- Associated Press - Monday, January 20, 2014

SAO PAULO  — At Arsenal’s Highbury Stadium, Edu played on one of soccer’s finest fields. The team’s award-winning groundskeeper, Paul Burgess, became so noted for his green fingers he was eventually lured away by Real Madrid.

So when Edu returned home to Brazil in 2009 to finish his career, the worn and sorry state of some Brazilian soccer fields was an eye-opener. Even now, as the World Cup host rushes to ready itself, Edu says the fields in Brazil aren’t on a par with those in Europe, where he played for eight years, at Arsenal and Valencia.

“England, Germany, fantastic (fields). Spain, they’re good as well,” the former midfielder told The Associated Press. “If you see around the world, they are at another level than Brazil.”

Now retraining in soccer management and working at Corinthians, Edu says he bends the ears of all and sundry in Brazil about the need for better playing surfaces. He hopes the World Cup will drive home his message.

“I’ve always been trying to talk to everybody, to officials and to the press, and say, ‘Come on, let’s invest a little bit more in the pitch,’” he said. “We have fantastic players here in Brazil but we need fantastic pitches as well.”

Substandard fields aren’t new to Brazil. Although the warm climate is plant friendly, fields have suffered from overuse and insufficient love and attention. Record World Cup goal-scorer Ronaldo told the AP that his first club, Sao Cristovao in Rio de Janeiro, used goats to trim its grass.

“The pitch wasn’t the best, as you can imagine, although the goats worked really hard,” the 2002 World Cup winner said by email. “The club didn’t have much money so the goats were the cheapest ‘groundsmen’ you could find.”

The three-time world player of the year said he and 1994 World Cup winner Bebeto, both members of Brazil’s committee organizing the tournament, have talked to stadium owners about the importance of top fields.

“We want it to be one of the football legacies of the FIFA World Cup,” Ronaldo said. “The pitch-cost represents, on average, less than 1 percent of the total investment needed for building or renovating a football arena. However, the impact is huge, as the pitch is the most important thing for the players.”

Brazilians say having to adapt to irregular surfaces is one reason they’re often such wizards with a ball.

“That is why the Brazilian player is like an artist,” Rubens Minelli, a national championship-winning former coach, said in an interview. He recalled being amazed by Newcastle’s surface — “very fast,” he noted when he took Internacional to play there in the 1970s.

Juninho was likewise impressed when he moved to Middlesbrough in 1995.

“Unbelievable,” he said. In Brazil, “you couldn’t find real nice pitches, not as good as England.”

“I played in Wembley twice and the grass was fantastic,” he added.

Yves De Cocker, director of the field-installation company Desso GrassMaster, says Brazil has been sluggish in adopting the latest techniques. Desso has worked on dozens of fields around the world, including Wembley, the Emirates Stadium that Arsenal moved to in 2006 and other famed venues.

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