I love soccer.
It’s an obsession. I don’t just watch or play soccer; I live it.
Soccer has always been my favorite sport to play and watch on TV. This summer is especially exciting because of the World Cup, a tournament where the top 32 national teams compete for the most prestigious trophy in the game. This competition takes place only once every four years, so it’s quite a special occasion for soccer supporters such as myself.
But this summer, there’s one issue: the USA didn’t qualify for the World Cup. This is incredibly disappointing because I will not have the chance to watch my favorite country play in my favorite spectacle in sports. That being said, other top teams like Italy, the Netherlands, and South American champions Chile also failed to qualify— it happens to every country at some point.
Well, almost every country.
There is one country that has played in every World Cup: Brazil. Brazil are also the only team to win the tournament 5 times— they’ve won one quarter of all World Cups in history. Besides the USA, they are my favorite team to watch, and I believe they will win this World Cup. I love Brazil because they are the team that made me love soccer. I love their playing style, but more importantly, I love their players.
Make no mistake, Brazil are anything but a dynasty. Brazil were humiliated at home when they lost to Germany 7-1 in the semifinal of the previous World Cup.
Just as the team has struggled, so have the individual players.
Take Gabriel Jesus.
Jesus is the starting striker this summer, even though at the time of the last tournament he had barely turned 17 years old. Jesus was born in a favela, or a São Paulo slum, like the one tattooed on his arm. Like many Brazilian boys, Jesus played soccer constantly. And he was really good at it. Apparently, his mother realized her son was special the first time she tried to stop him from playing soccer.
One night, when he was young, Jesus stayed out late playing soccer instead of studying. When his Mom told him she would take his ball away, Jesus shrieked, “You can’t do that!” After explaining that she was sorry and that she only doing what was best for her son, Jesus seemed confused, saying again, “Mom, really, you can’t do that.” As his mother reached for the ball, Jesus promptly passed it through her legs, laughed, and then did it again. “See, you can’t take it!”
Like Jesus, when I first told this tale, I didn’t understand why his mother would want him to stop playing soccer. It wasn’t until a few years ago when Jesus joined Manchester City — my favorite club — that I heard the full story.
Like most Brazilian boys born in São Palo favelas, Jesus and his brothers were raised by a single mother. Most Brazilian boys are supposed to support their families by finding a job at around age 8 or 9. But playing soccer meant Jesus wouldn’t be able to work... which subsequently meant Jesus’s mother needed to work twice as hard. Jesus eventually got a job painting streets, but this wasn’t until he stopped school and began playing professionally as a teenager. Throughout his childhood, his mother bounced between 2 or 3 jobs, so she wasn’t around much. But she always took the time to call Jesus before games— especially once he moved away to play professional for a top team across the country.
Successful South American soccer stars are celebrities. It’s tough to compare them to American athletes, but let’s put it this way: you know how we see ballers on big billboards in the cities they play in? Well, former street painter Gabriel Jesus’s face is plastered on big buildings. The former street painter now has a mural overlooking a field in his hometown— which is fitting, because for Brazilians,
a field is a canvas and the game is art. The Brazilian national team coined the phrase joga bonita, or the beautiful game. Their players are not just winners, they’re entertainers. They keep the ball. They do tricks. They rip shots. They celebrate like little kids dancing in the streets. They unapologetically enjoy playing soccer. And they never forget their humble beginnings.
There is probably no one who embodies this sentiment more than Jesus. You’ll be hard pressed to find a smile more sincere than Jesus’s when he passes a ball through a defender’s legs, then puts it past the keeper in the corner of the net, and finishes with his signature celebration: calling his Mom.
Immortalized in the mural above, Jesus’s iconic celebration involves holding his hand to his ear like a phone after every goal and shouting Aloe Mae!, meaning Hi Mom!, at a camera.
In my playing days, I mimicked his signature celebration. I mimicked his beautiful game, too. I played striker. I ripped shots. I did tricks that didn’t always work. And most of all, I had fun.
That’s why I want Brazil to win this afternoon, as well as why I want them to win the World Cup: to stay in touch with friends; to stay in touch with myself; to remind myself to work hard; to remind myself to enjoy; to remind myself that I can be great.
Enjoy. Improve. Persevere.
Because that’s what Brazil’s all about.
I love soccer.