fortaleza supporters
Fortaleza supporters cheer their crew – the shock bundle of the season

It is still very uncommon to see something that happens outdoors the Sao Paulo-Rio de Janeiro-Belo Horizonte-Porto Alegre axis getting nationwide protection in Brazil.

In a state of affairs the place golf equipment depend on business ventures and TV income, not benefiting from this publicity makes it harder for north-jap groups to flourish in the high flight.

For the north-jap sides, a high-10 end stays the principal aim – and solely thrice in the previous decade has that been achieved – however issues are starting to alter for the higher.

Fortaleza elevated their revenues 10-fold between 2014 and 2019. They are at the moment fourth in the desk and are into the Brazilian Cup semi-finals – for the first time in 102 years.

Meanwhile, Ceara have recorded the lowest debt in the Brazilian league and Bahia, too, have dramatically reworked themselves.

They had hit all-time low in 2006, discovering themselves in the third tier. Such was the outrage amongst followers that 50,000 took to the streets of Salvador to protest towards the board. Things didn’t transfer shortly from there, however in 2013 season ticket holders have been lastly given the probability to vote for the membership’s president – which may be very uncommon in Brazilian football.

The crew’s 1959 and 1988 league title trophies had been discovered discarded in garbage luggage. Now they’re a mannequin membership. They have paid off some of the debt that was crippling them and launched a brand new transparency coverage.

“I have no doubt that there was a very strong system that disadvantaged footballers from north-eastern sides until the 1990s,” says Bahia vice-president Vitor Ferraz.

“When you have a side that won the Brazilian league, like we did in 1988, and you see that the players were only given occasional chances, you realise they would have got more opportunities wearing a different shirt. What happened to Charles in 1989 illustrates that.

“We are actually the nation’s most democratic crew. It has drawn some consideration from the nationwide media, however we all know that if a membership from the south had carried out the identical, the affect would have been a lot greater.

“We credit this to the prejudice that still exists. But I’m sure that we find ourselves in a much better position than we were 10, 15 years ago.

“From now, what occurs on the pitch will change this actuality.”


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