June 16, 2014

Lose, Win, Live


The 1982 Brazil national football team.

The 1982 Brazil national football team.

Translated into English by Eric M. B. Becker

Carlos Drummond de Andrade, often considered the greatest Brazilian poet of the twentieth century, wrote the following piece, which appeared on July 7, 1982 in the newspaper Jornal do Brasil following Brazil’s World Cup loss before the Italian squad. In it, the author reminds us–perhaps just in time—that soccer is, after all, just a game. Drummond’s text also evokes soccer’s influence in many areas of Brazilian life off the field.

I saw people crying in the streets when the referee blew the final whistle that sealed our defeat; I saw men and women full of hate trampling yellow and green pieces of plastic that only minutes earlier they’d considered sacred; I saw inconsolable drunks who couldn’t understand why their drinks brought no consolation; I saw boys and girls celebrating the defeat so as not to fail to celebrate something, their hearts wired for joy; I saw the team’s tireless, stubborn coach called a lowlife and then burned in effigy, while the player whose many shots missed wide of the goal was declared the ultimate traitor to his country; I saw the news about the man who killed himself in the state of Ceará and the death of hope in many others on account of this sporting failure; I saw the distress of the upper middle class dissolved in Scotch whiskey and, for the same reason, heard deafening cries from children mired in despair; I saw a young man change his tone, accusing his girl of being a jinx; I saw the stifled disappointment of the president, who, as the country’s number one fan, had been preparing for a moment of great personal and national euphoria, after the many disillusions of his government; I saw candidates from the incumbent party stunned at the bad luck that robbed them of a powerful triumph for the campaign trail; I saw the divided opposition parties united by perplexity in the face of a catastrophe that could bring voters to lose enthusiasm for everything, including the elections; I saw the anguish of the makers and sellers of tiny Brazilian flags, pennants, and various symbols of the highly coveted and widely demanded title of four-time world champions now headed, ironically, for the wastebasket; I saw the sadness of street sweepers and maids in apartment buildings as they wiped clean the remains of a hope now extinguished; I saw so many things, I felt so much in every soul…

I’m arriving at the conclusion that defeat, which always catches us unawares in our desire to avoid it and inability to accept it, is, in the end, a means toward renewal. Like victory, it establishes the dialectic game of life. If a series of defeats is crushing, a series of wins plants the seed of our determination’s decay, a post-conquest languor that paralyzes once vital individuals and communities. Losing implies the shedding of dead weight: a new beginning.

Certainly we did everything we could to win this fickle World Cup. But is it enough to give one’s all and then demand fortune deliver an ironclad result? Wouldn’t it make more sense to attribute the ability to transform things and invalidate the most scientific of conclusions to chance, to the imponderable, even to the absurd?

If our team only went to Spain, the land of mythic castles, to bring a cup back in a suitcase as the exclusive and inalienable property of Brazil, what merit is there in this? In reality, we went to Spain due to a love of the uncertain, of the difficult, of imagination, and of risk—-not to nab a stolen prize.

The truth is we haven’t come home empty-handed simply because we didn’t bring back the trophy. We returned with a tangible good, a mastery of the spirit of competition. We vanquished four equally ambitions squads and lost to the fifth. Italy had no obligation to roll over in the face of our genius on the pitch. In a battle of equals, fate’s gaze passed us over. Patience—let’s not transform a single experience, amid many, of life’s volatility into a national crisis.

In losing, after the tear-soaked emotionalism has passed, we reacquire (or acquire, in the case of most) a sense of moderation, of a reality full of contradictions but also rich in possibilities, life as it truly is. We’re not invincible. But we’re also not a bunch of poor wretches destined never to reach greatness, that most relative of values with its tendency to go up in smoke.

I’d like to pat the heads of Telê Santana and his players, his second- and third-stringers, like the unplayed journeyman Roberto Dinamite and to tell them with this gesture what with words alone would be a bit silly and overblown. But this gesture is worth a thousand words, we can feel its tenderness. Oh, Telê! Oh, athletes! Oh, fate! The ‘82 Cup has come to an end, but world has not. Neither has Brazil, with all of its ills and its blessings. And there’s a brilliant sun outside, a sun that belongs to all of us.

And so, dear fans, what do you think about getting to work now that the year’s half over?*


* There’s a common saying in Brazil that any year only begins after Carnaval, and that in a World Cup year, only after the tournament has come to an end.

Carlos Drummond de Andrade is one of the greatest Brazilian poets of the 20th century. In addition to his poetry, he wrote for various Brazilian newspapers and depicted his experience of nine World Cups in verse and in prose.

The above piece, “Perder, Ganhar, Viver,” appears in the collection Quando é dia de Futebol by Carlos Drummond de Andrade – Companhia das Letras, São Paulo, SP
Carlos Drummond de Andrade © Graña Drummond
It is published here with permission of the author’s heirs.

Eric M.B. Becker is a writer and translator from the Portuguese.