Ricardo Teixeira determines how much the championships are worth, which network runs the games and which companies sponsor them. He’s the boss of Brazilian football, and he wants to pull off a flawless World Cup in order to be elected president of FIFA.Daniela Pinheiro
Translated by Flora Thomson-Deveaux
When the verandah of the Baur au Lac hotel was built in 1844, it was meant to offer guests an heart-quickening vista: first the meticulously trimmed garden, then the calm lake beyond, and the splendid sweep of the Alps in the background. The Zurich hotel’s principal clientele is tanned, Jaguar-driving millionaires, normally accompanied by ladies sporting two diamond watches on the same wrist (one set to local time, the other to their native time zone). Alternatively, by waiflike blondes who drink their Campari in slow sips.
This May, the hotel was packed with officials from the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), which held its 61st annual Congress in the Swiss city*.
Early one afternoon, Ricardo Teixeira – president of the Brazilian Confederation of Football (CBF) – drank champagne with his back to the Baur au Lac’s garden. Elections for FIFA president were in six days. He chatted animatedly about this and that: the recent financial scandal involving government minister Antonio Palocci, the drinking-and-driving crackdown that had just snagged senator Aécio Neves, and Ronaldo’s retirement from the Brazilian national football team just a few days before.
He seemed impervious to the deluge of corruption allegations directed at the FIFA heads, even though he’d been personally singled out for criticism. David Triesman, ex-chairman of the Football Association, said that Ricardo Teixeira asked him for money in exchange for a vote for England to host the 2018 World Cup. The British football manager related that his Brazilian colleague approached him during the Brazil-England game the year before and said, “Lula’s backing means nothing; let’s see what you’ve got to offer me.”
On the terrace of the Baur au Lac, when the topic came up, he squinted, wrinkled his nose as if at some noxious smell, and let out a long “pffffffffffff” while swiveling his head to the side. The same procedure is repeated every time one mentions one of the allegations against him, or speculates that not all the stadiums will be ready in time for the World Cup.
“Sweetie, do you believe everything you read in the press?” he asked sarcastically. “It’s all nonsense. The British are pissed off because they lost, they won’t take that lying down. Look me in the face and tell me that I’d say something as stupid as that, that Lula was a nobody. And asking for a bribe in front of everyone, right there in the stands? Please.”
He then went on at length about colonial domination and British imperialism, referring to the English as “a bunch of pirates,” recounting instances of English arrogance, and even managing to bad-mouth English cuisine along the way. “Triesman is having to explain in court how he spent 50 million , 15 million of which was government funds, on England’s campaign for the Cup,” he continued, emphasizing the currency. “It’s an absurd cost, there’s no justification. We spent three million reais and we got 2014. They just can’t take it, you know?”
Yet another allegation was levied by journalist Andrew Jennings, on the BBC program Panorama. He unveiled a list of FIFA notables – Teixeira and ex-FIFA head João Havelange among them – whom he charged had received $100 million in bribes during the 1990s from a sports marketing company called ISL. In exchange, he said, the suits had cut ISL deals in the form of distribution rights for the games.
According to the British journalist, Teixeira received $9.5 million funneled through a dummy company. Jennings said that a Swiss court had made the Brazilian return the money, which was tantamount to confession to the crime. “Oh, so I returned the money, did I?” asked Teixeira. “Then where is it? Why is no-one coming up with it?” According to the BBC, because the suit was closed with an extrajudicial gag order guaranteeing the anonymity of the accused. “I wasn’t even on the FIFA Executive Committee back then, why would anyone bribe me?”
Teixeira’s wife Ana Carolina Wigand (a brunette three decades younger than him at 34) and their lively 11-year-old Antônia joined him at the table. They chatted about the city, the climate, and the hotel. The president hugged his daughter, giving her a kiss and stroking her hair. He announced jokingly that he’d forbidden her to wear miniskirts out of the house.
When Ana Carolina and Antônia left, Teixeira got back to business. He said that Jennings, the author of a book about corruption within FIFA, was a “blowhard” who lived off of TV appearances. “Darling, listen up, think it through,” he begged. “The BBC is a state broadcaster, a government entity. It’s in the interest of the British government to invalidate Russia’s decision and knock Brazil out of the running, because they think they can fill in for us at the last minute. It’s all orchestrated, don’t you see?”
Whenever you want him to go on the record, Teixeira shushes you and raises a finger to his lips. He addresses men and women alike as “meu amor,” with an exaggerated Rio accent. “Meu amor, it’s all been said about me – that I smuggled goods in the Brazilian national team’s airplane, that there’s been dirty dealing in the World Cup, all those investigations into Nike and the CBF. It’s all the same gang – [news site] Universo Online, the [newspaper] Folha de São Paulo, [sports newspaper] Lance, ESPN – and they just keep repeating the same bullshit.”
A waitress comes by to take away our cups. “Lula told me once, ‘I don’t watch Globo News because they only get peanuts,’” Teixeira said, referring to the network’s low ratings. “Well, Universo Online only gets peanuts. Who reads Lance? Eighty thousand people? Peanuts! Who the hell watches ESPN? Peanuts!”
Teixeira agrees with the reasoning supposedly put forth by the legendary José Bonifácio de Oliveira Sobrinho (Brazilian TV mogul“Boni”) back when he was director of the Globo network. As the story goes, Boni was once told that a plane had crashed, killing hundreds of people. He’s said to have retorted that if it didn’t go out on Globo’s nightly news, then for all intents and purposes the plane hadn’t crashed. “So, meu amor,” explained Teixeira, “I’ll only start sweating when I see these accusations on the Globo nightly news.”
Ricardo Terra Teixeira is 64 years old, and has been head of the CBF for 22 of them. He’s also president of the World Cup Organizing Committee for 2014 and a member of FIFA’s Executive Committee. To put it another way: he’s the boss of Brazilian football, the cartola par excellence. (The Portuguese word cartola – literally, “top hat” – is a mildly pejorative term used to describe the suits who manage football teams.)
Teixeira is the cartola who sets the calendar for football in Brazil: where, when, and how the teams play. When it comes to the championships, he decides how much a friendly match weighs in the selection, the network that airs it, and which sponsors close the multimillion-dollar deals. He’s the one who gives journalists clearance for the stadiums. And he appoints the Brazilian team’s coach.
In the next World Cup, Teixeira will call the shots when it comes to choice of stadiums, which state capitals will host matches, and where the foreign teams will stay. He’ll be able to have a say in any government project connected to the Cup.
The son of a Banco Central employee and a housewife, Teixeira was born in Carlos Chagas in the state of Minas Gerais. He grew up in Belo Horizonte, but the family moved to Rio when he was still a child; he attended Santo Inácio, a traditional Rio school, where he learned French from a priest (he can make himself understood in portuñol and has a sub-basic grasp of English).
As a teenager, he made it onto the Botafogo sporting club’s volleyball team. Football was never his forte. He supports the Minas Gerais-based team Atlético Mineiro as well as Rio’s Flamengo, without going overboard about it. His father forced him to join the army; he was being trained in the reserves in 1968, when the military dictatorship intensified its control.
At a Carnival dance in Teresópolis, when Teixeira was 19, he was introduced to Lúcia. She was the daughter of João Havelange, president of the Brazilian Sporting Confederation (the CBF’s predecessor). They began dating, married five years later and had three children. Teixeira was in his fourth year of law school. He gave up his studies shortly thereafter to work with a financial company in Belo Horizonte, a job with an exhausting commute.
When Teixeira recalls his time in the financial markets, he loves to remember how he sold devalued shares and tripled his investments. “I made a lot more than I do today,” he said. “It was like I was earning a Dodge Charger every day.” Thanks to his connection to João Havelange, he studied and worked in Zurich and New York. It was the first time he’d traveled outside the country.
To explain how he left the financial world and became a football bigwig, Teixeira is concise: “It was just the way things came together.” In João Havelange’s version of events, the story is slightly different: he, Havelange, was Teixeira’s Merlin, leading the way and training his protégée in the ways of Brazilian football management. In 1989, Teixeira was elected president of the CBF. When he talks about the Confederation or the national team – the Seleção Brasileira – Teixeira tends to employ a metonymic “I”: “I had to pay,” “I have $75 million in the bank,” “I had to win that World Cup,” or “I didn’t want to play the opening match in the 2006 World Cup in Germany.”
Teixeira is a fount of homespun wisdom, quotations which – regardless of the topic – he always attributes to his mother. “Mamãe, who was from Minas, always said…” he starts, and goes on from there: “if your problem’s got no solution, then it’s solved”; “a stitch in time saves nine”; “nothing like a day after another”; “life is easy, people make it complicated.” His favorite expression for talking about the sports press is “Isso é de quinta categoria!” (Now that’s classless!)
He has slightly defined, plump features; his stooped, slow walk and raspy voice give the impression of an older man. Even when he’s relaxed or in a good mood he sports a pinched expression, as if the midday sun or a particularly bad headache were striking him squarely between the eyes. This has the effect of making him look permanently irritated. When he lets down his guard, or has a drink more on a given evening, he’s invariably witty and thoughtful. He dresses formally: brown pants, white shirt, blue blazer with gold buttons and a red tie. Before he got married, his wife says, he used to wear black shoes with white ankle socks.
In ten days of conversations, he laughed to the point of tears on two occasions. The first was when he told the story – which he swears is true – of two women from the Brazilian backlands who walked into an elevator in the Plaza Hotel, in New York, with Michael Jordan and a dog. Without knowing who Jordan was, and having been warned about violent blacks in the city, they cowered in panic when he ordered the animal to sit! The other story was about a group of Portuguese thieves who, in the process of blowing up a safe, managed to set fire to the money inside.
At 7:30 p.m., the president walked into one of his favorite restaurants, the Zeughauskeller. Specializing in sausage, sauerkraut, and rösti, the place has rustic Alpine décor: long tables and heavy wood benches. Teixeira was received in person by the owner, who greeted him by name and ushered him to a reserved table for 15. He sat down, undid his tie and rolled up his sleeves.
The guests were cartolas from other South American football conferences, as well as their wives and assistants. It was like a scene from El Chapulín Colorado, complete with silver bracelets, mahogany-hued hair, polyester pants, and penciled-on half-moon eyebrows. The octogenarian Julio Grondona, head of the Association of Argentine Football, was there. He’s accused of having taken $78 million to vote for Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup.
Nicolás Leoz, the 82-year-old Paraguayan who directs the South American Football Confederation, was in attendance as welll. Besides having taken bribes from ISL, he’s also said to have asked David Triesman for a title of nobility in exchange for his vote for England. “Don Leoz, ¿dónde está su corona?” bellowed Teixeira, conferring the longed-for title of “sir” on his colleague. Leoz pulled a face and raised his arms above his head, making as if to be crowned, to general guffaws. “If they give us the Malvinas Islands back, I’ll vote for anything!” yelled Grondona, who wears a gold pinky ring engraved with the words “Todo pasa.”
In Zurich, Teixeira always sticks with the Latin Americans. When he wasn’t with his family, his most frequent companions were football managers from Uruguay, Argentina, and Paraguay. Even during the worst crisis in FIFA history, he stayed out of the fray during summit meetings, like the one held on the eve of the association’s elections, when a group spent the night helping Sepp Blatter prepare his speech.
After dinner, Teixeira – despite his slow gait – wanted to return on foot to the hotel. In 1998, following a fall from a horse, he had an iron plate implanted in his thigh which shortened his right leg by 2 centimeters. He manages by wearing specially designed shoes, “made by a guy in Rio,” one with an internal lift to compensate for the height difference.
As he went along the Bahnhofstrasse, a street lined with luxury shops, he commented on what he saw in the windows. “I don’t like that, it’s tacky.” “Huh, look how original that one is.” “That’s a new store.” “You can find any kind of perfume there.” “Oh, look at how lovely those chocolates are.” At the corner of the Baur au Lac, he stopped cold, hands stuffed in his jacket pockets: “Ah, look at this! A fur coat for a thousand Euros? I have to buy it. That price is unbelievable.”
He seemed tired, but suggested that we get one last coffee in the tearoom. In half-English, half-Spanish, he asked for a bit of hot water as well. It was 6 p.m. Brazil time, and Rodrigo Paiva, the CBF director of communications, was fielding nonstop calls. In 40 minutes he’d taken 13 calls, answering questions about the delayed paychecks for the Brazilian women’s national team, the supposedly ailing David Triesman, and the Confederation’s running costs.
When Paiva hung up, Teixeira straightened up in his chair as if he were done resting and said, “What the fuck do these people have to do with the CBF’s accounts? What the fuck do they have to do with bookkeeping over at Bradesco or HSBC? They’re all pri-vate en-ti-ties. There’s no public money in this, no tax breaks. Why the hell is everyone giving us shit?”
Upon assuming the presidency of the CBF, Teixeira surrendered his right to all public funds, including dividends from the loteria esportiva (a state-run lottery of championship brackets), one of the organization’s main sources of income. He also gave up any future gain from the use of the teams’ images, and let all ticket sales income devolve to the football clubs. As opposed to the Brazilian Olympic Committee, the CBF takes no government money.
As he tells it, when he took the job, the Confederation was in a terrible state. Even the Jules Rimet Cup had been pawned. At times, players would refuse to come onto the field until they were shown the money – sometimes literally – for their delayed salaries. He says that he managed to put the CBF back in the black thanks to his experience in the financial market. Today the organization has $75 million in the bank, a private jet, a helicopter, and a $16 million plot of land in the Barra neighborhood of Rio that will be the site of the new CBF headquarters. Under his command, the Brazilian national team got to the World Cup final three times, won twice, and carried off the America Cup five times.
Last year, he commissioned a poll through the agency Vox Populi. Out of 2,500 people interviewed in 150 municipalities, 53% said that his work as head of the CBF was “great” or “good.” More than half thought that the Brazilian Football Championship (the “Brasileirão”), was better organized. And a majority approved of the changes that the president had made – among other things, changing the format of the Brasileirão from a series of knock-outs (the mata-mata system) to a round-robin where the team with the most overall points wins and there is no final match. “Only journalists badmouth me,” he said.
Everyone had finished his or her coffee. A representative from the company Match, which negotiates the housing and ticket packages for the World Cup, had an interview scheduled on the Globo network and wanted to know if there would be any questions about the reportedly stratospheric prices of hotels and restaurants in Brazil. “No, none of that, it’s all under control,” said Teixeira. At nearly one in the morning, he excused himself. Before stepping into the elevator, he remarked, “And all this about Dilma being sick? I don’t even want to think about it.”
Inaugurated two years ago, FIFA’s Zurich headquarters cost $250 million. The three-story, 44,000-square-meter building has five subbasements, a meditation room, a chapel, a gymnasium and an official football field. The lobby floor is tiled with granite and lapis lazuli imported from Brazil. It was noon when Teixeira came out of a meeting and checked his schedule for the day with his personal secretary.
Alexandre Silveira has been with Teixeira for 18 years now. He carries the boss’s briefcase, cell phone, and laptop, always has two spare ties on hand, finishes Teixeira’s sentences, organizes his schedule, and does whatever else is asked of him with the crisp efficiency of the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace – all this without so much as a “please” or a “thank you” from Teixeira. A former CBF receptionist, he’s young, short, always in a suit, and spends more time with the boss than with his wife or 7-year-old daughter. José Serra, one-time presidential candidate and former governor of São Paulo, once confused Silveira with Sports Minister Orlando Silva and went on to compliment Silveira effusively.
Breno Silveira and Andrucha Waddington, with Conspiração Filmes (Conspiracy Films), took their cameras behind the scenes at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. On the DVD with the first cut of the footage, you can see a shirtless Ronaldo, all 91 kilos of muscle, back when the press was calling him fat (today he weighs around 110 kilos). There are a few striking scenes in the locker room which give a clear sense of tension, a presentiment of defeat, as early as halftime in the game against France.
In the car, on the way to lunch, Teixeira said that he wants to make a film in 2014 about “the Cup we lost and the Cup we won” (assuming that the Brazilian national team is victorious next time around, that is). He wanted to shoot it at last year’s World Cup but coach Dunga barred the filmmakers from access to the players, to Teixeira’s irritation. From the backseat, Rodrigo Paiva noted that they should ask for the footage that had been shot already. Teixeira would have none of it. “I’m not going to fucking ask, the footage is mine.”
At the Italian restaurant Bindella, with the temperature around 18°C, Teixeira wanted to sit out on the terrace. That morning, the Folha de São Paulo had run a five-line piece about the case known as the voo da muamba, the “contraband flight,” in which he was a defendant. Seventeen years after it’d started, the case was just now being shelved. “Those sons of bitches at the Folha didn’t even write that there was nothing on board for my bar,” he complained.
When the Brazilian national team returned from the U.S. after the 1994 World Cup, their plane was carrying 17 tons of baggage: purchases made by players, managers and guests. Teixeira was accused of forcing a customs officer to let the material go through without being inspected. “They said I’d brought contraband back, goddammit,” he recalled. “Now, you know why all this happened in the first place? Because I didn’t let the press corps on the plane, and because the Tax Secretary, Osíris Lopes Filho, was about to be fired.”
The waiter, who spoke Portuguese, interrupted the conversation to take our orders. He wanted burrata with prosciutto crudo, well-cooked pasta (“I hate al dente, it tastes like flour”, he said) and red wine. Teixeira doesn’t like fish, could do without chicken, and won’t eat anything green.
He explained that Osíris was about to be let go by then-president Itamar Franco for “having run his mouth about Petrobras.” In fact, in a talk in July of that year, the Tax Secretary had said that the state-run company owed the equivalent of a billion dollars in taxes.
“It was a set-up,” he went on. “We landed at the airport and the Tax Ministry people told us to leave the baggage, that they were going to keep it there and three days later we could come back and get it. The CBF was going to pay all the necessary taxes, and did pay them later, but Mr. Osíris decided to put on a show, flew in like some avenging angel. The press bought the story and we got fucked.”
There were all sorts of electronics and appliances on board. The Brazilian left back Branco was said to have brought an entire kitchen with him, and Teixeira was supposedly bringing draught glasses for his bar in the Rio Jockey Club. “Those glasses came from New Zealand,” he said. “Now, listen up: do you think that this genius here managed to smuggle beer glasses into the United States, leave the United States illegally, and then come into Brazil illegally without being found out?” Days later, in Brasília, we ran into Henrique Hargreaves, presidential chief-of staff during the Itamar Franco administration, who confirmed Teixeira’s version of events.
Jean-Marie Faustin Goedefroid de Havelange has been staying in the Hotel Savoy for more than 40 years. He doesn’t like all the comings and goings at the Baur au Lac. One afternoon, he arrived for an interview in the Savoy lobby with Swiss punctuality. At 95 years old, he maintains a straight-backed, gentlemanly air. Perennially in a suit, he calls everyone over the age of 15 “sir” or “ma’am.” To make his points, he uses the Socratic method: he poses questions to which he already knows the answer, but lets the other party come to the conclusion on her own.
Havelange may be the key person responsible for FIFA’s transformation into a major power. He says that when he took the job, he found just 20 dollars in the organization’s bank account. Back in the 70s, he was one of the first people to see that football had the potential to transform itself, with the help of live satellite transmission, into a sport with a worldwide audience, one which could attract multinational sponsors. And since the United States wasn’t interested in it anymore, football had the advantage of not being tangled up in Cold War politics (unlike the Olympics).
But the Federation – a moneyed European organization – needed to embrace poor countries as well. Havelange changed the criteria for the election of FIFA president, giving equal weight to votes from European, African, Caribbean, and Asian countries and setting aside funds to build national football infrastructure in those regions. FIFA’s reign was secure. Now it rakes in $4.6 billion in World Cup revenue alone.
At the Savoy, Havelange said that, if he was a success, it was only because he was born in Brazil – where one learns, “from the get-go,” how to deal with differences of race and religion. He recalled the first FIFA congress that he organized, in 1974: “Do you think that an Englishman would deign to greet a black man with a kiss on the cheek? A German? Well, my wife Anna Maria and I kissed all of the African leaders who came to that congress.”
The choice of Brazil for World Cup host came about because of Havelange’s relationship with the African FIFA members. In 2006, using the clout from his many years at the head of FIFA, Havelange had engineered a majority of support for South Africa’s candidacy. In exchange, the African countries would support Brazil’s candidacy in the next round of elections.
At the last minute, however, in a highly suspicious move, the New Zealand representative abstained and Germany got the 2006 World Cup. FIFA reacted by changing its hosting rotation, so that the next host would be in Africa and the next in South America. Since South Africa and Brazil were the richest countries in their respective continents, they were guaranteed to win. And win they did.
Corruption allegations don’t faze him. For Havelange, they’re just machinations, tricks to trip up the various candidates for an extraordinarily coveted post. “Who doesn’t want to sit in that chair, with all the resources and power that FIFA has today?” he asked.
He describes Ricardo Teixeira thusly: above-average intelligence, a keen observer, quiet (like any good Minas Gerais native), always has a man on the inside (“which means he’s always well-informed”), capable of withstanding abuse and plotting payback. “What is Ricardo, after all? Mineiro, from Minas Gerais. Aécio [Neves, Minas Gerais governor] is a friend of his, isn’t he? Where do you think the World Cup opening’s going to be?” “In Belo Horizonte,” he concludes. “That’s Ricardo, all right, we’re the dumb ones.”
When Teixeira divorced his daughter, Havelange broke off relations with him. Nobody in the family mentioned the ex-son-in-law’s name to Havelange’s face. “One day my wife Anna Maria said to me, ‘Don’t forget that he’s the father of your grandchildren,’” Havelange related. “And that was it. I went back to speaking with him as if he were still married to my daughter. Because grandchildren are grandchildren. Great-grandchildren are great-grandchildren.”
And that’s why he’ll do whatever he can to help his ex-son-in-law to win the FIFA presidency in 2015. “Ricardo wanted to run now, but I told him, ‘Put on a good World Cup, treat everyone well, and they’ll vote for you out of sheer gratitude.’”
I asked if Teixeira needed his help to win. “Of course not, stupid is the one thing he isn’t,” responded Havelange. “If you had to define cunning – in the best sense of the word – it’d be Ricardo Teixeira.”
However, he thinks that his heir should take more time in cultivating personal relationships, like he himself did. And he could probably try to step on fewer toes. Havelange said that once, Sepp Blatter was going to Ethiopia by jet. Havelange gave a piece of advice to his FIFA successor: “Don’t show up in a poor country in a private jet. Take a regular plane, go about your business, people will respect that. That’s the kind of mindset you have to have.”
After almost two hours of sitting down, Havelange suddenly felt a stabbing pain in his foot. He still swims 1,200 meters every day, but has a hairline crack in his anklebone. Havelange ended the interview as politely as possible. His parting observation: “Ricardo’s alone. He should have someone to confide in, to se détendre, unburden himself.”
Sports journalists told me that the CBF favors reporters and media outlets that they think will go easy on Teixeira and protect him from those they think might be critical. In Zurich, he spoke twice with lawyers about the possibility of denying press credentials to the Brazilian national team’s games. They advised him to let the critics in for at least one match, so as not to appear discriminatory.
In the process of putting together a report on the 2014 World Cup, a team from the BBC sent Teixeira more than 10 interview requests. “I’m going to make their lives hell,” he said. “While I’m at the CBF, at FIFA, they won’t get past the door.” While the BBC report and David Triesman’s testimony have been splashed across the headlines of dozens of newspapers, Teixeira hasn’t sought redressing in court. A French lawyer told him that a suit against the BBC would cost $500 million, minimum. “And I’d have to go there, testify, and all that, it’d be a load of work.”
In Brazil, he has a favorite target for his legal investments – the sports journalist Juca Kfouri, whom he’s already sued more than 50 times. “I don’t let him get away with anything,” Teixeira declared. “The other day I got some money out of him. I’m going to give it to charity. The next time I get money from him, I’m going to put a thank-you note on the CBF website.”
The quarrel between them, he says, is personal. Before Teixeira got divorced from Havelange’s daughter, a rumor went around that one of his lovers had been killed in a car crash in Miami. Kfouri reported the story, setting off a bombshell in Teixeira’s family life that would lead to the end of the marriage.
Kfouri says that Teixeira uses the story as a pretext to attack him, and that the real source of the bad blood was his story on the CBF president’s “incestuous relations” with Nike. “His strategy is to sue me for everything. He’s hoping that my employers will think that they’re spending too much on lawyers and send me packing,” said Kfouri. “He can’t do whatever he likes as the head of football and think that nobody is going to say anything. The national team’s jerseys don’t read Teixeira.”
On the terrace at Bindella, Rodrigo Paiva took more Brazilian reporters’ calls while the table waited for dessert to arrive. They wanted to know what the CBF president thought of the evangelical federal deputy Anthony Garotinho’s attempt to organize a Parliamentary Inquiry Commission (CPI) into the CBF and the World Cup. “He’s working for Record,” said Teixeira.
Teixeira’s relations with the Record network turned sour last year, when the company – backed by the Pentecostal Universal Church of the Kingdom of God – tried to win the airing rights to the Brasileirão away from the Globo network. Rumor had it that Record offered 1 billion reais to the 20 best teams, gathered around the so-called “Group of 13.” And Globo, with the support of the CBF, went on to negotiate individually with the sporting clubs. Straight away Globo signed Flamengo and Corinthians, whose presidents are fairly close with Teixeira. In the end, the majority went with Globo, and Record, once again, was left with no football.
“Ever since then, Garotinho’s been trying to get a CPI off the ground,” said Teixeira. In March, Garotinho, a former governor of Rio de Janeiro, managed to muster the necessary signatures for an investigation into the World Cup. Caught off-guard, the Confederation president flew to Brasília, made the rounds in the capital and managed to sway a good number of politicians. “Everyone from the PT [Workers’ Party] who’d already signed backpedaled when they saw that the whole thing was ridiculous.”
Before paying the check, Teixeira spoke on the phone with Evandro Guimarães, a Brasília-based Globo lobbyist. They swapped ideas about artificial cattle insemination, which is one of Teixeira’s latest projects. His ranch, in the interior of the state of Rio, produces 10,000 liters of milk a day; the president’s dairy products are served up in many Rio restaurants. He also sells dulce de leche, ricotta, Minas cheese, Parmesan, and requeijão, Brazilian cream cheese (the best product, in his opinion). Is it turning a profit? “I’m not the type to throw away money.”
Asked who his best friends are, he said, “Rico, Beto, Joana and my wife.” Rico, Beto, and Joana are his three oldest children, who, along with his brother and his brother-in-law, are all in the business of football. To illustrate his vision of friendship, he spins a little fable. “If you’re in deep shit, people will say, ‘Poor Ricardo, let’s lend him a hand.’ But then they all go home, don’t help and pretend that they forgot all about it,” he said. “Now, think about the opposite: ‘Hell, Ricardo’s done well for himself, that’s great.’ You can be sure that the guy you thought was your best friend will say, ‘Sure, you can do well for yourself if you rob people blind.’”
He says that he doesn’t mind the corruption charges. “I don’t pay attention to them. Besides, it’s all shit. I couldn’t give a shit.” Like Tom Jobim, he thinks that Brazilians can’t handle other people’s success. “A black guy in Harlem looks at a white guy’s car and thinks, ‘I want one just like that,’” he reasoned. “The black guy doesn’t want the white guy to fuck up and lose the car. But Brazil isn’t like that. It’s classless, is what it is.”
Having left Bindella, he decided, once again, to return to the hotel on foot. “I need to take a little walk to help my digestion,” he said by way of justification. As we passed the store with the fur coats, he perked up again: “Look at that overcoat, it’s still there. Do you think the price is still the same?”
In the tearoom at the Baur au Lac, the Argentine Julio Grondona was sprawled in an armchair, his face aglow. “Ah, I went to see Chagall’s stained glass windows, I had a wonderful risotto, I drank a bottle of Chianti and we toasted to the FIFA election,” he said, bursting into laughter.
Teixeira seemed surprised to find that the Fraumünster Cathedral and its Chagall-designed windows, one of the main tourist attractions in Zurich, was less than 500 meters from the hotel. Even though he’s been visiting the city for over 30 years, his paths are always the same: hotel, then FIFA, then the same restaurants as always, where he’s attended by the same waiters as always and orders the same dishes as always. Landscapes no longer impress him.
At 5:30 p.m., Teixeira said that he needed to make a few calls, said that we’d have dinner at 8, and went up to his room. Eduardo Deluca, the secretary-general of the South American Football Confederation, opened up about his colleague. “Do you know anyone in his position, with his prominence, who doesn’t have the same crazy stories told about him? He’s a very strong candidate for 2015, that’s why he’s being attacked. We’re behind him all the way.” Deluca is a Pantagruelian figure who speaks in a monotone and always seems to be gazing into the middle distance.
The president, his wife, the two daughters, Rodrigo Paiva and the secretary Alexandre Silveira dined at Dézaley, a restaurant with one of the most legendary fondues in Zurich. They settled down at a table in the back and were greeted in Portuguese by a waiter who took their orders.
“Hey, I’ve got news,” announced the cartola to his wife, passing her a bundle of papers. “The English Federation sent a report to FIFA this afternoon saying that I’ve got nothing to do with all that business of asking Triesman for a bribe, look.”
When the fondue came, Teixeira said that the report would be made public in three days at a press conference. “But why on earth would you wait until then?” asked Ana. “I couldn’t care less,” he said. His oldest daughter, Joana Havelange, 34, quietly listened to the conversation. She’s tall, blonde, and favors black clothing. Her father named her executive director of the World Cup Organizing Committee.
At lunches or dinners with Ricardo Teixeira (who never let me pay for so much as a cup of coffee in his presence), everyone is prodded to weigh in on football bureaucracy – about the World Cup in particular – and indulge in political gossip. Intimate moments are rare. On one occasion, the baby of the family, Antônia, hugged her father and said that he was lovely, he had wonderful hair and he should never cut it. Melting, Teixeira let his head rest on his daughter’s shoulder.
When the check came, Teixeira took out his Gucci wallet – which only has credit cards, not a single bill or coin –, and examined the total. He perched his glasses on the bridge of his nose and asked, flustered, “What’s trinkgeld?” When he was told that it was the tip, he said that once he’d had a card rejected because he entered the PIN wrong, even though the limit on it was up to 600,000 reais.
Close to midnight, the group made its way to the bridge over the river Limmat and stopped in front of the Fraumünster Cathedral. They were armed with old bread taken from the restaurant; the pieces were tossed to the wind, fell and floated in the clear waters of the river. “I’ve been feeding the ducks here since 1974,” said Teixeira with a sigh. On the Bahnhofstrasse, he got his daughter’s attention: “Look, Toninha, that coat – a thousand Euros! I’m going to buy it!”
In 1997, Ricardo Teixeira separated from Lúcia Havelange and began a relationship with the socialite Narcisa Tamborindeguy. Shortly thereafter he met Ana Carolina, who was studying administration at the Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro. She was waiting for friends at the bar at El Turf, his nightclub. The friends never showed up, and the president, without introducing himself, told an employee to get that 19-year-old’s number. A few days later, he called. “He didn’t beat around the bush,” said Ana Carolina. “He said that he wasn’t young anymore and didn’t have the time or patience to flirt – he just cut straight to the chase.”
Weeks went by before she finally agreed to a date. They went out to dinner, and he kissed her goodnight. She had liked him, but then Teixeira gave her the cold shoulder. “Afterwards he completely ignored me, and I was totally taken aback – who did he think he was?”
Ana Carolina said that recently she was looking through a box of old photos. She was surprised to see how much her husband had changed in just a few years: “His neck, his skin, everything. His hair was gray and now it’s white.”
After another couple weeks, they started dating seriously. Then came Paris. With a telling smile, she remembered the first trip they took together. They dined in the Jules Verne, the restaurant in the Eiffel Tower. On the way back to their hotel, she recalled, they had one of the most romantic moments of their marriage. “There was a gypsy woman selling roses. He asked how much they were, she said 10 francs, and he gave her a 500-franc note and picked a single rose,” she said, looking at her husband. Teixeira, examining something invisible in his hands, didn’t return her gaze. “Then he gave the rose to the gypsy, picked up the entire basket of roses, and gave it to me.” Teixeira kept his head down. When I asked what had made him notice Ana Carolina, he failed to respond (to his wife’s dismay).
Four days before the election of the FIFA leadership, a team from Globo News was sent from London to Zurich to do a report on the World Cup preparations. Executives from the Federation, including Teixeira, spoke extensively about the infrastructure being developed in Brazil, the construction of stadiums and the host cities. Despite the recent flurry of corruption and bribery accusations, Globo didn’t ask a single question in that area.
During the Brazilian parliamentary investigation into Nike in 2001, the network had run a piece on the news program Globo Repórter saying that Ricardo Teixeira’s lifestyle far outstripped his ostensible income. Shortly thereafter, out of the blue, the CBF announced that it was moving the time of the Brazil-Argentina match, a South American classic that draws record audiences. Instead of the normal time slot, after the 8pm novela, the game was bumped to 7:45.
“It pre-empted two novelas and the nightly news, you know what that means?” whispered Teixeira to me in the Baur au Lac, when the story was brought up. Since Globo was broadcasting the game, the network had to go without airing its most expensive prime-time ads. After that, there were no more unpleasant reports about the CBF president on Globo.
Teixeira wanted to have lunch at the Zeughauskeller again. On the way, Rodrigo Paiva’s cell phone rang. Someone on the other end of the line, in Rio, told him that Rio’s mayor Eduardo Paes had said that the World Cup press headquarters would be located downtown, near the docks. The announcement should have been made by the Organizing Committee – by Ricardo Teixeira, that is. What Teixeira went on to say in the car is not fit to print.
It was pouring rain, and Paiva’s cell phone was ringing off the hook. In another call, someone told him that a “hair-raising” story about Teixeira was set to air on Sunday, on Record. Teixeira reacted by cursing the station, journalists, news websites, and the news media in general. He said he could care less, because the Igreja Universal’s network “got peanuts” in viewers. As a matter of fact, he thought it was a good thing. “The more I take a beating from Record, the better I’ll come off on Globo.” As the days went on, though, he came to feel that it wasn’t fair for him to be suffering the brunt of a dispute between the two networks.
When the car pulled up to the restaurant, he told his secretary not to forget to “buy socks for [Rio de Janeiro] Vice Governor Pezão.” At the Zeughauskeller, he ordered veal Stroganoff and a beer. Then he called the head of the PMDB (Brazilian Democratic Movement Party), Henrique Eduardo Alves, to complain about Garotinho.
As he ate, he explained that he’d “always” been on board for Sepp Blatter, who was competing with the Qatari millionaire Mohammed Bin Hammam. His daughter Antônia, who was eating French fries, turned to her father with a confused expression. “But don’t you want Bin Hammam to win?” Teixeira made a swift move with his right arm under the table. It was meant to be discreet, but the girl cried out – “Ah, daddy, don’t pinch me!”
There was an uncomfortable silence. Teixeira went back to eating, his wife read the menu and Antônia tapped out a message on her smartphone. She passed the phone to her mother, who wrote something else before returning it to her. Looking at the screen, Antônia laughed. “Sorry,” she said out loud.
Teixeira told his secretary to call Sandro Rosell, Barcelona president, former director of Nike and best man at his wedding. “Good luck, meu querido, wish you the best, we’re rooting for you.” The next day, Barcelona was set to play Manchester in the final of the Champions League in London. Rosell had invited Teixeira to come see the game, but the latter excused himself, wanting to avoid the onslaught of the English press.
They’ve been friends since the 1990s, when Rosell lived in Rio. It was then that the company became the official supplier for the Brazilian national team and one of the CBF’s main sponsors. The relationship between Nike and the Confederation was brought under investigation by the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, and stayed in the headlines for months.
“All that was just to draw the spotlight away from the Eduardo Jorge investigation,” said Teixeira. “It was all set to go, but then they went and concocted this football CPI that obviously eclipsed the other one.” He was referring to the chief-of-staff under the Fernando Henrique Cardoso administration. At the time, Jorge – along with the judge Nicolau dos Santos Neto and the senator Luiz Estevão – was involved in an overbilling scandal regarding the construction of a federal courts building in São Paulo. (Jorge wasn’t found guilty on any charges, and subsequently got settlements from the various media outlets that had accused him.)
“Even [the footballer] Ronaldo had to give testimony at the Nike CPI,” he went on. “And at one point during the questioning, one deputy ended up asking who was in charge of marking Zidane. Is that something that belongs in a CPI?” In the end, 13 charges were brought against Teixeira, including embezzlement, money laundering and tax evasion. All 13 were subsequently dropped by the Public Prosecutor’s Office. “They looked over everything and they didn’t find anything. Everything was abandoned. So, what, is the Public Prosecutor’s Office incompetent?”
The ticketing company Match had rented a space in the hotel so that the FIFA bosses could watch the Manchester-Barcelona game. Teixeira settled himself into a front-row seat. There were snacks and cocktails, but he accepted a juice. A Uruguayan cartola quizzed him about the Brazilian teams, and he responded laconically, in Spanish. “Santos is very good. The only problem is that they only have two players.” “Palmeiras’ problem is that they managed to spend a lot and win nothing.”
Unlike the rest of the crowd, which was chatting, yelling, and cursing, Teixeira might as well have been watching a rerun. He made a few comments about Barça’s bad passes, and pursed his lips when the team missed a good shot. In the middle of the game, he picked up his iPad. When Messi scored, he barely lifted his gaze above the rims of his glasses to check the instant replay.
Afterwards, he confided that he disliked watching games with “lots of people around.” He’d already told me that when it comes to football he keeps business separate from personal. “I’m not a fan, I’m an administrator,” he’d said. “I don’t want to know who the coach’s going to pick for the team, I don’t catcall the players, and I don’t invite the players over to my house.”
In the light of the recent scandal, the traditional gala ball on the eve of the FIFA elections was canceled. Secretary-general Jérôme Valcke had already shown the press the official report absolving Teixeira from the bribery accusations, but the CBF president still wasn’t pleased. “Look how disgusting the Brazilian press is,” he said. On his iPad, he turned up three different articles on Brazilian news sites about the report. Only the BBC story clearly laid out the details. The rest painted the document as suspect, given that it was the product of an internal FIFA investigation.
“The Brazilian press is a bunch of jackasses,” he said. Once, he said, a site – relying on the word of a hotel doorman – reported that he’d spent Réveillon at a ski resort. “If I hadn’t been with my wife, those sons of bitches would have ended my marriage.”
At 7:45 a.m., João Havelange was sitting alone in the Savoy lobby waiting for his driver, who would take him over to the FIFA elections at 9. In the car, he said that for decades he has been celebrating his birthday by going to a circus in Zurich. “The circus is the only place in the world today where you still have real solidarity,” he said. When the car pulled up in front of the building, there were 10 protesters holding up signs for a “clean game”. More than 500 journalists were registered for the event, the majority of them English.
Before voting could begin, Jérôme Valcke warned the 203 FIFA delegates to test their voting devices. He would ask two sample questions, and the delegates should press the green button for yes, the yellow button to abstain and the red button for no. The instructions were translated into seven languages. “Is this Congress taking place in Hungary?” was the first question. To general surprise, 45 delegates responded yes. “Did Spain win the last World Cup?” The board showed that 7 delegates answered in the negative.
The congress approved points of the new FIFA constitution, along with the entry of new members, and – in response to the corruption allegations – instituted changes in the system for choosing host countries. From then on, all the delegates, not just members of the Executive Committee, could vote. In theory, opening up the voting to the whole Congress should make the process more honest. That is, there would be significantly more people to bribe.
Ricardo Teixeira spent the entire time listening to the simultaneous translation. Before the election results were announced, he vanished – he had to catch a flight to Brazil that afternoon. In the absence of any opponents, Blatter was reelected for four more years. British Prime Minister David Cameron called the victory “a farce.”
It was noon when Ricardo Teixeira stepped into the lobby of the Caesar Park Hotel in Guarulhos, São Paulo, where the Brazilian national team was staying before a friendly match against Romania. The game would be Ronaldo’s last. He was given a commemorative watch in a ceremony at the hotel; Teixeira and the Fenômeno had been close. “You were the best Seleção player since I’ve been running the CBF,” he said. There was a little jab hidden in the remark. The politician and former footballer Romário, who’d wanted to have Teixeira brought to testify in Congress, had said that he, not Ronaldo, was the best athlete in Brazil’s recent history.
The FIFA election had happened a week ago, and there was no more discussion of it. When I met up with Teixeira, I wanted to know if the situation was like the phrase on his friend Grondona’s ring: Todo pasa. He laughed, clapped a hand on my shoulder and said, “Losing’s rough, sweetie. When you win, that’s the end of it.”
On the way out of the event, Corinthians president Andrés Sanchez said that Lula had told him that he couldn’t attend Ronaldo’s game because he had to go to Brasília “to fix this Palocci thing, which is a real pain in the ass.” When someone said that Palocci wouldn’t last much longer, Teixeira shot back, “Why’s he got to step down? He doesn’t have to leave, Palocci’s not leaving anytime soon.”
That afternoon, the Brazilian national team did a quick warm-up in Pacaembu Stadium. At the end, Globo director Luiz Gleiser rehearsed Ronaldo, practicing how he and his two sons should walk onto the field, when they should start jogging, how many minutes later they should leave the stadium, where he should speak. And so it was that, after 15 minutes on the field and two missed goals, the Fenômeno bid farewell to football.
During half-time, Ronaldo read a prepared speech and thanked his fans for “accepting me for who I am.” Video rolled and cameras flashed, capturing the last images of the legend on the football field: overweight, sweating, and, strangely enough, sporting a nasal strip. At home, meanwhile, Globo viewers had a special bonus. Between Galvão Bueno’s sign-off and the start of Jornal da Globo, a single ad aired: a spot for Respire Melhor, the nasal strip that Ronaldo had been wearing for apparently no reason.
The next week, Ricardo Teixeira walked into a VIP area at Santos Dumont Airport, in Rio, where he would take the CBF jet to Brasília. He was told that Palocci was stepping down, and that the Minister for Fisheries Ideli Salvatti had just been named his replacement as chief of staff. “The President knows exactly why she wants Ideli in the job,” he said in response to someone’s surprise at the nomination.
As the plane taxied, he looked out the window, breathed deeply, and crossed himself five times in a row. He only relaxed once the jet was at cruising altitude. Alexandre Silveira sat across from him and the two got down to business. There were three folders with dozens of letters, requests, and invitations. Teixeira marked each one with a designation: “File away,” “Meet with,” Send to Salim,” “Say I’m available.” Faced with an invitation to a Copacabana Palace dance in honor of Queen Elizabeth II’s birthday, he only said, “Nobody’s going to anything British.”
In Brasília, he planned to go to the inauguration of three Superior Court of Justice ministers, as well as meet up with Congressman Ciro Gomes and senator Aécio Neves. He calls the former “Cirinho,” and hopes that the latter will be President someday. The friendship between the cartola and the senator is still new; back when Neves was president of the Chamber of Deputies, he appointed Sílvio Torres to write up the Nike investigation report. Torres turned out a hard-hitting, well-founded denunciation of Teixeira.
Up until the Nike investigation, the CBF had made cash donations to candidates, building up a Congressional “football caucus.” Now, with up to 24 billion reais in World Cup investments up for grabs, politicians are brown-nosing and arm-twisting in an effort to get games scheduled in their home districts.
Teixeira first approached Lula in 2004, when, as part of a PR effort to honor the Brazilian troops sent to Port-au-Prince, the national team went to play a game in Haiti. Lula came to meet with Teixeira regularly, usually on Friday afternoons, to have a whiskey and talk football and politics. With Dilma Rousseff, everything changed: Teixeira’s never been received by the President. When he wants to know something behind the scenes at the Planalto Palace, he usually goes to mutual friends in high places.
Upon entering Gero, a restaurant in a Brasília shopping center, Teixeira was greeted by a majority of the diners. “Hey, president!” “Boa tarde, president!” “Over here, president,” said the waiter. “I don’t have the slightest idea of who that short guy is. I’m nearsighted,” he told me. Ciro Gomes and Aécio Neves didn’t show up; they were out of town.
He ordered gnocchi with ragù (“Gnocchi well cooked, tá? Ragù, is that like a Bolognese sauce?”), and a bottle of red wine. One assistant said that the success of the Brazilian World Cup would be a testament to Teixeira’s talent and would quiet his critics once and for all. Teixeira pointed out that he’d already gotten together $300 million three years before the World Cup, while South Africa spent less than $40 million on the whole Cup.
“That’s it,” he went on, “that’s my point of pride. Seeing how the biggest companies in the world – the biggest meat company, the biggest insurance company, the biggest brewery, the biggest bank in Brazil, the biggest news publishing company, everyone – sank millions into a dirty thief, this crook here, into a shitty football confederation, into a team that always loses.” He was referring to the big World Cup sponsors: Seara, Liberty, Ambev, Itaú and Abril. Between guffaws, he recalled how, upon returning from Zurich, he canceled all his newspaper subscriptions, stopped watching TV and poking around on the Internet. “I don’t read a goddamn thing anymore, life’s a breeze now, things are really great.”
The justices’ inauguration ceremony was brief, but the receiving line was interminable. Upon leaving the chamber, Teixeira was approached by a reporter. “I’m not giving interviews,” he said brusquely. He was told that the journalist was from TV Justiça and just wanted to know what he thought of the ceremony.
After an hour standing in line, Teixeira began to feel an ache in his right leg, the one with the iron plate. A High Court judge at his side was pressing him about the 2014 World Cup construction projects. “Where we’re concerned, it’s all on schedule,” he said. “I’m not worrying. It’ll all turn out. Rio’s buzzing with construction – Belo Horizonte, Salvador, and Recife, too. Money makes the world go round.”
The judge wanted to know about the controversy over the São Paulo stadiums. “The press is most at fault in all that,” said Teixeira. “It’s a hotbed of paulistas, so they spent three years trying to shove the Morumbi stadium down my throat. That’s how all the projects got delayed.”
There’s another version of events. As some have it, in the wake of the dust-up with Globo, Record, and the Group of 13, Teixeira bad-mouthed Morumbi out of revenge. The stadium, after all, belongs to the São Paulo Football Club, whose president Juvenal Juvêncio is one of Teixeira’s critics. Others pointed out that while Morumbi would just need a renovation, it would cost three times as much to build Itaquerão, the Corinthians Football Club stadium.
Teixeira argued that the best stadium at Germany’s World Cup was one “between one highway and another.” According to him, “Itaquera has much better infrastructure than Morumbi. It has a rail system and a Metro station right by the stadium.”
As usual, he blamed the press for the uproar. “Look at the fucking mess that the World Cup was in France – Brazil played in a 27,000-seat stadium, we ended up in the middle of nowhere. Did any journalist complain? No, they didn’t. After all, they were going to Paris.” When the conversation turned to airports, he made it clear that it wasn’t his problem. “That’s on the government. And if the government doesn’t think that the Cup is a priority, I can’t do anything about it. It’s YOUR country, after all.”
The line was moving, but there were 20 minutes to go. They chatted about Flamengo’s goalie Bruno, accused of having murdered the mother of his son. Teixeira thinks that there are at least five renowned footballers who were saved by the sport. If they hadn’t gone pro, he says, they’d have become juvenile delinquents and been killed before the age of 15. After nearly two hours of waiting, it took about five minutes to congratulate the justices. But Teixeira was pleased. “Well worth it, I spoke with at least 20 judges.”
At the Brasília Air Base, he got a call warning that Record was airing yet another “attack program” on him that night. Teixeira excused himself to speak with his lawyer, and asked what exactly would be included in the report. Reporters had taken pictures of his ranch, wrongly attributed a house in Búzios to him, and shown his house in Florida.
He told the lawyer to start drawing up a lawsuit. The jet began to taxi, and he took one more cellphone call. When he hung up, he stayed sitting on the edge of his seat, holding the phone in his hand. “Heard anything about Palocci today? No? If I resigned today, I’d be named a saint,” he vented.
As the plane took off, he took off his shoes, stretched out his legs on a cream-colored leather ottoman and crossed himself. We’d left the city lights behind by the time he broke the silence. “In 2014, I’ll be able to get away with anything. The most slippery, unthinkable, Machiavellian things. Denying press credentials, barring access, changing game schedules. And you know what? Nothing’ll happen. You know why? Because in 2015 I’m out of here. Then it’ll all be over.”
*An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Zurich as the capital of Switzerland