KEIR RADNEDGE in RIO DE JANEIRO —- Someone is missing. More than someone. No fewer than four significant representatives of Brazilian football and/or its World Cup hosting have been largely absent from view: Pele, Fuleco, Joao Havelange and Ricardo Teixeira.
Two are easily dealt with: Havelange, former president of FIFA and self-dispossesed holder of the honorary presidency, is 98 and not in the best of health; ex-son-in-law Ricardo Teixeira did pop back to Rio from Miami for a few days last month to celebrate his 67th birthday. However the man who was CBF president when the World Cup was ‘won’ in 2007 did not hang around. He and Havelange sliced off $20m in illicit payments from the collapsing ISL. Just for starters. They are not welcome.
As for Fuleco, the armadillo mascot was unveiled amid the usual great make-pretend fanfare in September 2012.
In June, on the eve of the Opening Match, FIFA hailed Fuleco as “a huge hit.” Since when it has mimicked the extinction with which the real animal is threatened.
Asked in which cave the shy and retiring Fuleco might be found, a FIFA spokesperson said: “Fuleco has been involved in several FIFA World Cup related activities, especially at the FIFA Fan Fests and promotional events. He also appears at the giant screens at the stadiums and the mascot-related merchandise occupies great part of the shelves at the official stores. There has been no change of plans as compared to previous tournaments.”
This writer was obviously in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Armadillo protection groups claim that FIFA did not come up with funds promised for environmental support. FIFA says that, with the best will in an extinction-threatened natural world, it cannot finance every green project, however worthy the cause.
Shame. The three-banded armadillo would appear to be a special case. After all, FIFA is making money out of him/her/it. Havelange and Teixeira (were they to be asked) would surely maintain that Fuleco is worth a World Cup commission.
Finally, Pele, greatest footballer in World Cup history; the one single name most widely associated around the planet with the wondrous legend of Brazilian football.
Pele, it appears, has attended one match: Argentina (ironically) against Switzerland.
Uncertainty exists over whether this is due to health (he has apparently struggled to recover from a hip replacement in November 2012) or the exigencies of his main sponsors which happens not to share such roles with the FIFA World Cup.
Pele watched the Opening Match, in Sao Paulo, from his mansion in Santos, around 40 miles away. FIFA excused his absence on health grounds. The Brazil v Mexico match he watched from a personal sponsor set-up in the Morumbi Stadium (Only the second half, in fact. Traffic jams meant he missed the first 45 minutes).
The Chile drama he watched on television back home but, as noted, he did attend Argentina’s game against Belgium in Sao Paulo.
“Very nice to see Pelé today: a legend who came to watch a potential candidate [Messi] to his throne,” said Sepp Blatter, the FIFA president.
Blatter may not wish to see too much more of him. Pele, after all, has recorded a video in support of Jerome Champagne’s election challenge to Blatter’s presidency next year.
According to Pele’s latest series of anodyne tweets (Who writes them?), he will attend Sunday’s Final in Maracana. Just to watch. Those high-profile Brazilian World Cup legends (?) Gisele Bündchen and Carles Pujol will march out the trophy before kickoff, and President Dilma Rousseff and Blatter will present it to the winning captain after the final whistle.
Rousseff, privately, may worry about the electoral impact later this year of pictures of her presenting the World Cup which was supposed to have been Brazil’s to Argentina instead.
Maybe someone else could stand by, to step in if needed?
Fuleco, for example.