Months after millions of Brazilians took to the streets to protest against rising public transport costs, government corruption and Fifa, Brazil’s professional footballers are getting in on the act.
A group of over 70 of the league’s most influential senior players have signed a petition to demand changes to the new calendar proposed by Brazil’s football governing body, the CBF, for the 2014 season.
To factor in a month-long pause for the World Cup in July, the massive number of matches that already comprise a Brazilian season are to be squeezed into a much shorter period of time. The new calendar will also make pre-season preparation impossible, as the 2013 season ends on 8th December and the 2014 state championships are scheduled to kick off on 12th January, leaving a gap of only 35 days. Discounting 30 days for the players’ holidays, many teams will have only five days of pre-season training.
The players’ movement, led by Corinthians’ Paulo André and Coritiba’s Alex and reportedly organised via a private WhatsApp group, goes by the name of Bom Senso FC (Common Sense FC) and was established without any collaboration with Brazil’s much maligned players’ union, Fenapaf. Bom Senso FC has demanded a meeting with the CBF to discuss changes to the calendar, citing the athletes’ health and the quality of the spectacle as their main concerns.
So far support for Bom Senso FC has been good, with several players, coaches, directors and journalists speaking out in favour of their cause. Grêmio’s playboy head coach Renato Gaúcho quipped yesterday that a short pre-season was like “a honeymoon without your wife”.
National team head coach Felipão, as is expected of a CBF employee with authoritarian tendencies, distanced himself from the movement and toed the party line, suggesting that although the dialogue is important, Brazil’s calendar isn’t terribly different from Europe’s major leagues.
I can’t be sure whether Felipão really believes that or not, either way it is wildly inaccurate.
In their 2012-13 season Bayern Munich won the treble by playing a total of 59 matches: 34 in the Bundesliga, 13 in the Champions League, 11 in the DFB-Pokal and the one-off DFL-Supercup final.
The Brasileirão’s current leaders Cruzeiro, who did not participate in any continental tournament and only played four matches before being eliminated in the last 16 of the Copa do Brasil, will have played 60 times by the end of the 2013 season.
Corinthians will have played at least 75 times come the New Year, Atlético-MG aren’t far behind with 71. For a Brazilian team to repeat Bayern’s successes and win the treble, they would need to play around 80 matches in a single season.
Fluminense’s Rafael Sóbis, who has previously played in Spain and the United Arab Emirates, last week gave one of the clearest demonstrations of the dangers facing these overworked professionals. After the final whistle of Flu’s home match against Coritiba, Sóbis collapsed on the pitch, vomited in the centre circle and had to be carried down the tunnel by Fluminense’s medical staff.
In a subsequent interview with Lance!Net, Sóbis admitted that he and other players regularly have to play with injuries.
“I feel angry because we can’t do anything about it,” he said. “We’re not machines.”
The obvious problem is Brazil’s state championships, which are played at the start of every year. Relics of a time when a Brazilian national championship was impractical, the estaduais were once highly regarded and fiercely contested. Now, Brazil’s principal state championships (São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais, Rio Grande do Sul, Paraná, Bahia and Pernambuco) consist of a handful of top division teams inanely battering part-time opposition, often in harsh weather and on woeful pitches.
Santos’s Walter Montillo (blue) during a Campeonato Paulista match this year. Photo: Gazeta Press
Realistically, these tournaments aren’t going anywhere, regardless of player protests. Brazil’s football governing body, the CBF, is a confederation of Brazil’s 27 states and one federal district, which breeds a culture of exchanging favours and attempts to keep each state happy. Scrapping the state federations’ principal tournaments would be political suicide for anyone at the head of the CBF.
However what does need to happen is the slimming down of some of the more jowly tournaments. São Paulo’s state championship, the Campeonato Paulista, consists of an opening phase of 19 matches before a final knockout stage with eight teams. The 20-team tournament could just as easily be split into two, three or even four groups, dramatically reducing its length.
Brazilian football’s long-term problem is the calendar itself. Instead of the July-May season used in most of the world (and recently adopted by several South American nations), Brazil’s football season is in line with the Gregorian calendar.
Playing from February to December makes perfect sense considering Brazil’s climate, but being out of sync with the rest of the world brings myriad setbacks.
For example, Brazil’s football season does not make space for Fifa’s international dates, meaning that the bigger clubs are regularly losing their top players to international duty. The international transfer window also comes at a terrible time for Brazilian clubs, making long-term planning impossible as top talents are poached by European clubs during the season.
A transition to a world calendar is unlikely, because (as you may have guessed) the CBF are an ultra-conservative bunch and it would require something huge to force a change. Theoretically, Brazil’s big clubs could break away and form their own league à la the Premier League, but many of these organisations are struggling with their own massive debts (Rangers FC were liquidated for having debts eleven times smaller than Flamengo’s current arrears).
The arrival of Bom Senso FC is certainly an exciting development, but after just a few years in Brazil, I have become somewhat pessimistic about such things. Brazilians have a popular phrase used in times like these, “tudo acaba em pizza”, literally, everything ends in pizza. It encapsulates a tendency in Brazil of whenever reform is on the table, favours are exchanged, compromises are made, and everyone ends up with a slice of the pie, therefore blocking any genuine change.
When the leaders of Bom Senso FC meet with the heads of the CBF, let’s hope pizza isn’t on the menu.