The Great Joy Of Fred, Nathan and Argel Fucks

Date published: Monday 24th August 2015 1:17

The Great Joy Of Fred, Nathan and Argel Fucks

Remember when important things weren’t announced via social media? Weird that, isn’t it? In the past people might go on the radio, or write a newspaper article, or if they’d done something particularly rum then they’d hold a very stiff press conference in front of their house, family at their side, the wife with the furious eyes and rictus grin of someone who knew they wouldn’t have to share the marital bed for a while, the kids looking baffled in their Sunday best.
Even our government seems to be limited to 140 characters. This week David Cameron (or whichever dead-eyed drone runs his account) has been announcing Cabinet posts via Twitter, letting the public know that someone who voted against gay marriage would be equalities minister, a man who favours the reintroduction of hanging is the new Justice Secretary and a shadowy figure with a bucket full of water and a grim expression is the minister for not drowning unwanted puppies.
Something else confirmed on the all-powerful social media this week was the transfer of Brazilian midfielder Nathan to Chelsea, after he posted a picture of himself with Willian on Instagram. Nathan is supposed to be quite good, but forget all that for a minute and just concentrate on the name. Nathan, after all, is the name of that kid at school who told outrageous lies like he lived in America but swam in every day or that his 5ft 5, 18 stone dad was in the SAS, not that of a tricksy Brazilian creative midfielder. But names have always been half the joy of Brazilian football, as well as, y’know, the football.
Nathan continues the fine tradition of the Brazilian footballer with the banal Anglicised name. You will be familiar with Fred, and there’s also of course Jo, Alan and Bernard, plus a wide selection of other similar names that you might find in a Staffordshire local council office. Botafogo have a striker named Bill, right-back Tony is currently on loan at Bahia from Gremio, midfielder Jonathan used to represent Vasco de Gama while striker Tim played 16 times for Brazil in the 1930s and 40s. It’s only a matter of time before we see a doughty midfielder called Clive, or a flighty winger that goes by the name Kevin. Some of those names have pretty straightforward explanations (Fred is short for Frederico, Jo short for Joao etc), but others are either named or nicknamed after a range of curious and esoteric figures.
Nicknames are of course a big thing, with some of the greatest players in history known not by what’s written on their birth certificates, but by monikers they’ve picked up along the way. Garrincha means ‘little bird’, while nobody quite knows how Edson Arantes do Nascimento became Pelé, who was known as Dico by his family when he was younger, and was called Gasolina after arriving at Santos. One theory is that his favourite player as a young lad was a goalkeeper called Bilé, which he couldn’t pronounce properly, so Pelé it was.
The nicknames can get quite silly, too. The 1930 World Cup team had a player called Preguinho, which means ‘Little Nail’, a player called Manteiga, meaning butter, was so named because his passing was slick, while World Cup-winning captain and current national coach Carlos Caetano Bledorn Verri became Dunga in his diminutive youth because that means ‘Dopey’ in some translations of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. And then of course there’s Hulk, or Givanildo Vieira de Sousa to his mum, who picked up his alternative moniker because of an apparent likeness to Lou Ferrigno. And don’t forget Carlos Adriano Sousa Cruz, who became Michael Jackson after he developed an elaborate dancing goal celebration. Not for any other, more unpleasant reasons.
Plenty more nicknames come from physical appearance, many of them decidedly un-PC (notably Escurinho, which means ‘Darky’), but others are simply named because they look like other footballers. In ‘Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life’, Alex Bellos writes: ‘I raised my eyebrows one lunchtime in April 2001, when the TV sports bulletin announced that Cannigia and Maradona had both scored goals in domestic games…Both players are Brazilian duplicates, named after the Argentinians for physical similarities; Cannigia because he used to have long hair and Maradona because he is stocky and short.’
Parents get in on the act too, and a curious sub-set of Brazilian names carries the influence of American and European culture. John Lennon Silva Santos plays for Atlético Goianense, Allan Dellon (a misspelled tribute to French actor Alain Delon) was a successful striker around 15 years ago and was nearly called Christopher Reeve, Creedance Clearwater Couto currently plays in the (red) white and blue of Taubaté, while former Manchester City and Inter right-back Maicon Douglas was named for Michael Douglas, but a registrar with iffy hearing wrote it down incorrectly.
And then there’s the influence of American politics. The current national team goalkeeper is Jefferson, Flamengo have a striker called Nixon while Chelsea have been recently linked with one Robert Kenedy. One imagines there have been a few Obamas born in recent years, but perhaps not Bush.
We could go on. The world of Brazilian footballer names is a weird and wonderful one, from the banal to the creative to the slightly racist. And to end on a childish note, Figueirense are currently managed by former international central defender Argel Fucks. You’re welcome.
With thanks to Tim Stillman – @Stillberto
Nick Miller

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