Robinho, Rafael & an unmistakable moustache

FourFourTwo was on sale in the newspaper kiosk outside my hotel in Sao Paulo. It’s well respected, as I would soon find out. The headlines from the newspapers featured Ronaldo’s rapidly reducing waistline.

The great, though far less hefty striker is now back in Brazil. Another big story had the words ‘Kaka’ and ‘Manchester City’ in the headline.

“City want him because they have a history of great players beginning with K,” one columnist didn’t write. “Kinkladze, Kenny Clements and now Kaka.” I shouldn’t be harsh on Kenny, a very pleasant character with a formidable moustache who paints Warhol-esque pictures in his garage just outside Manchester.

A trip to a market in one of the poorest areas of Sao Paulo saw fake City shirts with ‘Robinho’ on the back taking pride of place ahead of Milan and United. Such is star power.

Clements: Formidable 'tache... and monstrous head of hair to boot

From there, we walked to the Pacaembu Stadium, which sits on the square of Charles Miller – the British son of a coffee merchant who introduced association football to Brazil in 1894. 

Corinthians’ home ground is so dilapidated that they play most of their games at the 45,000 capacity municipal stadium, which has views over downtown. I like Corinthians and stood with their nutty fans in the Maracana for the final of the World Club Championships in 2000.

I first heard of Ronaldinho on that trip, not realising that writing about him alone would pay for a new bathroom six years later as he hit his peak. I once told him that and he laughed.

The highlight of that final was the 30,000 Corinthians fans, virtually all of them dressed in black, doing a 20 minute rendition of ‘Todo poderoso Timao’ (‘All power to our almighty team’).

Rival Vasca da Gama fans were equally loud in an atmosphere which would put any British ground to shame.

Back at the Pacaembu, I wanted a quick look around and a photo of the stadium, but here’s what happened. As we arrived, we saw a sign for the newly opened national football museum by the ground’s glorious art-deco facade. It was free to enter.

Pele's shirt from the 1970 World Cup finals

The museum at Old Trafford is impressive, but it’s not in the same league as the one in Brazil. A vast area chiselled into rock under the stand has been built to recreate the experience of being in the Maracana at a big match and the photography of Brazilian football put into context against world events is breath-taking.

A friendly guide approached and asked where we were from. He then showed me a picture of Manchester United winning the World Club Cup in Japan. I pickled his head a bit by showing him a very similar picture on my camera.

“You were there?” asked the guide, Andre. We then spoke about FourFourTwo, English football and his frustration that the current three-time title-winning achievements of Sao Paulo had barely been mentioned in Europe. Then his eyes lit up as he noticed someone behind me.

“Please excuse me,” he said. “We have a very special visitor.”

Andre came back and introduced me to the visitor, one Antonio Lopes. Lopes is one of the most successful coaches in Brazilian football and, as well as discovering Romario, was Felipe Scolari’s number two for the 2002 World Cup finals.

He recently coached Vasco da Gama – whom he led to success in the Copa Liberatadores in 1998. He’s managed an incredible 33 clubs or countries. 

“Pass Felipe my regards,” said Lopes, assuming that I’m on speaking terms with the Chelsea manager. As Mrs Lopes conversed with my girlfriend about shoes, her husband continued: “And I see Manchester are doing well with the Brazilian boys. I hear the twin boys they took from Fluminense are doing very well and that the boy (Fabio) who hasn’t played yet is as good as the one who is playing (Rafael).”

Morumbi: Home of Sao Paulo... and James Blunt

We then took a taxi to Morumbi, home of Sao Paulo. We passed posters advertising a concert with Radiohead, Elton John and James Blunt.

Music remains among Britain’s most successful exports. Morumbi seats 80,000 and will stage the opening game of the 2014 World Cup. I popped inside, where the Copa Liberatadores was on display alongside the World Club Cup trophy which Sao Paulo won for beating Liverpool to be crowned champions of the world in 2005.

Seems I can’t escape City and Liverpool, even on the other side of the Atlantic.

---------------------------------------------- More to read...Confessions of a Correspondent homeBlogs home Latest England newsNews homeInterviews homeForums home