Soft cries of ola came out of the circle everytime the player in the middle got his feet to the ball. He interchanged positions with the executor of the intercepted pass and the one-touch cycle began all over again. From the bright red athletics track, the stacatto of cameramen working overtime seemed like machine guns firing blanks.
On the stands, close to 500 (mostly journalists) sat watching a group of 12 work with and without the ball. By Brazil’s standards, attendance was thin. Some 28,000 fetched up to watch them train in Hungary two years ago. This time, the small town of Roermond on the German-Dutch border notched up an attendance of close to 4,000 for each of Brazil’s training sessions.
But this was the turnout for reserve players only. Except Dida, in his trademark bight green, no one who played against Ghana had come for this open session. Yet for two hours on Wednesday evening, the town of Bergisch Gladbach and the grounds of its Regionaliga (Division III) club of the same name were abuzz with activity. The ground, probably built at a clearing in a forest, hadn’t seen so many foreigners ever before. As the dozen moved away to the other side of the field for some stretching exercises, the fans watched quietly while most of the scribes got working. Those working for Brazilian television company O Globo stood out in their green shirts -- there are some 180 of them on a football assignment here now -- and were in different sections of the small stands.
Economist-photographer Sebastio Salgado was right when he said, “The Selecao not only play for Brazil but for a large section of the planet.” “Carrying the hearbeat of 180 million Brazilians,” written on the team bus, seemed such an inaccurate figure.
Robinho ran around the park while Nelson de Jesus Silva (Dida), Rogerio Ceni and Julio Cesar trained under goalkeepers’s coach Wendell Ramalho. In one corner, the rest fine-tuned what Ronaldo executed to perfection against Ghana goalkeeper Richard Kingson -- body feints.
That over, they moved a goalpost to within 25 yards of the other and played three-on-three with the seventh (in a green bib) being the joker in the pack, helping whichever trio had the ball. The shot on the goal could only be aerial, otherwise the ball had to be worked from one end to the other on the ground. The other goalies were involved in this game but Dida continued on a different regimen. Ramallho would bounce the ball hard and Dida would spring from the ground and collect before lying on his back again. He then spoke to Ramallho for long before doing abdomen crunches and letting the masseur work on him. By then, the others had joined, including Juninho Pernambucano who for sometime had been playing with his two little girls.
Apart from its well-synchronised routine, there wasn’t anything significantly unusual about this 90-minute training session. But the role of Carlos Albert Parreira was interesting.
The tecnico (or head coach) was a fringe figure at all times. He stood quietly behind the goal, watching assistant Jairo Leal supervise the three-on-three, watched the physical exercises from a distance and didn’t even look at Dida.
This seemed so refreshingly far removed from seeing coaches playing referee at practice sessions back home and generally being jack-of-all-trades.