In the minutes before Tite announced his squad for Qatar, the Brazilian football confederation had a message to deliver, and it was not subtle. They chose this moment, with the nation watching, to air a two-minute campaign video celebrating Brazil’s famous yellow shirt.
The advert includes a clip from a song by Lulu Santos with the chorus “She makes me feel so good”, referring to the jersey.
“Our main goal is to show that everyone can feel good wearing the Selecao’s shirt,” said Ednaldo Rodrigues, the federation’s president.
It is a remarkable claim. Why would fans need reassurance over wearing one of the most popular and famous kits in football history?
The answer is simple: Jair Bolsonaro. In recent years, the amarelinha – or the little yellow – has become the emblem of Brazil’s far-right president and his supporters. The controversy is such that when Nike launched Brazil’s home and away World Cup kits in August, the first one to sell out was the blue change of strip.
The Brazilian confederation is under no illusion that it has a major task to dissociate the shirt from politics, even after Bolsonaro’s defeat in the presidential run-off election last month, but its job has been made more difficult because of Neymar’s involvement in the Bolsonaro campaign.
As the Selecao prepare for their opening World Cup game against Serbia today, the issue has become bigger than the shirt.
It is no longer a matter of whether fans will feel able to wear the yellow shirt again, but whether they can actually support a team with Neymar in it.
“How can you root for the Brazil of Neymar, despite Neymar?” asked
Sandro Macedo, a columnist for Folha de Sao Paulo, the country’s largest newspaper.
It has never been a secret that a number of the Brazil team support Bolsonaro, but the Paris St Germain forward went even further in the last elections.
After Neymar recorded a TikTok video announcing that he would be backing Bolsonaro, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the rival candidate, hit back by claiming the forward was afraid that “what Bolsonaro pardoned from his income tax debt” would emerge. Neymar reacted to that by sharing a post on his Instagram story the following day that was ultimately flagged as fake news.
And the 30-year-old did not stop there: a couple of days later, he appeared as a special guest on the president’s live stream, saying that he would vote for him because they shared the same values.
“We cherish our families, our people, our children, so that’s why I decided to speak up. I saw that Brazil needed this from me, because it would help a lot of people. And from now on I invite everyone who has not taken a stand to take a stand, because you have the freedom to express your feelings and values,” he said.
Neymar added that he “felt in his heart” that he needed to give back the support he received from Bolsonaro “in the most difficult moment of his life”.
In 2019, the president came out publicly in defence of the player when he was accused of sexually assaulting a Brazilian model. The case was eventually dropped but Bolsonaro’s support was not forgotten.
None of this directly affected Brazil, but then the No 10 promised to dedicate his first World Cup goal to Bolsonaro and celebrate with the ‘22’ gesture, a reference to the number of the president’s party.
The striker has not spoken since about it, but as the Serbia match approaches there are nerves as to whether he’ll go ahead with his celebration now that Bolsonaro has been defeated.
If he does, it will put to bed any effort made so far by the Brazilian FA to depoliticise the amarelinha. Not to mention the impact of such a gesture in a divided country that is in the process of falling in love again with the team, thanks to a much more attractive playing style.
“Neymar may be the guy who will stand out in the World Cup. He may even win the sixth title for Brazil and be named the Ballon d’Or, but this stain of supporting a fascist and helping him, trying to deceive the Brazilian society with fake news, there will never be a way to clean up the mess that this awful Brazilian citizen has made,” said former international Walter Casagrande, now a popular football pundit.
When the Brazilian team take to the pitch this evening against Serbia in the Lusail Stadium (7.0pm tonight), all eyes will be on Neymar.
Once again, not exactly for the expected reasons.
Telegraph Media Group Limited