Priests are also in the habit of playing – and with ample legroom, too
© Christopher Pillitz

A beautiful game of life

  • TEXT GUNNAR HERBST
  • PHOTOS CHRISTOPHER PILLITZ

Few nations are as obsessed with soccer as Brazil, which hosts the 2014 Soccer World Cup. Argentinean photographer Christopher Pillitz traveled the length and breadth of the country to record the phenomenon in all its many facets

In Brazil, people don’t need much to play soccer – just a ball and enough space. In fact, Brazilians are happy to play on the street, in a favela courtyard, on a warm sandy beach, of which there are many, on a deep-sea oil platform or in a lush green meadow on the banks of the Amazon. They have also been known to play in an Augustinian seminary, a high-security prison or on a closed city highway. Soccer is their life and they will play almost anywhere. If they can’t find a ball, someone will soon rustle up a tin can. Buildings and crash barriers double as sidelines, plastic bottles and doorways as goalposts. Sometimes players will dispense with goals altogether and focus instead on keeping the ball in the air for minutes at a time or outdribbling their opponents.

Like the samba and carnival, the sport mirrors the playfulness and creativity of their soul

Christopher Pillitz, photographer

If England is the home of soccer, Brazil is its enormous playing field. Nowhere else has the sport achieved such sophistication, lightness and elegance as it has in this South American country, which is hosting the FIFA World Cup from June 12 through July 13 this summer. With every trick they execute, every pass, Brazilians celebrate the magic of the jogo bonito, the beautiful game – intuitively, imaginatively and often with technical perfection. Professional or amateur, lawyer or road sweeper, monk or felon, regardless of age, job or social standing, everyone shares the same passion for the game. For many, soccer is even tantamount to a religion, and that goes not only for players, but for spectators, too. Brazilian soccer pros are revered as heroes, their clubs unconditionally adored.

Street soccer: All the boys in the Jacarezinho favela in Rio de Janeiro need is a little space and a ball – if necessary, a tin can will do

Street soccer: All the boys in the Jacarezinho favela in Rio de Janeiro need is a little space and a ball – if necessary, a tin can will do

© Christopher Pillitz
No goal and perfectly content: Young men entertain themselves on Ipanema Beach by trying to keep the ball from touching the ground

No goal and perfectly content: Young men entertain themselves on Ipanema Beach by trying to keep the ball from touching the ground

© Christopher Pillitz
There’s always a game on the football pitch in Rocinha, a favela in Rio

There’s always a game on the football pitch in Rocinha, a favela in Rio

© Christopher Pillitz
Graffiti on Botafogo FC’s stadium walls recalls past heroes

Graffiti on Botafogo FC’s stadium walls recalls past heroes

© Christopher Pillitz
A country of soccer pitches: in São Paulo prison the inmates also play soccer

A country of soccer pitches: in São Paulo prison the inmates also play soccer

© Christopher Pillitz
Dreaming of success: Like so many young Brazilians from poor back- grounds, Luan Silva, 17, hopes to become a professional soccer player

Dreaming of success: Like so many young Brazilians from poor back- grounds, Luan Silva, 17, hopes to become a professional soccer player

© Christopher Pillitz
Brazil: The Beautiful Game by Christopher Pillitz (Prestel), 200 pages, 175 color illustrations, $39.95/GBP 24.99

Brazil: The Beautiful Game by Christopher Pillitz (Prestel), 200 pages, 175 color illustrations, $39.95/GBP 24.99

© Christopher Pillitz

 “Soccer means everything to people in Brazil,” says Christopher Pillitz, 55. “Like the samba and carnival, the sport mirrors the playfulness and creativity of their soul.” The Argentinean photographer, who has lived in London for the past 35 years and works for such respected magazines as Time, Newsweek, The Observer, Stern and Geo, first visited Brazil with his parents as a child. “I have always been fascinated by this country and its contrasts,” he recalls.

Pillitz has traveled widely in Brazil for many years capturing impressions of the nation’s obsession with soccer. His photos reveal every facet of the mass phenomenon, show young talents bound for a professional career as well as the obsessive fan cult, which can take many forms. Some fans get married outside their club’s stadium, others have their club’s name or coat-of-arms or an oath of allegiance tattooed on their body.

“Brazilians live for soccer,” says Pillitz, “and some will even die for it.” Coming out this month, a glorious book of photos featuring a selection of his best work promises to put us in the mood for this summer’s soccer highlight, the World Cup in Brazil.