Ginga: The Soul of Brazilian Football

By 12 May, 2014

Ginga: The Soul of Brazilian Football, produced by Fernando Meirelles (City of God, The Constant Gardener) and directed by Marcelo Machado (Tropicalia), Hank Levine and Tocha Alves, is an excellent documentary snapshot on what football means to Brazil.

Just add ginga

Ruy Castro, author, journalist and historian, comments: “Brazil’s secret to champion world football is no secret. Brazilian players have ‘ginga’… A special move used to dribble and score… as if there’s no opponent. Brazilians are born with ‘ginga’ and it makes them dream.”

This sounds like artistic licence until you take in the movement, artistry and rhythm in this documentary – its 4-4-2 with added 2/4 time. Movement in Brazilian culture and music is everything and even without the football, this documentary would be engrossing. Indeed, it does for Brazilian culture what Carlos Saura did for flamenco and tango, it gets inside the subject.

What’s ginga?

Ginga (pronounced jeen-gah) is to Brazilian football what soul is to r&b, swing is to jazz and rhubarb is to custard – vital, integral and essential. The origins of it lie in the cultural fusion found in Brazil and the osmotic manner in which it has evolved. Here you see the influence of capoeira (an African martial art, somewhat like a synthesis of t’ai chi and ballet) blended with samba steps and their accompanying drum beat. How does this affect the football? Well, as Robinho remarks: “Strength doesn’t beat wits.” The wits in question are fired by ginga and there is no ginga without movement, rhythm and joy. As one contributor says, “Everyone has their own ginga.”

Good movers make good shakers

This film isn’t the usual eulogy to Brazilian football. It’s more grounded than that. It follows 10 devotees of the beautiful game (Romarinho, Sergio, Natalie, Paulo César, Celuso, Wescley, Garrincha, Karine, Alessandro Rosa Vieira/Falcão and Robinho) and reflects not just their love of football but the vagaries of the footballing dream. It is deferred, compromised, lost and realised, but whatever the background of the participants – they come from all sectors of society – the thing they all have in common is the desire to dream.

Many are called, few are chosen

The film’s first subject Romarinho is a 16-year-old from Rocinha, a Rio favela, who plays for local junior team Estela Vermelha but harbours ambitions to play for Flamengo. The road to glory can be painfully long or short. His mother, Lilia, talks of the 20-plus trials he has had with Flamengo and others. “It pisses me off,” she says, “I know he is good but they say he is too short. It kills me.”

Romarinho, though, despite the obvious odds, is wise and resolute beyond his years. “We have many good players here, ” he says, “but they never get a chance.” Luckily for Romarinho, Flamengo’s coach, Vincentinho, puts the emphasis on skill. In one scene Romarinho, playing in the street, curls the ball in a perfect arc around his opponent’s legs. It’s positively Bergkampian.

Different routes – same destination

Where Romarinho plays on dirt or concrete, Sergio, a middle class 16-year-old from São Paulo, has access to pristine grass pitches, indoor sports arenas and a private education. Yet he, too, is reflective. “We just follow behind.” He notes, looking at some phenomenal tricks on Youtube. “The good ones usually come from the bottom.” he adds. His mission is out of a love for the game. Luckily, sport unlike other fields of endeavour, is now largely meritocratic.

Magic in the time of markets

To illustrate the all-embracing nature of ginga and football, the film features Natalie, a Rio-based web designer, who plays foot-volley on the beaches of Copacabana. In a further dash across the social matrix, there is Paulo César, the grandson of a former Corinthians player of the ’50s. His efforts, though, have a different imperative. He earns pocket money for keeping watch over people’s cars. When you hear the coach of São Paulo’s Associação Portuguesa de Desportos, say: “The market puts the emphasis on strength over technique. The equation is 70% strength and 30% technique,” you fear that Paulo Cesar’s entreaty to the divine had better result in a miracle. Similarly, for Celuso, who plays for Águia Dourada (Paricatuba, near Manaus) in the Pelado, the largest of the amateur football leagues, a visit to spiritualist, Mãe Zulmira, seems forlorn in the face of such odds.

Random selection

The adage that life isn’t fair applies with particular pointedness in the case of Wescely. A week before he was due to have a trial with Vasco da Gama, he was hit by a car which mounted the pavement outside a bar that was showing a major match. He was standing on the pavement because he couldn’t afford the 1 real entry fee. He lost his left leg. Despite being on crutches, he’s a footballing marvel who still has ambitions. Through the agency and assistance of Niteroi’s Associação Niteroiense dos Deficientes Físicos (ANDEF), he’s set his sight on the Paralympics.

Total football

There are further contributions from Garrincha, a Salvador da Bahia-based capoeira tutor and would-be professional footballer; Alessandro Rosa Vieira, known as Falcão, a futsal player from Jaraguá do Sul, Santa Catrina, thrice voted the world’s best futsal player (2004, 2006 and 2011); Karine from São Paulo, who is just a phenomenon at keepie uppie and likes cakes, and finally, an example of the apotheosis of the footballing dream, Robinho, who went on to play for Santos, Real Madrid, Manchester City, AC Milan and Brazil.

Ode to joy

Falcão, who switched briefly from futsal to grass to play for São Paulo Futebol Clube, alludes to the fact that ginga is not inviolable. It is only there because people wish it to be there. He speaks of the space, speed and technique of futsal but stresses, “Brazil’s football needs more Robinhos, Denilsons and Ronaldinho Gaúchos. All have a joyful style.”

The film finishes with Robinho visiting his first coach Beto – Betinho, who managed him when he played as an 8-year-old at the Beira-Mar Club. They sit down to watch a video of Robinho in 1992 doing what great players do, run rings round mere mortals.

It’s an excellent documentary and is well complemented by striking artwork from Os Gêmeos and music by Edson X and others. If anything can get the ginga going it is that beat – it could animate freshly installed titanium.

Ginga is released by and available from Amazon

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