Playful Samba genius lobs names like balls

2010-03-21 11:51

“WHAT’S in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.” This is a quote from Romeo and ­Juliet, a tragedy written early in the career of English poet and playwright William Shakespeare (April 1564-April 1616).

Here Juliet tells her lover Romeo that a name is an artificial and meaningless ­convention, but to this day the question ­remains: what’s in a name?

In 1993, a golden boy appeared in Brazilian soccer. He was only 16. His name was Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima and he soon made it to the national team – A Seleção, or The Selection.

What a true phenomenon Ronaldo was.

But there was a situation, another Ronaldo, a solid defender at the end of his career, was also in the national team. So in order to differentiate the two, each was given a nickname. The defender came to be known as Ronaldao (big Ronaldo) and the younger one became known as Ronaldinho (Portuguese for little Ronaldo).

Interestingly, towards the end of the 90s, yet another golden boy, Ronaldo, entered the scene, with a perpetual smile, protruding teeth and dreadlocks. And quickly, he won the right to be called Ronaldinho. He keeps the nickname to this day at AC Milan.

The “ex-Ronaldinho” came full circle and was back to being called simply Ronaldo (former Real Madrid deadly marksman).

As this anecdote illustrates, nicknames for soccer players can be very confusing, even for Brazilians.

It is not just the footwork, the irreverent goal celebrations and the five world titles that make A Seleção so distinctive. It is also the fact that hardly any of the players is called by name and surname.

It has definitely a lot to do with the informal Brazilian way, where most people, even those in positions of power, are called by their first name. To the surprise of the majority of foreign nationals, it is very common for a politician to be called Mr Paulo, or Dr Pedro, for example.

Even President Luiz Inácio da Silva of Brazil is known only by his nickname, Lula.

In fact, in Brazilian soccer, calling someone by their nickname or first name is a tradition with a high pedigree.

The greatest player of all time was born Edson Arantes do Nascimento, but the world came to know him only as Pele (the origins of the nickname are disputed).

Pele’s greatest forward partner in the 1958 and 1962 World Cups (both won by ­Brazil) was Garrincha (Manuel Francisco dos Santos), nicknamed in childhood by his sister, who thought he looked like a small bird with the same name.

In 1970, one of the stars of the national team was midfielder Tostao (Eduardo Andrade). The nickname also came from childhood – he was such a short and fragile-looking boy that was compared to the “tostao”, the devalued Brazilian currency of the time. In 1982, the greatest Brazilian side not to win the World Cup had Zico (Arthur ­Antunes Coimbra) as its maestro.

Several Brazilian players got their nicknames just like that, as diminutives of their original first names.

In 1958, the Brazilian midfield had Didi (Valdir Pereira) and Vava (Edvaldo Neto). Four decades later, Bebeto (Jose Roberto Oliveira) was the forward partner of ­Romario (Romário de Souza Faria) in the 1994 champions squad in the US.

This year in South Africa – June 11-July 11 – hope is entrusted to Kaka.

In 2002 the Brazilian captain was Cafu (Marcos Evangelista de Moraes) because soccer supporters used to say his style was similar to that of an old Brazilian striker from the 70s, Cafuringa.

Cafu’s predecessor as captain of a winning side was no other than the current Brazil coach Dunga, born Carlos Caetano Bledorn Verri. He received his nickname from an uncle. He is named after one of the Seven Dwarfs (Dopey, in English) in the Snow White fairytale. The name stuck, but maybe the uncle got it wrong. Perhaps the ill-tempered and never-smiling Dunga could have been named after Grumpy.
  • The following are the nicknames and full names of the Brazilian players who started in the recent international friendly against the Republic of Ireland:Julio Cesar – Julio Cesar Soares de Espindola; Maicon – Maicon Douglas Sisenando; Lucio – Lucimar da Silva Ferreira; Juan – Juan Silveira dos Santos; Michel Bastos – Michel Fernandes Bastos; Gilberto Silva – Gilberto Aparecido da Silva; Felipe Melo – Felipe Melo Vicente de Carvalho; ­Ramires – Ramires Santos do Nascimento; Kaka – Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite; Robinho – Robson de Souza; and Adriano – Adriano Leite Ribeiro.
  •  Zanini is a journalist writing for Folha de Sao Paolo, a Brazilian daily newspaper, and is based at the City Press offices until the end of the 2010 Fifa Soccer World Cup


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