Monday, August 23, 2010

South America produced some new champions and some old ones, but in a situation very different from the European scene. The four South American World Cup finalists were politically… strange? Chile had military coup d’etat in 1973 and fresh dictatorship. Brazil had old military dictatorship… Argentina was going fast towards its own military dictatorship, and Uruguay? Well, it was de facto military dictatorship, with pro forma civilian President. Since football is never far from politics in South America, there were some interesting developments – coaches were fired or hired in part because of their politics. Some army men were strongly interested in football, some were not… Some thought football important safety valve; others – a dangerous channel for expressing political anger. In any case football was affected – and there were new champions. In Uruguay the junta quietly supported Penarol – the most popular and also the ‘people’s’ club in the country. Apart from this – no real interest in football. Thus, many oppositional politicians barred from political life went into football to continued it under cover. The current Uruguayan President was the President of Racing (Montevideo) in 1974. Shaky political situation in Argentina seemingly affected the big clubs – neither River Plate, nor Boca Juniors played major role in Argentine football in the early 70s. Smaller clubs ruled instead. In Chile – the clubs from the capital lost ground, particularly the most popular Colo-Colo. In 1974 the champions were provincial – Huachipato, not exactly famous club. Later clubs from mining towns got increasingly stronger. In Brazil – well, new champions in 1974, but the government involvement was tricky and shady – the most visible influence was the national team. A player was included in the national team for the World Cup 1970 because the President ‘suggested’ so – in 1973-74 the ‘suggestion’ was regarding Pele, who stated that he was no more to play for the national team. The government stated otherwise: that there is always a place for Pele in the team. If the King wants – he will be included. No matter when. No matter what form he had. No matter anything. The national coach had no problem with that at all – he said the same. Was he just bowing to power? Was he honestly inviting Pele? The truth is hidden… only tangential hints: Joao Saldanha, well known left-wing politically, was replaced by Mario Zagallo just before the World Cup 1970. Zagallo included the President’s favourite player, but did not field him at all. Zagallo included only the players he wanted in 1974 and Pele was not among them. Unlike 1970, this year Brazil lost and Zagallo was removed. How much politics and how much football?