Where Have All The Nicknames Gone?

Zico. Pelé. Socrates. Falcao. Alan? IBWM likes to handle the big issues so here's another - John Dobson wonders where all the great Brazilian nicknames have gone.

“And up front for Salzburg is Alan”. So went the preamble to a recent Europa League on TV featuring Salzburg against Manchester City. It set me to thinking: what has happened to the Brazilian nickname?

The first World Cup I remember was 1982 – I was a smidgen too young for ’78 – and what a World Cup it was. The Brazil side that appeared in Spain were something special and it’s still something of a mystery as to how they didn’t win it. I took an instant liking to Socrates. Everything about him shouted effortless cool from the beard, through the sixty-a-day habit to the medical degree, but above all was the name. There was Zico too and even Falcao, despite the ahead-of-it’s-time bubble perm. They all sounded so much better than England’s group of Trevors, Bryans, Peters and Steves. With names like that, they must be good.

Four years later, Careca appeared along with the frankly wonderful Josimar who, from the moment he smashed the ball in from a stupidly tight angle in the second round against Poland, became a cult hero round our way. He was a full-back, for crying out loud. I didn’t even know he was allowed to be that far forward. The day after that game, everyone in the schoolyard was saying “I’m Josimar” as the traditional 34-a-side lunchtime game got underway.

The young inquiring mind looked further into where these exotic names came from and uncovered a rich seam. Rivelino, Garrincha, Jairzinho – my top three picks for boys names should I ever be blessed by the patter of tiny feet – Clodoaldo, Gerson, Tostao, Carlos Alberto and, of course, Pele; the list just goes on. And then they started arriving in England: Mirandinha is a great name even if he was largely frustrating.

But where are those names now? A quick scan round Europe sees us find a couple of Alans and Alexs, a Cris, a few Douglases, Lucas (unfortunately in the mind of some), and we see Fred is still knocking about in Brazil alongside the likes of Victor, William, Roger and Fil. All of a sudden, they’ve turned into the uninspiring names that England sported in 1982 when we all wanted to be Zico and Socrates. Nobody gets their 99p 24-hour garage football out and says “I want to be Alan”. There’s also a trend towards what sound like ‘normal’ names like Dani Alves, Felipe Melo and Alexandre Pato to name but a few.

There are a few explanations for the drying up of the evocative names:

1. All the good ones are taken. Once you’ve had one Socrates, it takes someone with cojones the size of Sugar Loaf Mountain to start calling themselves the same.

2. We know too much. Back in the 1980s, we only saw Brazilians when the World Cup came round. Now not only is it easier for Brazilians to come and play in Europe, it’s easier for us to see them play both on this continent and in South America. Maybe there always were the Alans, but we just didn’t know about them.

3. The name Alan is hilarious and/or exotic in Portuguese.

All is not lost though. Despite the proliferation of boring nicknames, there is a thread of decent ones still poking through, and it’s the forwards leading the way. Hulk, Grafite, Nilmar and Neymar are all in the Careca envelope and can inspire the next generation, especially the latter being the young tyro everyone is expecting to launch the Selecao into the next World Cup.

By the end of 2014, let’s all hope the kids in the schoolyard are wanting to be Neymar and Ganso so we can put all this Alan nonsense behind us, and draw a line under an unhappy period for the evocative Brazilian nickname.

John writes regularly for IBWM, and you can follow him on Twitter @DobsonJP