The die-hard fan of Brazil’s Flamengo
The die-hard fan of Brazil’s Flamengo
The small concrete house is painted in the team colors of red and black. The living room and bedroom are bedecked with Flamengo jerseys, banners, beer mugs and other team memorabilia. Even a curtain in front of her kitchen is a plastic Flamengo flag.
The 63-year-old Souza, who is one of the most die-hard fans of the iconic team, has over the years become an icon in her own right.
She is equally fanatical about Brazil’s national team. “I pray they win the World Cup,” she says of the tournament that starts in Brazil on June 12.
“If Brazil loses the tournament, the statue of Christ the Redeemer will pack his bag and leave the city for good,” she said.
Dressed in a Flamengo uniform or with a team flag draped over her shoulders, Zica is a well-known sight in her neighborhood and at the Maracana stadium.
“I go to every game Flamengo plays in Maracana, where I am always greeted with open arms by players and fans of Flamengo and the teams they play against. They all hug me and ask for my autograph,” she said, adding that Flamengo made her an honorary member in 2010.
She said that at age 7 she fled her home because her parents mistreated her. “I lived on the streets for 10 years begging for food and money, doing odd jobs here and there and selling candies. I never stole or got involved with drugs.” Things started to change when Souza, who prefers to be called Zica, the nickname she gave herself in honor of former Brazilian football great Zico, was wandering aimlessly through the streets of Rio at age 17.
“It was Christmas and it was my birthday. I got tired and sat down on the sidewalk to rest. All of a sudden a lady tapped me on the back, asked me if I was all right and invited me to her home for dinner.” The woman was Zico’s mother. And her son, a rising star in Flamengo at the time, was at the dinner.
From that day on, Zica says, her loyalty to Flamengo has never wavered.
For the next 12 years, she says, she lived in the homes of Zico’s parents and of Zico doing “small chores like watering the plants and caring for children. I was never treated like a maid but as a member of the family.” When she was 29, Zico’s parents persuaded her to return to her home to care for her sick parents. “They died shortly after I returned and I inherited their house.” At about the same time she met and married her husband, Calitoel. They met at a Flamengo game.
They have one daughter, Vanessa, and three grandchildren. Their son, Thiago, was killed in a motorcycle accident several years ago.
AB de Villiers’ exit should give cricket’s bigwigs pause for thought.
- Brilliant batsman's retirement from international cricket leaves the game all the poorer without one of its true stars.
- Treadmill of international games leaves players with little room to breathe.
If the disbelief on South African faces after their tied World Cup seinifinal against Australia in 1999 was one of the emblematic cricket images from the latter part of the 20th century, then the picture of an inconsolable AB de Villiers walking off Eden Park after losing another last-four clash will forever stick in the minds of the present generation.
No one grudged a magnificent New Zealand side their victory, especially not in front of a raucous home crowd, but the thought persisted that the loss marked the end of the World Cup road for some of South Africa’s greatest cricketers.
Graeme Smith had already quit at the age of 33, worn down by presiding over World Cup debacles in 2007 and ‘11 and the slog to the top of the Test rankings. De Villiers was only 30 at the time, but that night in Auckland he looked older and wearier. It is only now that he has called time on his international career, a year before the start of another World Cup, that we can begin to fathom just what was lost at Eden Park.
Unlike Smith, whose powers as a batsman were in decline after a succession of injuries, de Villiers exits the big stage while still the cock of the walk. Before the start of South Africa’s punishing home season, so much of the talk was about the great batsmen who would be visiting their shores — Virat Kohli and Steven Smith. De Villiers, who had spent time away from the Test side the previous season, was not quite an afterthought, but he certainly did not dominate parlour discussions.
In the very first Test, one dominated by the bowlers at Newlands, he showed us just how wrong we were to look to others. His masterful batsmanship in both innings, in conditions where most other batsmen were shipwrecked sailors, was as integral to South Africa’s victory as Vernon Philander’s riddle-me-this seam bowling.
He did it again at Centurion to all but seal the series against India for South Africa. Over the course of the three Tests, Kohli almost matched him, but in a series that South Africa won 2-1, it was de Villiers that landed the decisive blows. A month later, Smith arrived in the southern cape, feted, with justification, as the best Test bat in the world. Again, in a series that unraveled rapidly for the visitors, he was no match for Mr. 360, who left his inimitable signature on yet another marquee series.
The greatest thing about de Villiers the batsman is the complete absence of ego. He could smoke the 31-ball centuries and play strokes others would not even have dreamt of. At the same time, he could stonewall all day in the Adelaide heat, or block 297 balls on his way to 43 in New Delhi. Whatever he felt was the best option for the team, he would choose that. With him, it was never my way or the highway. He never hid behind those this-is-how-I-play excuses.
For the international game, the loss of a star batsman who still has so much to offer is a grievous blow. It once again shines the light on the ramshackle scheduling and the skewed payment structures that have cast cricket adrift on uncertain seas. Jonathan Trott, a contemporary who went to England to try his luck there, made more from playing international cricket for half a decade than de Villiers did from 14 years with the Proteas. Administrators keep harping on about the primacy of Test cricket, but England, Australia and India apart, no one can afford to play the players what they are worth.
For de Villiers, it was never about the money. For nearly a decade now, he has been handsomely rewarded for being one of the talismans of the Indian Premier League (IPL). But when he talks of feeling tired, we would do well to listen. Just look at the itinerary that he and Kohli, who play all the formats, have been subjected to in recent times. What is surprising is that they have picked and chosen so little, putting their bodies on the line month on month, year on year.
Unlike football, with its clearly defined off-seasons — though greed is eating into that with tours of the Far East and the United States organized every summer — cricket offers no pause. It affects the players, who are getting off the international treadmill earlier and earlier. It affects fans too, because it has taken away the sense of anticipation that is such a huge part of the spectator experience.
And right now, it has also taken away the game’s most captivating batsman.