WTF is La Copinha?

Behind the crazy tournament all of Europe's top clubs are attending 🇧🇷

Endrick after winning the Copinha in 2022

What do John Kennedy and Abrhaão Linkoln have in common? While both having been assassinated while in office comes to mind, Kennedy and Linkoln are actually Brazilian youngsters who have featured in the world’s preeminent youth tournament, the Copinha.

Officially known as the Copa São Paulo de Futebol Júnior, the Copinha is a U21 competition played every January that features 128 teams hailing primarily from the state of São Paulo. Players as young as 15 years old compete for the ultimate bragging rights in Brazil’s biggest city, but the real prize is potentially being scouted by a top European club.

Scouts from clubs like Real Madrid, Man City, and Arsenal flock to São Paulo like salmon of the Capistrano in hopes of landing the next Neymar, and chances are they’ll find him.

Breeding ground for talent

It’s never easy to find talent that will thrive at the highest level, but a tournament bringing together thousands of kids from the most soccer-crazed city in the world is a damn good place to look.

Players such as Endrick, Gabriel Jesus, Vinícius Júnior, Gabriel Martinelli, Marquinhos, Casemiro, and even Neymar have played in the Copinha, and the pipeline from the streets of São Paulo to Europe’s top clubs is growing every year.

17-year-old Gabriel Jesus playing for Palmeiras in 2015

Real Madrid, in particular, have been Copinha connoisseurs of sorts in recent years, having signed players like Vinícius, Rodrygo, and Reinier after watching them play in the tournament. Los Blancos also landed the prize jewel of the Copinha in Endrick, who led Palmeiras to back-to-back titles in 2022 and 2023.

While the lightning-quick striker is now a household name, just two years ago he was an unassuming 15-year-old unheard of outside of Brazilian circles. His performances at the Copinha changed it all:

Nearly a year later, Real Madrid announced they had reached an agreement to sign the then 16-year-old for a fee of €38m when he turns 18 in July 2024. Endrick joining the world’s biggest club tells you everything you need to know about why this tournament means so much to these kids it can change their life overnight. 🤑

What’s in a name?

If you hadn’t heard of the Copinha for its de facto status as the soccer world’s preeminent talent incubator, then you’ve likely heard of it for its outlandish player names.

Dude’s out here playing “6D” chess 🧠 

Dating back to the county’s days as a Portuguese colony, the tradition of referring to one another by nickname is as Brazilian as fat asses and favela shootouts.

Many given names reflect the Brazilian obsession with American culture, although Portuguese transliterations of these names are often brutalized at best (e.g. Jheymmyson). Tons of famous Brazilian footballers have used shortened names (Garrincha comes to mind), and nowhere else is this tradition more apparent than in this year’s Copinha.

First, there are those named after current and former players:

  • Kaka

  • Mimbape

  • Mbappé da Shoppe (he got the accent right!)

  • Pogba

  • Neymar

  • Thierry Henry

  • Pirlo

  • Seedorf

  • Zidanne

Then, there are those named after animals:

  • Mamute (mammoth)

  • Perereca (tree frog, also slang for “vagina”)

  • Piriquito (parakeet)

  • Coruja (owl)

  • Formiga (ant)

  • Tatu (armadillo)

There are also those named after other people outside the soccer world, usually egregiously misspelled:

  • Abrhaão Linkoln (Abraham Lincoln)

  • Isac Niltton (Isaac Newton)

  • Denzel Washington (bring him on when you need an Equalizer)

  • Diogo Bolt (Usain Bolt)

  • Eike Batista (Brazilian businessman)

And lastly, but certainly not least, there are those named after only God knows what:

  • DVD

  • Quadrado (square)

  • Matuto (slang for “Country Bumpkin”)

  • Tabika (molding)

  • Caça Rato (rat hunter)

  • and my personal favorite… Wallismar Pistoleiro (Wallismar Gunslinger)

Imagine DVD and Wallismar Pistoleiro going head-to-head in the Manchester Derby? That’d be appointment television for their names alone. You cannot truly claim to be a fan of the Brazilian game until you’ve celebrated a goal by 16-year-old called LP Aromatic. 🤦‍♂️

Still not convinced?

If the hottest youth prospects, hectic gameplay (these are U21 teams, after all), and names bordering on insanity aren’t your thing, then perhaps you’ll be swayed by a new twist in this year’s tournament: a commentator making his own sound effects.

Apparently the echo at 0:22 is a classic Brazilian radio trope where the commentator will update listeners on the score while the team names echo in the background. NBC Sports really ought to look into hooking up Peter Drury with a similar soundboard. 📻

This year’s tournament

With Endrick still at the club, Palmeiras are again the favorites to win this year’s tournament. A three-peat is far from guaranteed, however, as the Alviverde face stiff competition in Copa Libertadores winners Fluminense and perennial Copinha favorites Corinthians.

Corinthians sit atop Group 10 with six points

The record ten-time champions won their first two games by a combined score of 7-0, and boast one of the most talented youngsters in the world in Gabriel Moscardo. While the 18-year-old defensive midfielder will miss this year’s tournament with a foot injury, his past Copinha performances have him one step closer to trading in Mimbape and Mbappé da Shoppe for the real Mbappé.