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The Brazilian Connection

Words by Matthew Gault
Illustration by Nick Taylor

YouTube can be a wondrous, endless treasure trove for the web-savvy, intrepid football fan. Among the unmatchable headquarters for free video content, you can discover endless hours of footballing pornography, everything from great players humiliating each other to a clip of an over-zealous American commentator screaming ‘release the Kraken’ after witnessing John Arne Riise’s rocket free-kick in a pre-season friendly for Liverpool against Celtic. There also happens to be a golden supercut of Brazilian legends at Barcelona, entitled ‘Brasileiro Barcelona - FC Barcelona legends – Brazilians’. A seven-minute sizzle reel of skills, goals and general footballing majesty from the likes of Ronaldinho, Rivaldo and, most recently, Neymar. 

In football, a nationality can latch on to a team and practically become synonymous with its folklore. For Arsenal, certainly in the last twenty years, it’s been the French, while Liverpool have nourished some of the finest Spanish talent the Premier League has ever seen, instantly cementing a Spanish-flavoured indelible mark on the Kop. But no group of exotic footballers has infiltrated the consciousness and culture of a football club quite like Brazilians at Barcelona. Neymar, Barca’s 24th Brazilian, is currently flying the flag gloriously high at the Nou Camp, but there has been an astonishing production line of his compatriots who have entranced the Catalan fortress and marked their adventures with armfuls of trophies. 

The man who started the long-standing association is Lucidio Batista da Silva. He spent two seasons with The Blaugrana, during which he won two Ligas, two Latin Cups and one Copa Eva Duarte. His spell in Catalonia was relatively short-lived, but he can be viewed as responsible for prompting an opening of the glorious floodgates.

Barca’s first Brazilian ‘superstar’ was Evaristo de Macedo. The man from Rio de Janeiro scored a spectacular 0.8 goals a game between 1956 and 1962. It was his superb finish on November 23, 1960 that knocked Real Madrid out of the European Cup for the first time. Immediately sealing his position as a club hero and breaking the dominance of Los Blancos in Europe. 

Although Evaristo’s contribution to Barcelona was telling, he has been comfortably surpassed by the brilliance that’s succeeded him. It was in the 90s when a quixotic array of attacking talent exploded onto the scene. It was during this decade that saw the arrivals of Romario, Ronaldo and Rivaldo. Romario forming a crucial and devastating part of Johan Cruyff’s celebrated “Dream Team,” shining alongside players like Pep Guardiola, Hristo Stoichkov and Michael Laudrup. 

Together with that intoxicating concoction of European talent, Cruyff’s Brazilian gem endeared the Barca supporters with his insatiable appetite for goals. He may have struggled – as all of Barca did – in the 0-4 Champions League final defeat to AC Milan in 1994 but his 30 goals in 33 games propelled the club to La Liga success. He also conjured moments to savour, too, like his unfathomably skilful goal in El Clasico, when he spun with balletic grace into space before burying his right-footed drive. In that game, Romario netted a hat-trick in a 5-0 demolition of Barca’s arch-nemeses Real Madrid. It was stunning Samba moments like these that helped the Barca supporters feel a special affinity with their Brazilian heroes.