‘Dunga surveys the scene but, unlike Brian Kerr, doesn’t shout "Jaysus" when his defenders miss their near post headers’
Published 02/03/2010 | 05:00
Even at the tender age of 36, it is never too late to experience what it must be like in the mosh pit of a Westlife concert.
Except this is the bowels of Arsenal's Emirates Stadium and we are waiting for the Brazilians to arrive into the mixed zone. Several journalists are facing imminent expiration by suffocation; Arsene Wenger is smiling surreptitiously to himself from an upstairs window at the indignity.
We had been told that the Samba Boys, undergoing the latest in a series of global stopovers, would be pitching up at 2.30. Then, 3.30. At 3.30, a nice man tells us that the bus is just leaving the Dorchester. We must wait another hour We remain rooted to a standing position. In the jungle of arm-stretching and dictaphone prodding, maintaining one's station is key. We wait. And wait.
Suddenly, a gold tracksuit appears. "Rodrigo, Rodrigo," people shout. Rodrigo is a haggard-looking fellow who, you fancy, likes a coffin nail or three. Looks a bit old to be a player.
Except he's the press officer. "They are late and will not stop much to speak much," he emits. And still we linger. A pressing call of nature does not deter. Kaka arrives. Inches from us.
We extend the arm. He smiles. He speaks ... Portuguese! He says "Copa" and "Campeo" a lot. A nice lady who works for a magazine in Sao Paolo and professes ignorance of football helpfully translates. And we thought football was a universal language.
England are strong, she says. So are Italy. And Portugal. And the Ivory Coast. Everyone is strong, it seems. Ireland? Another helpful Brazilian passes on a message from the ultra-religious Real Madrid playmaker.
"I know the referee is not an important issue tomorrow night," he apparently says. "The important game is over for Ireland. I know that Thierry Henry is not a malicious guy. It was an instinctive movement from him, the situation was quite unfortunate. But it happened. It is sad that Ireland are not going to the World Cup. But it is over."
Gilberto Silva is back on home turf, the artisan discarded by Wenger but now pivotal to a Brazilian side's World Cup hopes. Funny old game. "He speaks English," someone cries. Eureka!
"I think it will be a challenge," he says of the game. Unlike Roy Keane, he can't let go of Henry-gate. Actually, it's us who won't let him go until he tells us to let it go. "I'm sorry for them because they are not qualified for the World Cup but tomorrow will be a good match and good preparation for us for next summer. As a last game, we can expect a very good match.
"I didn't watch the game, I just watched the goals and I am sorry for them because they didn't qualify, because they fought for it. But sometimes a mistake can happen and referees can do it.
"It will be a good match as they have always been against Ireland. In our side, we are building to end our friendly matches in the best way possible. Of course, that won't be easy because it has always been hard to play against Ireland.
"But I'm sure we can do a good job. It should be a good game."
This is Brazil's last friendly before their World Cup squad is announced. Will Ireland, minus Richard Dunne, John O'Shea et al, provide a sufficiently stern test? The polite Panathinaikos midfielder scoffs, clearly oblivious to the presence of Paul McShane in the Irish XI.
"Even though they are not there, the players who can come in want to show they can be part of the starting 11. It is always like this. Those players will do their best."
From McShane, the mosh pit segues effortlessly, if a tad sweatily, on to the subject of Wayne Rooney. It is perhaps the only time both players will ever be mentioned in the same breath.
"I can say he is at the same level as Kaka and Lionel Messi," says Gilberto. He speaks of Rooney, sadly, not McShane. "Year by year he is becoming better, he is more experienced and I'm sure he can do very well."
From the mixed zone, the besotted internees ascend the steps towards the pitch. Brazil, samba masters, purveyors of the jogo bonito, the beautiful game, are instead, merely dutiful. They are practising set-pieces, endlessly.
Dunga surveys the scene from a distance. The diminutive one is wearing a green tracksuit but, unlike Brian Kerr, doesn't shout "Jaysus" when his defenders miss their near-post headers.
After the session, his first question assails him as if proffered by one of the TV3 'Expose' mob. "Are you the most important person in the world?" someone gushes quite hysterically. Dunga demurs. We ask about Ireland. "They are very motivated, a very strong team," he offers. "They will be a great opponent for us. They are not going to the World Cup but it is not their fault.
"I think that Mr Trapattoni is a great coach. He is an exceptional coach and he has won a lot of trophies with a lot of different teams."
But, as Dunga admits, the pressure will always be on Brazil. Dunga, schooled in Italian pragmatism and dismissive of former cavalier Brazilian under-achievers, borrows from the Trap philosophy.
"In Brazil, football is an extraordinary thing," he says. "But the most important thing is always the result, not speaking about it. It's not about what you like, or what other people like. It is about who plays on the pitch. We don't operate only on talent, but always on results."
With that, the Chevy Chase lookalike that is Rodrigo brings the chaotic proceedings to a halt. Brazil have left the building. As wonderfully inscrutable and as untouchable as ever.