SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) – The biggest change for Brazil at this World Cup is not on the field, or on the training ground, or even in the dressing-room. It’s on the team sheet.
For the first time since 1974 Brazil have arrived at a World Cup without a player better known by his nickname than his given name.
Brazilian players usually go by one name but while they might all sound exotic to foreign ears, there is a big difference between those who use their given names and those better known by their nicknames.
This year there are no little coins (Tostao in Portuguese), no superheroes (Hulk), and none of the seven dwarves (Dunga, or Dopey).
In their place are Fred, Douglas and Marcelo, names that would not be out of place in a London accountant’s office.
The slow death of the Brazilian nickname is a consequence of football becoming more corporate and less irreverent, said Marvio dos Anjos, sports editor at Rio de Janeiro newspaper O Globo.
From an early age, players now aim to become brands and that is harder if you are named after a body part, such as Bigode (Moustache); a nationality, such as Alemao (German, because he was blonde and blue-eyed); or a colour, like Branco (White, because he was the only white player in a team of Afro-Brazilians).
“Agents and the directors of football clubs have stopped players from using nicknames,” Dos Anjos said.
“If your name is Hulk then you will be painted green and made to look like your name. It is a way to neutralize any irony or folklore and make them seem more serious.”
Had seriousness been a factor in years gone by the story of Brazilian football would be very different.
Instead of Pele, a nonsensical name he picked up as a child, the record books would be filled with the legend of Edson Arantes do Nascimento.
Garrincha, who was named after one of the birds he so loved, would be known as Manuel dos Santos, a name as common in Brazil as John Smith is in England.
And rather than chant the name of Zico, one of their most illustrious successors, fans would sing the praises of Arthur Antunes Coimbra.
Brazilian supporters might not care what their players are called if they win the World Cup for the sixth time and many foreign ears will not even notice the change.
But the standardisation of monikers has drained some color from the most vivid of all footballing nations, according to Dos Anjos.
“You start to see that they are taking some of the fun out the game,” he said.
Reporting by Andrew Downie, editing by Ed Osmond