He's been dubbed "the saddest man in Brazil," after cameras caught caught him hugging his replica World Cup trophy during Brazil's blowout loss, his face twisted by emotion. But don't you worry about the man who'd rather call himself "Gaúcho da Copa"—he's led just about the best life a soccer fan can lead.
Clovis Acosta Fernandes, 58, is the Seleção's superfan. This is the seventh World Cup he has attended, for more than 150 international matches. So if nothing else, Fernandes has been in the house to watch Brazil win World Cups in 1994 and 2002—more than enough to make fandom worth it.
It began in 1990, Fernandes told German site Kicker, when he made a spur-of-the-moment decision to drop his job as a pizzeria owner and headed to Italy. After that, he sold his restaurant and made it part of his life, with the endorsement of his wife. Of course, he would have done it without her blessing, he jokes. "When my wife has said, 'go'' of course I go. If she had said 'no,' I would still go and never come back."
Donning a hat, breeches, and boots as his uniform and dubbing himself "Gaúcho da Copa"—very roughly, the Cup Cowboy—Fernandes started an informal supporters group. "I decided not to dream alone," he told Brazilian site Terra earlier this year. "I invited my friends."
With a rotating cast, he has attended every World Cup since, as well as Copas America, Confederation Cups, the Olympics, and various international friendlies. Usually that entails renting a car in international destinations, but in 2002, Fernandes arrived in Japan only to discover his insurance wouldn't cover it. So he bought a car. But when the tournament ended, with a Brazil championship, he had to do something with it. "I traded the car for a PlayStation," he says. "I gave a gift to my son. Seriously."
He's had his share of mishaps—in 1998 the group rented an apartment in Paris, and for lunch one day purchased baguettes and pâté. It was only after everyone ran to the bathroom that they figured out the "pâté" was actually dog food.
Like any highly visible superfan, he's become a media sensation at this World Cup. He's been interviewed by newspapers both domestic and foreign, posed for photos with tourists, and been captured by FIFA's cameras—rarely without his replica trophy in hand. He's even taken part in a small protest against racism in soccer.
And like any highly visible superfan, his support isn't as grassroots as it used to be. It was revealed that in 2009 his trip to the Confed Cup in South Africa was paid for by the state government of Rio Grande do Sul, to the tune of nearly 15,000 Brazilian reais (more than $6,000 USD). He was sent, he said, "to promote gaúcho culture." His 2010 World Cup trip was paid for in part by a sponsorship with a travel agency. It's not clear if he paid for his attendance at this World Cup out of his own pocket, but told an interviewer he is part of "a committee created by the state government," and "always travels with partnerships."
It took yesterday's brief few seconds of televised pain for Fernandes to come to the world's attention, but he's getting a second wind today thanks to this photo and a Reddit thread that claims he gave his replica trophy to a Germany fan.
The photo is great, the narrative about him passing the trophy off may not be true. It's unsourced, and there are plenty of photos showing fans posing with Fernandes's trophy, both before and after matches. Still, it speaks to Brazilian magnanimity after a truly tough day. Even if the facts aren't quite right, the sentiment prevails.
And as far as Fernandes is concerned, Brazil's loss couldn't have come to a better team. Way back in 2010, he was asked who he's like to see go far at this World Cup—besides the Brazilians, of course. "I really like Germany," he said. "The formation of the gaúcho has a lot to do with the culture of the German people, I mean, I feel a little German."