In Search of Punditaria
An anthropologist heads into the jungle to discover a society founded by stranded football journalists
Emerging from a fever that might have lasted several minutes or months, Wim Dahlmann blinked intently into a violent tropical light, rubbed his eyes vigorously, then peered through the scintillating air at his doctor's beatific, lunar face, before promptly falling into a more restful sleep. Upon awakening, he spent a week convalescing under the benign shade of the jacarandas that guarded the old mission hospital of Itaituba from the chaos of the jungle beyond, eating with ever less obligation and slowly restoring his body to its former convictions. He then set his mind to the puzzle that had brought him this far.
Pacing down the wide, cool corridor one final time, only the humming fans perturbing the drab reassurance of its viscous air, he poked his head in on Carlos, his neighbour. Intoning solemnly that all Men of Knowledge would find something within, he handed Wim a book — a Portuguese translation, the spine of which had long abandoned its rectilinear form ("verticality", the Peruvian called it) and with that the requirement of holding things together, its title embossed in black on the rough orange canvas: Os Ensinamentos de Dom João. Dahlmann spent his last 10 minutes on the makeshift pontoon flicking back and forth through the parched leaves (noting that page 14 was missing altogether) while the boat that would take him upriver docked in an elegant half-turn of controlled deceleration in the manner he had seen Bergkamp perform hundreds of times before: receiving the ball back to goal, he would, with eerie Newtonian intuition, bring his overeager marker to a momentary standstill (like some Regency grandfather clock pivoted precipitously to the top of a flight of stairs), then, gravity ceding to celerity, swivel away and fire off his unerringly accurate darts (unerring as his memory was erratic).
That apparition, and the purpose of his journey, reminded him of the uncomplicated and vast joy that football had once provided him, a joy later asphyxiated by pragmatism and the iron imperatives of money. (Even winning would eventually lose out to money.) Dahlmann had been a midfield anchorman onto whom were projected various Calvinist virtues, but whose uncanny positioning was as much compelled by his own morbid fear of shooting as any big-picture acumen ("less Blind than blind" he would joke, many years later). There came a time, a few months before his teenage retirement, when he could do nothing in possession save pass square or backwards. De Krab, they called him. But that ordeal belonged to a previous life, for he was now an anthropologist of renown, with tenure at the LSE and a string of well-regarded publications to his name.
It was recollecting the impact of Dahlmann's earliest papers on football hooliganism and the magic of their conversations on the Ajax terraces that an old postgraduate friend, sympathetic to the vectors of academic eccentricity and now editor of De Telegraaf, had commissioned him to cover the 2014 World Cup, writing colour pieces, reportage, following his nose like some old New World creator. His brief was to seek out the sacred in football just as, during two decades' research in ethnobotany, he had sought it in nature's primordial bounty. "Where better than Brazil?"
Mindful of the paradox that as scientific understanding of the world — and he included football in that — increases, so, all too often, pleasure diminishes, he nonetheless hoped profoundly to see a carnivalesque tournament unravel and, in unravelling it, that he might rediscover the raptures of his youth. Yet barely four days into his assignment — 540 minutes — Wim had wearied of the Machiavellian football and its insincere, technocratic exigencies and concluded that there was no rainbow to unweave. Sat cross-legged and despondent on the floor of his Cuiabá hotel room — the centre of the continent — like some penalty-shanker or scuffer inconsolable in the centre circle, contemplating football's growing monoculture with resignation, it occurred to him (with a little help from Caetano Veloso) that the stultifying football was far less interesting than the myriad professional watchers and gabblers and silk-purse makers following this tournament like pilot fish round a great shark. So, the next morning, with editorial blessing, Dahlmann booked himself on a flight to Salvador where, a day later, England, the game's senescent dreamers (in the sense of fantasists; fantasists in the pathological sense, rather than footballing fantasistas), would face Côte d'Ivoire in a ticklish must-not-lose game.
No sooner had he crabbed along to his window seat than he became involved in one of those conversations so engaging and pregnant that its early niceties were leapfrogged for some future encounter. Dahlmann gave a moderate though unambiguous account of the angst, the ennui that had recently overtaken him, his futile search for an irruption of creativity in the timorous systematicity, sparking a gunpowder trail to his neighbour's synapses. Off he went, speaking ostensibly of football yet invoking only patterns, shapes, affinities, compensations, illustrating the rat-a-tat theorems with baroque diagrams. The Dutchman moaned that no-one seems to want to beat their man any more, to take the initiative, to dance, that it was all speed and counter-attack; his companion started to chide him using Viktor Maslov's observations about planes and streamlining when, 35,000 feet above the Mato Grosso, the Tu-154 suddenly began to shake and tremble in what they assumed was a heavy thunderstorm (all resistance in the electric skies) forcing the flight to reroute through Brasilia. After an hour or so on the tarmac — an hour to contemplate the rickety old Russian plane allocated to this C-route skyway — they soared up again above Lúcio Costa's plane-shaped city, over the shimmering menorah of Lake Paranoá (enough time for a spectral Bergkamp to ask his countryman whether an 'I' was missing), then on to Salvador. He separated from his nameless companion, caught a cab to his pastel-hued Pelourinho pousada, then set off uphill toward the Fonte Nova, shimmying through the throngs of inky, pink men tipping schooners of cerveja down necks like blancmange.
The game, predictably, was dismal. Roy Hodgson deployed his team in a Scanglonavian 4-4-2 as rigid as English sex and Swedish furniture, while Côte d'Ivoire looked haunted and indeed played as though their pallid opponent were ghosts, succumbing 1-0. (To another ghost in the Sun, Jimmy Rodnipp frothed: "Côte d'Ivoire — it's like Spain calling itself Bullfighting".) But the truth is that the game itself and the engorged punditariat milling about it — the tippy-tappy-typists; the pitchside mic paparazzo, arms frozen like some bronze Stalinist homage to ale-quaffers; the studio opinioneers, legs asplay and knees bumping in the budget airline overintimacy of the seats — were of less concern than the accumulating omens: Maslov, the aerial view of Brasilia, Bergkamp. So, rather than head to Manaus for the Group C decider, Dahlmann ensconced in Salvador a few days, a decision that would prove to be his saviour.
He had read somewhere that reality favours symmetries and slight anachronisms, and it was there, listening to Caetano Veloso in the window seat of an omnibus — around the time charter flight VAR4231, carrying the bulk of English football punditry, plunged into the bowels of the Amazonian rainforest before the 2014 World Cup had produced enough goals for even a mediocre Goal of the Tournament — that Dahlmann met Oswald de Andrade, a man who knew much about the soul of Brazil and, ipso facto, its football. Dahlmann told his new friend about his task and his quest — the search for jogo bonito, for brazilliance, for knowledge — while Oswald (whose burnished face was, Wim noted, the precise shape of his name's initial letter) explained how the Europeanisation of Brazilian football was "both neo-colonialism and sell-out". They graduated to caipirinhas, following the England squad inadvertently into The Cockpit, a bar whose staff wore the (decidedly skimpy) cabin crew uniform of some erotic airline, where Oswald discoursed hither and thither about how, though "puritans" traduced Brazilian football as individualist circus, its flicks and feints and swerves and dribbles were not cosmetic showboating but a molecular dismantling of the opposition. Wim wasn't sure he knew exactly what his Socratic interlocutor meant (he would) but, upon the resumption of his gonzo "metajournalism", invited his new friend to accompany him along his nomadic interary, after which — partly in the name of research, partly to relive prodigious Amsterdam coffee-shop summers — he headed out with Oswald beyond the hackneyed corruptions of the city to spend a week with Carlos, a shaman, imbibing the sacred ayahuasca, or yagé (the basis of "Tropic and Psychotropic", the paper he delivered when he returned to the LSE).
He and Oswald maintained a vigorous correspondence — about Brazil's syncretic football, about transcendence and Spinoza's immanent God (Oswald had never sailed entirely from the harbour of his mother's Catholicism), all the unholy mixtures that once appalled Dahlmann's taxonomic temperament — until, some eighteen months after Rio's absurd final, Oswald mentioned in passing that a drawing of a cross had been found washed ashore in Itaituba. The Brazilian had interpreted that symbol as a sign of anthropophagy: "the indigenous peoples of the Amazon disgorging the cross as they had once rejected the Roman church and the Creoles' attempts to civilise them." However, contrary to both poetic and reasoned judgement, Dahlmann knew (or felt) instantly that the English pundits had somehow survived; that the sketch was a football formation, a 4-1-1-3-1 not a crucifix, and that the man he had met on the plane — who spoke of "balance", the need for "an attacking defensive midfielder" and "a defensive defensive midfielder" — was responsible. He asked Oswald what was on the back. "It says 'Maslow', alongside a V and A, upper case, with a picture of a triangle and 'self-actualisation' written above." Dahlmann flew out to Rio the next day, eventually rendezvousing with Oswald, there on the banks of the Tapajós while skim-reading Os Ensinamentos.
Spurred on by that solitary clue, anthropological curiosity and a simple sense of adventure, the two men rode the steamboat 70km south, disembarking at Jacareacanga where, under a brilliant orange sky, they made camp alongside the mercury river, then at sunrise headed into the oblivious forest, following its scent of autochthonous rumour. For five long days they pushed on beneath the unyielding canopy, pursued by a flotilla of flesh-nibbling flies, by bugs eavesdropping on lengthy disquisitions on Dutch and Brazilian football, the chafing of old dichotomies. Dahlmann's grandfather was a German soldier who had helped the Dutch Resistance before settling beside the shattered frontier of Baarle-Nassau; his grandson had entered the world in that same town on 30 July 1966 — while his father (paradoxically) organised a Provo happening — and had always considered himself profoundly Dutch. Yet now he told Oswald he wished he were more Brazilian; the Brazilian affirmed that he wished to escape the question itself since "the nation is an invention, a convention", then asked, gnomically, "Do we create the nation or does the nation create us?"
Wim, in that old habit of his, shadowed his slippery, probing companion and was about to assert that the latter was true, that without system there was chaos, when the malandro told the anthropologist (who was now unsure whether they were talking about football or society): "When you are one-on-one with an assailant, Wim, no knowledge of the law is going to help you. More to the point, the Law won't help you; not in that moment. You have to think and act there, on the spot. Jeitinho. Brasilia doesn't run this forest, the insects do…"
"See, system. There must be some order".
"Order, yes," he told the anarchist's son, yawning now, "but no boss. Wim, you must learn from the forest," prompting Dahlmann to ponder the seasonal expansion and abscission of the foliage, its balance of photosynthesis and respiration, which of course evoked in him the pulsating choreography — the ecology of totaalvoetbal.
At dawn on the sixth day, with supplies approaching half-time turnaround, they reached a high ridge and surveyed the ungodly wilderness, impervious even to Google's godlike gaze. Oswald chose a moment — or perhaps simply ran out of them — to inform his companion that, being mestiço, he could scarcely guarantee his own safety with the occasionally flesh-eating Tupi tribes of the region, let alone his. The thought didn't seem to concern Dahlmann as much as intruding unwittingly into some checkpointless animal territory there in the heaving acreage, and it was while distractedly and unhelpfully contemplating ants that could strip a body in hours, snakes the size of a goal frame, that they stumbled across the head of the former Magpies marksman Alain Chirà (despite the Gallic name, as English, as north-eastern, as Hetton-le-Hole) impaled on a spear. Whether this was the work of Tupi or the pundits was uncertain, but with the receding shock both agreed it was a sign of life beyond.
They found a stream and followed it to a clearing where sunlight attained the penumbral floor in exhausted shafts; there they discovered strange markings which, to their astonishment, revealed themselves as a compact football pitch: the centre circle, the box, penalty spots… They sat in silence — mournful silence — a few minutes there on the geoglyph of (they felt sure) a lost civilisation, before noticing technical areas, then a dugout in which two rows of six seats salvaged from the rent fuselage had been installed. They saw a mixed zone, and above, remarkably, the "Heath Robinson Press Box" with guarana, breadfruit, pineapple and peanuts laid out alongside a complaints box ("bit exposed"). Out back was a twine ladder which Dahlmann climbed in awed silence up to a high-angled platform — a TV gantry, perhaps — beyond which extended a system of runways providing a bird's-eye-view of the game: the interaction of heads not faces.
Suddenly, there was a rustle in the leaves, startling the men as might a crypt opening in a chapel. "Welcome to Estadio El Dorado," boomed a dishevelled figure with the disconcerting and unseemly pride of a despot showing dignitaries around an arena that only yesterday had hosted a public stoning. Wary, the explorers — the scientists — kept their distance. "How many are you?" "A somewhat bloated squad of 81," joked Henry Summer, salaciously, "trimmed down to 47."
Faces appeared, additions to the already mindboggling biodiversity: TV pundits, gnarled reporters of tabloid and broadsheet, columnists, generalists, scoop-hunters, quote-harvesters, angle-finders, insight-mongers, tittle-tattlers, pluck-filled platitude merchants and a clutch of Europeans bringing je ne sais quoi that trumped the Anglos' x-factor. They had survived, Dahlmann learned, through rudimentary silviculture, fishing (Dean Dublin assiduously working the channel that flanked the stadium), and foraging and hunting excursions overseen by the Napoleonic Garton Strychnine: "when our lead man stops to explore, the man behind bombs on, right, so no mobile food source escapes."
It turned out that their fatal confrontation with the cannibals had been deferred indefinitely by a simple homeostatic mechanism: Tupi mythology spoke of the arrival of "a roaring white bird that speaks in flames", creating a perhaps undue wariness for the largely harmless hacks (here, the sword was mightier than the pen); conversely, the embryonic lore of the pundits' proto-society had not yet codified its Götterdämmerung, though news of Chirà's skewered head was incontrovertible evidence of their encirclement by hostile forces and served to cauterise professional rivalries, all bound by the hope of their deliverance.
Once the basic exigencies of staying alive had been tended, other urges clamoured. Yet while the insistences of sexual reproduction — the siring of punditos — were still a distant throb ("We don't know how long we're going to be here," joked or hoped Libby Grogan. "Amazonia might be ravaged before we are.") the currency of social reproduction, storytelling, was ubiquitous. Night after night they gathered to relive great games they had played in, seen, read about — presenting a whole new anxiety for some among these folk paid to talk about football. Here, a prosaic footballer and his pedestrian yarns turned him into a potential meal. Yet it wasn't this orality that convinced Dahlmann the pundits had regressed to a sort of primitivism so much as the fact that the spotlight was circulated, as though to ward off the consolidation of prestige. "Acephalous society," he underlined, a curious tribesman peering over his shoulder. "It means 'headless'," he told Bobby Savage, scribbling on: "The paradox of Cruyff, the great leader whose power, on the cusp of being instituted and made absolute, was snuffed out by an act of regicide/group suicide."
But this was no anarchist arcadia. Sharing what was likely to be the sole plane crash of their lives had not been sufficient to engender conviviality. Displaying that inexhaustible human capacity for division, even from the most seemingly homogenous of materials (far easier to love a person who hates football than one who likes it in the wrong way), this group of globetrotting fitbaphiles soon fissured along lines dictated not by clubs, nor even their publications' market or ideology (not consciously, anyway), but simple taste, positional proclivities — those who regarded the heartbeat of the team to be the mystical 10, the enganche, and others favouring deep-lying playmakers (the regististas). Factions were formed, idols carved; blood was shed over whether the channel should be named Danube or River Plate.
As the alluvium of their early socialisation — the jockeying and harrying, striving and suppressing — slowly sedimented, a hierarchy — albeit a hierarchy with latitude for social mobility — began to form. Decisions needed to be taken — on hunting, sacrifice, the ever-present question of attacking the Tupi — and so initiation rites were established. To acquire a vote, one had to name the England World Cup-winning XI; to enter the Supreme Council, full starting XIs for every post-war winner. An intelligentsia formed: polymaths and polyglots, soft of skin and hair (despite the loss of their lotions and balms, their ointments and unguents), in whom it had been embedded that an environment was to be tamed, dominated. Others, the pinch of acquiescent proletarianism still recent (and about whom Dahlmann had written, ungenerously, in De Telegraaf: "condemned by circumstance to bruit the hot air of rumour and outrage, ballasted only by degrees of plausibility in the tavern tribunals"), skulked resignedly on the margins.
Little of the teeming jungle and its intense psychedelic syncopations had managed much to perforate the husk of Englishness that clung to these men, men who knew little except football — about which they knew little — and felt that, if they were to remain themselves (a dubious goal), they would need to keep Football close at hand. But the saudade was implacable, and from this number crawled the first to be tipped over the edge by the forest's mad cackle and hoot, its nocturnal opera of proximate death, night air refulgent with predatory intent. Others bore the agitated, darting expressions of men weary of the cynical daily blather who realised that defending who they were for grim life was a fate far worse then accepting some psychic recalibration in order, perhaps, to slough off what they had, despite themselves, become. These were not trivial moments in their lives.
Soon the more or less arbitrary origins of the initiates' royal prerogative were forgotten and all settled into the new castes. It was a simple question of survival. For the ex-pros, fame evaporating as quickly as a puddle in the tropical sun, it was arduous. Savage clung to civilisation by conducting imaginary radio phone-ins, game hacks playing the mad suburban barkers stewing in self-evident truths: "He's claimed his stake in the team, naaah!" they shrieked. Chirà — only on VAR4231 because he was commandeered to make a short feature on Manaus Opera House before jetting back to the Copacabana studio — was already struggling with the storytelling demands when, at his suffrage hearing, he cracked as someone tried prompting him with "wingless wonders" (whether it was the trauma of the plummeting aircraft or the prospect of not getting decent service disappeared with him). "He just ran blind into the jungle, elbowing and trampling the vines out of the way," shuddered Leigh Nixon. "We never saw him alive again."
Memory exhausted, their confabulation shifted to hypothetical games — albeit between real teams: an anachronistic Mundial of Great Losers. Pre-tournament predictions were laboured over (Hungary '54, Netherlands '74, Brazil '82, France or Denmark '86?); each game was the subject of minute debate; a troop of tame marmosets obliged the punctiliousness of the higher primates' reverie by running through attacks while, up in the gods, each movement and pass was meticulously mapped. The arrow-strewn chalkboards became the object of velliomancy — divination by arrows — for the need had arisen for some belief to keep the circumambient terrors of the forest at bay. If the pundits hadn't been superstitious when they arrived in Brazil then the decision to show Castaway as VAR4231's in-flight movie took on, retroactively, a heavy significance — a significance that told them that, hereafter, they needed to be able to read the signs, the jungle semiology, if ever they were going to make it out alive. So everything, even the pathways travelled by footballers, became pregnant with meaning.
It was in the torrid aftermath of that tournament that this society of wannabe gaffers, these thousand-yard-stare merchants — social media reduced to the crazed gesticulations of the technical area prowlings — suffered fresh upheaval. Mooching in the plane's carcass, Nixon found a ball — a volleyball. An impromptu kickabout started among the plebeian '4-4-2 Crew', yet some thought it sacrilege to play. Before any referendum could take place, however, Michel Cockx confiscated the supernatural orb and placed it in a glass case atop a cairn of Varig crates. They named it Wilson, this apotheosis, then returned — imperceptibly changed — to the old concerns. The quest for formal perfection led them to end the recollected matches and instead run training sessions (while Rodnipp and Nixon cultivated a capoeira-like half-dance, half-football), strutting like martinets after the marmosets. After a while, sloth set in and training was jettisoned; instead, they pondered how to structure hypothetical sessions, what drills to do, what video work, team-talks. Discussing imaginary matches was one thing but conducting imaginary training sessions when they had a real ball was too much for the taciturn, brooding Ray Cain, who followed Chirà into the wilderness, inward into that heart of darkness.
And it was from that darkness that Oswald and Dahlmann emerged, although intellectual fascination (and a certain amount of prurience) saw to it that they soon forgot about any rescue act, happy instead to observe the curious social mechanisms the pundits had elaborated. Dahlmann involved himself where he could, reading nightly from Ensinamentos, until, out foraging one afternoon, he discovered, serendipitously, the active ingredient for yagé. "This will sort the men from the boys," he chuckled, decocting the sacred vine that evening while Oswald briefed the pundits on its oneiric rigours and (assuming that those who had survived this long were in some way adaptable, supple) asked whether they were ready to follow the exhortations of their id, to leap into the unknown, to become psychonauts charting the uncertain seas in a quest for knowledge.
A new tournament was convoked — true fantasy football. Dahlmann and Oswald were glad Brazil and Holland couldn't be separated in the previous final (over which Tim Hickory and Simeon Kuiper had to be separated) but here there would be no nations — only composite teams from all epochs, all countries, picked for any promiscuous rationale whatever and open to all strata, who would then be obliged to hallucinate passages of the game before each decisive moment (almost every second second, it transpired) would go to tribunal. There would be pre-match disclosure of formations, of the psychological fault lines and breaking points of each player, whose irrationality would be vacuum-packed in the watertight reason of the pundits so that the games could proceed on a purely logical basis (everyone immediately felt they knew for certain precisely what this meant, immediately giving rise to several conceptions). Would this be the moment for a Cruyff turn? Did he try it? Did he succeed? Everything was scrupulously fair, yet laborious.
The night of the first game, Dahlmann, limiting his interventions to the strictly scientific (the brew) and experimental (the Teachings, his quest), told these sedentary psychic nomads that the first enemy of the Man of Knowledge is Fear. "We cling to what we think is permanent," he whispered (he didn't want to spook Roy Welkins, then boarding his vessel). "We believe we stand among stable things: identity, values, credos. 'I know what I like,' we gush, not seeing it as the death of potential, of learning, of becoming. In flight from flight. What if nations are an obstacle to human freedom? Could we forsake our World Cup fix?"
The yagé was to be taken ad nauseam, the games dissected ad infinitum. No matter, for Time had ceased to mean anything: memory was superfluous, the future impossible to conceive as distinct from the present. After a couple of months of this — each step anticipated, each stroke of genius matched, all chaos excised under the unanimous sky — they had conjured five consecutive 0-0 draws. They had wrestled with and cast off the carapace of Fear, bested a formidable, treacherous foe, but in so doing stumbled on the second enemy of the Man of Knowledge: Clarity. Dahlmann again glossed from Ensinamemtos: "Fear may be banished, yet this new self-assurance, this special awareness, becomes monomania, righteousness, vehemence, everyone judge and jury." A vulture circled overhead, observing keenly. Where there had been consensus, Dahlmann's words — Don Juan's words — now perturbed them. Félix Éclair, still dérangé, then had the gall to counter (quickly, and with no discernible transition), "Mais oui, but tactics are about finding the perfect balance of attack and defence, non?" Oswald parried: "Yes, but there is balance in 0-0, in 1-1, 2-2, 4-4. Which is optimal?"
Whatever, the obscene and terminal equilibrium was shattered when Wilson — the man of flesh and blood, not the leathery idol — emerged sprightly from the foliage, clapping slowly and sardonically. "Goals are overrated, are they not? These are perfect games. Congratulations". Dahlmann recognised him as the man from the plane. "You, the cross..." Wilson wasn't listening, however; instead, he clambered up the zealots' ziggurat and snatched the ball from the jar. "Why the fuck you're not playing a real match when you've got a ball is beyond me!" he rasped, garryowening the totem up into the night and breaking the spell forever. The disenchantment was palpable.
"Goals change games," murmured some heretic, the air thick with tension. Yet Wilson was already addressing the motley punditariat: "You see only tactics, the brute presence of what unfolds before your eyes. But the eyes deceive." He clicked thumb and middle finger and the vulture was transfigured into a Tupi chief. "The game is an infinity of absences. At every moment a great midfield general abandons hundreds of paths of the game's potential unfolding. You have yagé. Now open the doors of perception!"
Belatedly, Dahlmann was acknowledged: "You wanted the soul of Brazil. Here." Wilson swept out a hand; the bird-chief juggled a ball awhile as his master related how, having staggered from the wreckage and lacking even basic means to record his thoughts, he went "until the equinox" carving passages from his next four books into the sympathetic bark of some qinchona trees "before cramp set in." After this frenzy of recollection, he ventured upriver with Gábor Markúrtzki and happened upon a tribe with a ball but no structure, so trained them; quid pro quo, the tribe fast-tracked him in sorcerery and he became a shapeshifter.
"Football is not entertainment, gentlemen," he trumpeted. "So let's play a match. With the ball… The prize? Life or death: nothing too important!" Laughing dementedly, he fixed his gaze on Oswald: "Tupi or not Tupi, that is indeed the question".
For five days, under oppressive, heat-trapping clouds, the initiated pundits gathered around the stilt roots of the walking palm (Socratea exhorriza) and debated furiously over tactics, style and formation. The two anthropologists persuaded them that Brazil was the country of imagination and improvisation, a football of the unconscious, and it was here, outside time, that such an extemporaneous, eternal football would be rediscovered. They may have arrived as Europeans — Dahlmann's De Telegraaf dispatch had pinpointed "the fundamental difference between the English and Brazilians: the latter celebrate the start of Lent with a flamboyant week-long carnival while in England they scoff fried batter" — but they would leave as South Americans. The de facto Republic of Punditaria thus played under the Brazilian flag, albeit modified. Order and Progress? This was neither better nor worse football, simply different, more exuberant. "History is not linear development," Dahlmann reassured them, a butterfly landing on his shoulder. "It's played between the lines." ("Yeah, they play between the lines in South America, alright," Nixon wisecracked. "Have a line, play, then have another line…"). Snorting with auspicious laughter, they daubed a prefix and accent on the flag to express the liberated imagination, the conditions for chance encounters: DES-ORDEM É PROGRESSO. Then they coloured over five stars — the penta — so that on the two inverted blue triangles remained 22 stars, symbolising equality, solidarity, collaboration: Corinthian values.
Discussions of the Tupi were just as animated. If they epitomised Brazilian-ness, then Dahlmann was sure they'd adopt a fluid, freestyle approach; Oswald reminded him that they pre-dated 'Brazil' (joking that the Jesuit bandeirantes pushing west — breaking in numbers, perhaps overcommitting — past the Tordesillas longitude, the Pope's high line, were offside) and assured them that Wilson would have them organised. He recalled the great anthropologist Nietzsche's description of the founders of the state: "They come like fate, without reason, consideration, or pretext; they appear as lightning, too terrible, too convincing, too sudden… their work is an instinctive creation and imposition of forms." Would the Tupi attain this higher integration? Answers would have to wait until kick-off, for the imperious Wilson failed to attend the mandatory presser. Meanwhile, his former mentor, now long-suffering deputy, Markúrtzki, had died of a broken heart having seen what his errant protégé was doing to the Tupi. His last words — "The horror! The horror!" a cry that was no more than a breath — conveyed the scorched-earth cultural violence of 4-1-1-3-1, the crucifix schema, new manacles from the old continent.
The day of the game and the din of howler monkeys, brachiating in from far and wide, rumbled across the heavy forest air, transfiguring El Dorado into a bombinating Bombonera of barracked bravado. Dahlmann, a substitute, gave a pep-talk informing the gafferless pundits that the third enemy of the Man of Knowledge is Power: "Fear and Clarity have been conquered, large problems dissolved, the subtle becomes visible, but one doesn't know how to use this power and the two combine in a figure of capriciousness, whim, cruelty…"
Sure enough the Tupi were fiendishly well-drilled — the attacking defensive midfielder covering diligently, the full-backs' metamorphosis into pumas and jaguars rendering wide areas difficult to attack, the tapir a threat up front — but, even with their diabolic coach's sorcery, they lacked technique. The midfield duo became, variously, a black caiman, an anaconda, then, briefly, mistakenly, a headless chicken (corpsing Savage on radio commentary). Amazonal Marking, scribbled Barry Slab, grinning with atavistic glee while his compatriots in the press box (those lucky enough not to be playing), reverting to type amidst the lethal pressure, fulminated over Tupi simulation (in a true clash of taboos, the Pundits' brute physicality also vexed the Tupi). But the continual transmogrification of your players is exhausting and the English sensed space would open up later on, in the last four hours of the game.
On the other hand, Wilson knew that the rough forest floor disbarred the short game. The pundits needed to change things, and as each took a ladle of half-time yagé, Dahlmann, assailed and caressed by the sumptuous phantasmagoria, was tapped on the shoulder by a svelte figure in orange. It was Cruyff. "Voetballen is heel simpel, maar het moeilijkste wat er is, is simpel voetballen," he said, telling the team that the fourth enemy of the Man of Knowledge is Death, the élan vital congealed into a thirst for abolition — of oneself and others. "Like Netherlands against Spain in… in Johannesburg. Van Bommel and De Jong, side by side?! Fascist football! Against art — art that the Dutch gave them! No," he trailed off, smiling wanly, "better to have glorious defeat like us in 1974, 1978…"
The pundits — starstruck, tired, hallucinating and unable to get 'their' passing game going — thought awhile about noble defeat, about their tournament of great losers, forgetting, momentarily, the Russian roulette of a game they were playing. Strychnine turned to Dahlmann and queried, "My Portuguese isn't up to much, but your book — is it The Teachings of Mr Johan…?" But Dahlmann was firing a blowdart at his philosopher-king (narrowly missing). "He wasn't there in 1978. That's Wilson." (He realised the butterfly was, too.)
The second half was another lengthy stalemate — a purgatory in which death could not be vanquished nor life resumed — and at full-time it was resolved to play until a golden goal. "Sudden death?" mewled Rodnipp. "Literally," Wilson shot back.
By now sceptical of the evidence of their kaleidoscope eyes, the pundits' tenacious empiricism had them scan the Copta charts for a way to break the deadlock, yet they saw only a tactical labyrinth, a garden of forking paths. Bewildered, they turned to Dahlmann on the bench, still hurriedly thumbing through Ensimamentos, trying to get to the end before The End. "Which way shall we run, Wim? What does Don Juan say?" He considered the regista's thousand abandoned paths, his own forsaken career, and read: "Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn't, it is of no use. Both paths lead nowhere; but one has a heart, the other doesn't. One makes for a joyful journey; as long as you follow it, you are one with it. The other will make you curse your life. One makes you strong; the other weakens you. Does this path have a heart? If the answer is no, you will know it, and then you must choose another path. The trouble is nobody asks the question; and when a man finally realises that he has taken a path without a heart, the path is ready to kill him."
In the silence of that momentous epiphany Dahlmann thought about football's history and about evolution, about the deepest truths of survival, about the seedlings straining up, up toward the forest canopy, up toward the light, and deep in the pit of his stomach, as though put there by someone else, came knowledge, insight. Oswald — in whom he saw a summary and cipher of Brazil (his Brazil) — nodded numinously at him, then mouthed the word. "Mixer," Dahlmann ventriloquised, as though Brazil itself had resolved that he should decipher the tactical puzzle. "We need to get it in the mixer. They won't fancy it. I'll go up top." Hedging, Slab scrawled an alternative headline: Cannibals versus Headhunters.
If footballing limitations saw to it that Dahlmann entered the field without real hope, he was also without fear. While Wilson twitched in his technical area, the ball was swept out wide, a pass that seemingly defied the laws of physics. The Dutchman attacked the space and, just before the cross came in, two things occurred to him: first, that Wilson's tirade on the plane had been about crosses (cruzamentos not cruzes); second, that nobody — none of these men marinated in football — had asked who won the 2014 World Cup. None. He understood that transformation is only possible in the wilderness and had the conviction that the pundits were finally escaping the heavy burden of their contexts, finally on the verge of a breakthrough…
All this happened in an instant, in the time the truly greats foresee the game. He heard (or imagined) someone bellow, yet softly, as though an echo, "goals don't change games, they change societies," at which point, challenging the Tupi keeper (now some giant poisonous spider, coming to punch everything), he met — fearlessly, judiciously, powerfully — the timeless parabola of that ball fired across no man's land and, as it arrived, the moon on a sixpence, headed it toward El Dorado's frameless goal — never moving, dimensions unaltered — then fell backwards into the everafter.