1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Richarlison can spur change in Brazilian football mentality

April 5, 2024

The Tottenham striker's comments about how working with a psychologist saved his career — and his life — could spur a major change in attitude toward mental health in Brazilian football. He's not alone in this effort.

Richarlison playing for Brazil
Richarlison's comments could lead to generational change in how Brazil's young footballers handle mental healthImage: Marvin Ibo Güngör/GES/picture alliance

At the end of March, Brazil and Tottenham striker Richarlison told ESPN Brazil that therapy saved his life and his football career.

"We know how prejudiced people are when they say they're looking for [psychological] help," the 26-year-old said.

"I talk about it because it saved my life. I was at rock bottom. Only players know how much pressure we're under, not only on the pitch but also off it."

Richarlison's comments were just the latest example of an athlete speaking publicly about their mental health, something that has increased in the last five years. In Brazil, though, such comments are not as commonplace as elsewhere.

According to a 2023 paper by professor Tania Maria de Araujo published in a Brazilian health journal, efforts to improve mental health provisions across the country have been hampered by a lack of access to mental health services and legislation.

In the book "Mental Health in Elite Sport: Applied Perspective from Across the Globe," eight authors collated insight into mental health in Brazilian sport and revealed how much of an impact socioeconomic factors, such as access to adequate nutrition and sanitation, are for young players.

Despite this and the overwhelming popularity of football in Brazil, cross-disciplinary teams delivering the technical, tactical, psychological and mental health needs of players and coaches are not common in the country. Sports psychologists are not often seen in the staff of first teams and although they are mandatory in youth academies, they are often under enormous strain, managing a number of teams alone. This, however, is an issue that is not unique to Brazil, but exists across many football academies in the world .

"This issue is bigger than football," Cauan de Almeida, head coach of second-division side America Mineiro, told DW.

And at America, the club where Richarlison started his career, Cauan de Almeida and his staff are doing their best to help players develop mentally on and off the field.

Coaching through values

The 35-year-old is the face of a new coaching generation in Brazil, one that has developed their skills in the academy and is now bringing those values into the first-team environment.

He has moved up from America's academy and in doing so, he is bringing the values in his coaching philosophy — resilience, attitude, behavior, respect, courage, responsibility and being a family — with him, and is delivering them on the training pitch in combination with his technical and tactical coaching.

This isn't to say the club is not focused on winning. As one of the most traditional clubs in the country, America is desperate to return to the top flight, but Cauan de Almeida and his staff also know there is value in creating a meaning beyond just the victory on the pitch.

"We understand if we deliver on these values and this philosophy, day by day we can bring something more consistent for our players as a group," he said.

"When we bring these values for the players day by day, we are putting these values into their head, not just for our club but also for our families. We are inspiring new leaders. They will be better players and better people, and at home they can pass that knowledge onto their family."

There is a recognition here of the importance of holistic coaching.

"We understand it's a very important thing to talk about with our group, but also for Brazilian football as a whole," he said.

"We as a leader of the process, we also deal with this situation. We can feel what Richarlison felt. We need to understand the pressure of the result and how to handle it when you lose the game. We also need to be mentally strong."

To this end, Cauan de Almeida is working with a leading sports psychologist in the country to help himself and his players. When asked if this was common practice in football in the country, his response was telling.

"I think no, because my psychologist told me I am the first football coach she has seen," he said.

Leaving a legacy

The biggest challenge for Brazilian football is to move away from the idea that to be a Brazilian football means to possess an ability that is purely expressive and natural, and toward one that recognizes the importance of the person and the mind.

"We also understand when we deliver on our values, we can leave a legacy for the club and players," said Cauan de Almeida.

He wants to implant these values into the heart of the club so that when the day comes when he is no longer the coach, the values remain, creating a strategic consistency that allows for long-lasting personal and professional development.

Richarlison has opened the door for generational change, and Cauan de Almeida is making sure America Mineiro are doing their best to follow though. Their hope is that Brazilian football as a whole does the same.

Edited by: Chuck Penfold