Organized Chaos: The key to Brazil’s soccer success
By Kika Toulouse
COTIA, São Paulo, Brazil — When you think of Brazil, what do you think of? Considering that this is a soccer website, I’m going to assume that your answer is soccer. Of course I will take “football” or “futebol” as acceptable answers as well – bonus points if your response was “o jogo bonito.”
Even if Gisele Bündchen or the beaches of Ipanema were the first things to come to mind, I think we can all agree that Brazil is pretty much synonymous with soccer. Why? Because Brazilians have proven to be really, really good at it.
Brazil leads the world in FIFA World Cup championships (five) and has produced some of the best players to ever lace up a pair of cleats. including arguably the best player to date, Pelé. This of course begs the question: How has Brazil come to be the soccer powerhouse that it is today?
I have a personal theory in response to this question, but first, a personal history. My name is Gabriella Toulouse, though everyone calls me Kika, especially on and around the soccer field. I’m a professional soccer player currently playing for the Washington Spirit in the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League).
Today. however, I am writing from São Paulo, Brazil. I chose to travel to Brazil in September for off-season training following the conclusion of the NWSL season. In my time here I’ve been playing for A.C.E. Kurdana/Cotia, spending quality time with my mother’s side of the family, and enjoying a total immersion into a culture very different from the one I’m accustomed to in the United States.
It is exactly this difference in culture, in daily life, and perspective that I believe has put Brazil decades, perhaps even centuries ahead of countries like the United States when it comes to soccer.*
In my current neighborhood in Cotia there is one soccer field. Now when I say soccer field, I’m not talking about your publicly funded and maintained grass field that is manicured better than my fingernails (admittedly, I don’t set the bar very high in this area). I’m also certainly not talking about the multi-purpose artificial turf field that is popping up on the grounds of practically every high school nationwide.
The type of soccer field I’m referring to consists of a plot of land comprised of small rocks and dirt whose dimensions happen to resemble that of your standard soccer pitch. Grass does grow on this plot of land, but only in the corners of the field where the potential for vegetation has not been completely destroyed by cleats repeatedly and mercilessly uprooting the soil on a regular basis.
In one of these corners the grass appears to grow in small clumps that make the ball bounce like a hot potato. In the opposite corner the rain gods have been generous in blessing the soil with knee-length vegetation growing in fruitful abundance.
Speaking of rain, hope that it doesn’t. Following your typical Brazilian afternoon thunderstorm, this field can magically turn from a somewhat manageable playing surface into a potential site for the next “Tough Mudder” competition.
Despite the derelict state of this playing pitch, it is surrounded by a roughly 10 foot-high fence and kept under lock and key at all times unless an official team is using it.
As you can imagine from my description and see from the provided photos, this field is pure chaos.
That being said, there is still an element of control and order to the pitch in the form of the fence, lock, and key. I’ve found my neighborhood soccer field to be a metaphor for Brazilian soccer culture as whole – essentially, organized chaos.
I believe that this organized chaos is a reflection of Brazilian society as a whole, and I hope to provide examples from my daily life in Brazil both on and off the soccer field to support this idea.
Ultimately, I have come to believe that it is this delicate, almost artful balance of disorganization and organization, neglect and attention, anarchy and order that I believe has contributed to Brazil’s soccer success.
*I am speaking about soccer in general as it relates to the culture of the United States and Brazil comparatively.