Us and them

Brazilian drinks giant Ambev’s decision to pull their recent advertising campaign for popular soft drink Guaraná Antarctica in the face of complaints by the Human Rights Commission of the lower house of Congress has left some Brazilians puzzled. The advertisement in question features poster boy Neymar tricking foreign tourists into saying ‘comical’ or nonsensical phrases in Portuguese when trying to order a can of said fizzy juice, and you can watch it here.

Despite the advert being neither funny nor clever, perhaps you could be forgiven for thinking that this is an over the top response to a light-hearted commercial. Making Pão de Açúcar out of a rock washed up on Guanabara Bay, if you will. However, consider the advert’s premise: Neymar’s character, instead of helping foreign visitors enjoy a piece of Brazilian culture, takes advantage of their interest and humiliates them for it. Hardly defensible behaviour, especially when Brazil is about to host millions of World Cup tourists in two months’ time.

The Brazilian psyche has an unhealthy attitude towards foreigners. On one end of the scale, there is this (for lack of a better term) Guaraná mindset. Westerners are referred to as gringos, a bunch of boorish ignoramuses (comparable to the ‘ugly American’ stereotype that came about in the 50s) who are there to be taken advantage of. This idea was born during Getúlio Vargas’s rule of tropical fascism in the 1930s and although it is certainly on the wane – thanks, globalisation – it has yet to disappear entirely.

In my experience, the vast majority of interactions I have had with Brazilians have been positive. When I moved here three years ago, I met tonnes of people who took great pleasure in teaching me aspects of local culture, however I also know how it feels to be bullied just for wanting to learn.

Don’t get the wrong idea, Western tourists and ex-pats are hardly among the downtrodden in Brazil. In most cases they are welcomed, and sometimes seen as demigods, with doors opened for them which remain closed to the majority of Brazilians. This Western Worship is just as problematic.

Both negative perceptions stem from a larger branch of the Brazilian psyche, a long-lasting inferiority complex commonly known as the complexo de vira-lata, or ‘stray dog complex’. Promoted by Vargas’ nationalist discourse in the 30s, a worrying gulf opened up between ‘us and them’ – Brazilians and the rest of the world – the remnants of which can still be seen today.

The knock-on effects of this viewpoint, introduced by Vargas as a political tool to consolidate his popularity, alienated many Brazilians from foreigners and fomented these disproportionate attitudes of dismissal or adulation of anything outside of their borders.

Considering that Brazil overthrew a particularly brutal military dictatorship less than thirty years ago and has only recently arrived on the world’s economic stage, this is a country that is still looking for its own identity.

This World Cup is destined to be one of missed opportunities, with shelved infrastructure projects and scant public investment, but Brazil’s view of foreigners is something that the tournament can still change for the better.

The Brazilian public needs less of Neymar taking advantage of tourists and more positive examples, such as the latest offering from petrol station chain Ipiranga, who have a reputation for making sharp, funny advertisements. Granted, this is hardly among their best, it is cheesy and flirts with some international stereotypes, but the overall sentiment – the jingle teaches Brazilians how to direct foreigners to the petrol station in a number of languages – is one of welcoming and friendship, instead of exclusion and ridicule.

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Sinful Sundays

Sundays are sacred in Brazil. For a population that works long hours, often Monday to Saturday, the 24 hours’ rest at the end of each week is inviolable.

A typical domingo could include a little lie-in, followed by a walk in the park and a stodgy-yet-comforting macarronada for lunch. There are often visits from family and, weather permitting, an impromptu barbecue-cum-samba is not unheard of. However the main event of the day, the one around which all other activities are scheduled, is the afternoon football.

4pm (5pm during Daylight Savings) on a Sunday is the Brazilian version of 3pm on a Saturday. But thankfully, unlike in the UK, Brazilian television networks honour the tradition and schedule the weekend’s prime fixtures for Sunday afternoon, showing the most attractive (in terms of viewing figures) to the whole country on terrestrial television.

I don’t necessarily watch the match selected for public television (being in São Paulo, it’s almost always Corinthians), but I can’t recall the last Sunday in which I wasn’t parked in front of a screen between four and six.

Many of my serenest and most satisfying moments in this country have been on Sundays, whether that be lounging on a beach, sitting outside a boteco watching the world go by or relaxing after a particularly good churrasco. However, these Sundays all incorporated the 4 o’clock kick-off.

That’s why, when the Sunday afternoon match is dull, it’s a bummer.

Yesterday’s game between São Paulo and Santos was one of these such occasions: a meeting between two sides who seemed determined to display every negative trait of Brazilian football from the past decade, made all the more unholy by the sacrosanct time at which it kicked off.

It was a match devoid of intelligence or strategy, as twenty-two players played out 90 minutes of aimless punts, fouls, set-pieces, sprints, dives and failed dribbles, apparently unaware that they were part of two 11-man teams. The final score was irrelevant (0-0, if you must know). It felt like a different sport, not the creative, spontaneous game of football, but something more rehearsed, overly individual and technical. Volleyball comes to mind.

Santos started better, consciously closing their opponents down high up the field, but when they managed to reclaim possession they had nothing to offer.

It was fitting then, that the biggest story of the match wasn’t happening on the field, but on the São Paulo bench, where creative midfielder (and ex-Santos hero) Paulo Henrique Ganso was sat, dropped from the first eleven.

São Paulo boss Muricy Ramalho justified his decision to drop Ganso, stating that he wanted a quicker attacking unit, one capable of exploiting space behind the Santos defence. A perfectly defensible stance, considering that Ganso is often so lethargic he makes Treebeard look hyperactive. However what they gained in pace, they lost in creativity.

With Luis Fabiano playing in front of an attacking midfield trio of Osvaldo, Dorlán Pabón and Douglas, and with Álvaro Pereira overlapping on the left flank, they weren’t short of attacking options, but they were short of someone to link them together. Without a midfield organiser to offer a constant passing option and vary their focus of attack, their forward quintet was like five delicious, freshly-sourced ingredients, without a chef to make them into a meal.

It’s hard to disagree with Muricy’s decision here though, as Ganso has been anonymous since the end of last season. The story of the playmaker, who at the age of twenty was (ridiculously) called the “best player in the world in his position”, seems to have unravelled completely.

Ganso came through at Santos at the same time as Neymar, and the two formed the spine of an excellent side that won the Copa Libertadores in 2011, managed by one Muricy Ramalho. In the early days, Ganso was considered the better player of the pair, possibly due to his position as an old-fashioned cerebral number 10, the like of which Brazil hadn’t produced in years. However while Neymar exploded, revealing his limitless potential and taking the world by storm, Ganso struggled with injuries and failed to develop key aspects of his game.

Neymar was handed a mammoth contract by Santos, while Ganso (who had been told for years that he was just as good, if not better, than his team-mate) was ignored. Jealousy appeared to creep in and Ganso was locked in bitter contract disputes with the club, not helped by the fractious relationship between former Santos president Luis Álvaro de Oliveira Ribeiro and DIS, the investment group that own a large part of the playmaker’s image rights.

Perennially injured or squabbling with the board, the Santos fans soon turned on him and in September 2012, Ganso migrated inland to nest at São Paulo FC in the most expensive transfer between two Brazilian clubs in history.

Despite feeling valued at his new club, the midfielder’s form never recovered. He has shown flashes of his former brilliance, but it never takes long before the dejected, absent, uninterested Paulo Henrique Ganso shows up again. Even Muricy Ramalho, the coach that believed in him unconditionally, has started to drop him.

Now it could be time for us to adjust our expectations of Ganso. The limitless promise of his early years is unlikely ever to be delivered, while the chances of a big European move seem remote. He is, however, a unique player with a distinct style that is best suited to South American football, where spaces are bigger and tempo is lower.

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Dérbi days

I’ve never made a point of concealing my allegiences within sport. Doing so, even in the realm of sports journalism, strikes me as odd and begs the question as to why one would withhold such information. To hide bias? To appear more professional or respectable?

There is a suggestion that by revealing the club you support you run the risk of estranging a large portion of your audience, opposing fans. However, the best examples of sports journalism in this country have all tied their colours to the mast at one point or another. Whether that be the corintiano Juca Kfouri, the palmeirense Paulo Vinicius Coelho, the cruzeirense Tostão or going further back to diehard Fluminense fan Nelson Rodrigues.

The honesty of revealing your favourite club is not unprofessional, most people, in fact, find it endearing. It shows that beneath the match reports and byline pictures, the journalist is a supporter, too.

I grew up in Glasgow and became a Celtic supporter at an early age. However, since becoming passionate about Brazilian football, to eventually moving here some years ago, I have developed a strong attachment to Palmeiras.

It is often said that supporting more than one football team is impossible. It certainly is possible, although it’s a gradual process. It took me a while to genuinely care for Palmeiras, initially it was more of a fondness, a preference, but as time went on (and realising the fact that my two favourite clubs have virtually zero chance of competing for the same title) that fondness became a passion.

With Celtic out of the Champions League and plodding along unchallenged toward the Scottish title, and Palmeiras stuck in the second tier throughout last year, Sunday’s dérbi paulista between Corinthians and Palmeiras was the first match in a while that I could genuinely get worked up about.

Seeing as I had no journalistic responsibilities during the match, I allowed myself to get a bit carried away. The referee was called every name under the sun (in both English and Portuguese, for a bit of variety), my head was in my hands at Romarinho’s opener and I shouted far too loudly at Alan Kardec’s late equaliser. Those are truly some of the best moments in football, and a part of me is disappointed that I can’t get so involved every week.

In my moments of clarity, I did my best to analyse the game, as after all, the dérbi came at an interesting time for both sides.

What I did notice was a big improvement from Corinthians. Under pressure, coach Mano Menezes broke away from the 4-2-3-1 system that has been used religiously by the Timão in recent years, opting instead for a 4-5-1 with three defensive-minded central midfielders. Newly-instated club captain Ralf held the fort in front of the defence, while Guilherme and debutant Bruno Henrique took turns pushing forward to attack.

Menezes’ objective was clearly to crowd the midfield, seeing as the vast majority of Palmeiras’ attacking play originates from Jorge Valdivia and Wesley. In this respect they were successful and they bossed possession for most of the match.

It will be interesting to see if Menezes sticks to this system outside of the clássico environment. I think the change could suit them: they have some fresh blood in Jadson and Bruno, as well as a different system that doesn’t make drastic changes to their general playing style.

Speaking of Jadson, the on-loan São Paulo man had a strong debut and played an important role as one of Corinthians’ wide midfielders. Without possession, he marked his opposing full-back and pressed centre-backs with the ball, while in attack he looked to drift infield and create attacking moves. He was always aware of his positioning though, which stopped Corinthians from losing their shape.

Palmeiras weren’t anywhere near as dominant as they were in their last clássico, winning 2-0 against São Paulo, but they showed signs of a maturing team and once again proved to be a close-knit unit. Aware that they were forced to surrender the midfield battle to Corinthians’ three centre-midfielders, Gilson Kleina set up his Palmeiras side a bit deeper in order to soak up Corinthians pressure.

Some of their defensive work in the first half was excellent, with a special mention to young centre-back Wellington, who was terrific and looks to be a high-level defender in the making.

Their threat on the counterattack could have been better however. Valdivia and Wesley played fairly decent games, considering the circumstances, and came close to completing some killer passes behind the Corinthians defence, but they were almost always cut out. When Palmeiras did get the ball in advantageous situations, wide attackers Mazinho and Leandro were indecisive, wasteful and generally played poorly.

A disappointing second half cost the Verdão a chance at victory, but their late equaliser shows that they are a committed and mentally tough squad, something which has been lacking at the club in recent years.

Palmeiras coach Gilson Kleina has come under a lot of unwarranted criticism at the start of the season, as the board’s choice to extend his contract during the club’s centenary year was seen by many as being unambitious. The ‘ambitious’ alternative to Kleina was Vanderlei Luxemburgo, a manager, wrapped in an ego, inside an Armani suit, who in 2013 was fired from Grêmio and relegated (albeit not for long) with Fluminense and whose last major trophy came in 2004. Go figure.

Kleina is a relatively new face at the top level of Brazilian football, despite starting his coaching career in 1999 as an assistant to Abel Braga at Coritiba. His first high-profile job came at Campinas club Ponte Preta in 2011, where he won promotion to Série A and had them punching above their weight in 2012. Palmeiras signed him to replace Luiz Felipe Scolari in a doomed attempt at escaping relegation, and last year he brought the Verdão back to the top division, comfortably winning the Série B.

He’s popular amongst the players and has managed to create a healthy atmosphere at the club, despite the presence of some inflated egos. Tactically, he isn’t the most adventurous coach, though his teams always have a defined objective and playing style, which goes a long way in domestic Brazilian football. 

It’s difficult to tell how Palmeiras will fare this year, as they have largely been tested against sides at Série B level or lower, but if their performance in these recent matches against São Paulo and Corinthians are anything to go by, palmeirenses such as myself can hope for a very respectable season indeed.

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Contradictions and disguises

With the Copa Libertadores group stage underway, I have decided to take this opportunity to get back into regular blogging here on I like football me. My original plan today was to discuss the opening round of matches and give my opinion on some of the fascinating encounters we enjoyed this week.

Unfortunately though, football has to take a back seat after events on Wednesday evening in Huancayo. During the second half of an interesting match between Peruvian side Real Garcilaso and Brazilian champions Cruzeiro, which Garcilaso deservedly went on to win 2-1, Cruzeiro’s black midfielder Tinga (formerly of Borussia Dortmund) was greeted with monkey noises from the home fans whenever he touched the ball.

To see such behaviour coming from Peruvian fans, a people who have suffered greatly from oppression and persecution throughout their history, is upsetting. Even more so considering the abuse took place in Huancayo, a city with such a proud Quechua heritage.

However, the reality is that the black population in Peru is relatively small (approximately 2% of the total population) and racism towards Afro-Peruvians is not unheard of. Furthermore, the fact that Peruvians have historically had to endure similar prejudice themselves perhaps goes some way towards explaining the racist actions of those Garcilaso fans on Wednesday evening. In the same way that an abused child may grow up to become an abusive parent, the oppressed becoming oppressors isn’t a difficult concept to understand.

Of course, that doesn’t make Wednesday’s acts of racism any more or less deplorable, but it makes them more tragic.

While match reports from Peruvian sports media (as well as Conmebol’s official report, written by AFP) refused to make any reference to the monkey noises (the first mention of the incident in Peru came from sports daily Depor who managed to mix up Tinga and Dede, Cruzeiro’s two black players, in the article’s photograph), the reaction in Brazil was one of widespread disgust and outrage.

Several Brazilian footballers of various ethnic backgrounds expressed their solidarity with Tinga, while clubs, ministers and even President Dilma released statements condemning the incident and supporting punishment for Real Garcilaso. Alexandre Kalil, the outspoken president of Cruzeiro’s fierce local rivals Atlético, called the events “lamentable”, and claimed they “took away all of the pleasure in seeing Cruzeiro lose”.

Although the majority of reactions were refreshing to see, I couldn’t help but notice a streak of tribalism in some of the responses. Most were fairly subtle, but Cruzeiro director Alexandre Mattos chose to fight fire with fire, or in this case, fight racism with xenophobia, saying that Peru is a “small place in which football shouldn’t even exist”.

There is a clear contradiction here, as Brazilian society, especially Brazilian football, is rife with masked racism and frankly blatant homophobia. The idea of Brazil being a racial democracy is one that has been proved time and time again as a complete fallacy.

One encounters racism at almost every turn here in Brazil, albeit disguised. In football, black goalkeepers are often seen as unreliable, while black coaches are a rarity. Take the example of Cristóvão Borges, an intelligent and competent coach, who came in as a caretaker and took Vasco da Gama to a second place finish in the Brasileirao, was fired the following year and couldn’t find a job. Or Andrade, who was also a caretaker coach at Flamengo, won the Brazilian championship in 2009 and ended up unemployed. Contrast that to white managers like Joel Santana, Adilson Batista, Caio Júnior and Dorival Júnior, who are bounced around the biggest clubs in the country, despite their relatively poor records.

Outside the realm of football, there is Rede Globo’s “comedy” show Zorra Total, shown at primetime every Saturday night, which features a recurring sketch in which two actors in blackface ridicule poor black women.

Homophobia is also common, but far more obvious. During Brazilian football matches, it is common for one set of fans to call opposition players viados – an extremely pejorative homophobic slur – in chants that are often loud enough to be easily heard by people watching at home on television. Unfortunately, there is an institutional difference between racism and homophobia in Brazil. Racism is illegal, while homophobia is not legally considered a hate crime.

The objective of this blog is not to undermine the severity of what happened in Huancayo, or any feelings of genuine disgust from Brazilians, but simply to point out that this is an issue that exists all over Latin America, not just in Peru, and is increasingly prominent in Brazil.

Hopefully, Conmebol will arise from their slumber and, considering the influence that the Brazilian champions wield among the organisation, hand out serious sanctions to Real Garcilaso. One doesn’t hold much hope however, as this is the same organisation that last year was quoted as saying that Olimpia’s Salustiano Candia calling Newell’s forward Maxi Urruti a “black piece of shit” was not evidence of racism.

I’ll talk about football next week. Honest.

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Ethics and egos

With Diego Costa’s choice to represent the Spanish national team and the non-story in England regarding the potential naturalisation of Adnan Januzaj, the subject of footballers’ nationality has been heavily discussed over the past month.

By the letter of the law, Diego Costa is eligible to be selected for Spain, having gained Spanish citizenship earlier this year. As a human being and a professional, he is free to choose which national team he would like to represent, and the only valid debate is over the Spanish football federation’s ethics in deciding to call up the player.

Diego Costa was not born in Spain, he has no Spanish parentage and did not arrive in the country as a refugee. He was first brought to Spain in 2007 by Atlético Madrid, who signed him from SC Braga in Portugal for a fee of €1.5 million.

His situation is different to that of ex-Stuttgart forward Cacau, who was born in São Paulo and famously represented the German national team over twenty times. Cacau migrated to Germany when he was 18 years old (of his own volition) and managed to earn a living playing for a fifth division German club before working his way up the ladder.

Furthermore, Diego Costa has already played twice for Brazil. He was part of the squad that played friendly matches against Italy and Russia in March, and he made substitute appearances in both games. The reasons behind his switch to Spain are based on his disappointment at only getting 35 minutes over those two friendlies and subsequently not being selected for the Confederations Cup.

The entire purpose of international football is to stage matches and tournaments between groups of players who identify themselves with the country they are representing. Diego is well within his rights to be angry with the CBF and change his allegiance, but that doesn’t mean Spain is right to select him. It would be akin to England calling up Januzaj, an athlete paid for and brought to the country for his talent.

If players are going to continue chopping and changing allegiances and crucially, if national associations are going to continue enabling this behaviour by selecting these players, then perhaps we should scrap international football altogether.

Ethics aside, I have been somewhat confused at the CBF’s handling of the situation. Since the appointments of Felipão and Carlos Alberto Parreira, the party line has been about patriotism and nationalism – the famous Brazilian amor à patria – yet they have persistently pursued Diego Costa, someone who was very outspoken about the Seleção. Felipão’s statement yesterday about Diego being cut from the squad sounded like a manager attempting to heal his bruised ego. Diego Costa can’t quit, because he’s fired. At this stage, the CBF is looking silly.

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Scrambling for spots

With Tuesday’s dead rubber draw between Peru and Bolivia, the South American qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup came to a close. Compared to that of other continental confederations around the globe, the current qualifying system used by Conmebol is the most entertaining, the most competitive and it serves as the best preparation for major tournaments.

All ten of Conmebol’s member nations (nine this time around, with Brazil qualified as World Cup hosts) compete in one group, and the guaranteed fixture list of home and away games provides a stern test for the better nations and a superb chance for development for the weaker nations. For proof, one needs look no further than Ecuador and Venezuela, once the continent’s whipping-boys. Ecuador has now qualified for its third World Cup since 2002 and although Venezuela narrowly missed out on qualification, their steady progress makes them strong candidates to make the 2018 finals.

In the absence of Brazil, Argentina unsurprisingly topped the group. Seeing as they will be the “home” team in most of the southern venues at next year’s tournament, and considering their wealth of attacking talent (including Lionel Messi, someone you may have heard of), Argentina must be considered among the favourites to win in Brazil.

Colombia finished in second place and qualify for their first World Cup finals since France 98. Much has been made of this Colombia side (with good reason when you consider their front three of James Rodríguez, Teo Gutiérrez and Radamel Falcao), but comparisons with the golden generation of the early 90s are unfair and invalid. Not only did that team have more quality in more areas of the field, they also had to deal with inhumane external pressure that culminated in the tragic murder of el Caballero del Fútbol Andrés Escobar after their elimination from the 1994 World Cup.

falcao1

Speaking exclusively about matters on the pitch, the current Colombia team is undoubtedly talented, but also dangerously imbalanced – a trade-off for having the superb Radamel Falcao in attack. While Falcao is probably the world’s best penalty box finisher, he is often only as good as the service he receives. When Colombia’s Argentinian coach José Pékerman started to fill his side with attacking options to feed Falcao, they started winning. However, this onus on attack leaves them vulnerable in defence, even more so with their creaking centre-back corps.

The 3-3 draw against Chile in Barranquilla was a microcosm of this current side. Pékerman started the match with three central defenders in an attempt to contain Chile’s attacking threats, but he still selected James Rodríguez and Teo to support Falcao. The result was a completely disjointed team, isolated forwards and a back line that Chile’s forwards repeatedly outpaced, racking up a 3-0 lead by half-time.

With the Barranquilla crowd spurring them on, Colombia came out fighting for the second half and overloaded Chile, playing a physical, high-intensity style. Amazingly, they drew the match 3-3.

Chile, who qualified in third place, suffer from many of the same problems. Under Jorge Sampaoli they play the most attractive attacking football on the continent, but are frequently undone in defence.

sampaoli2

Sampaoli rose to prominence as the coach of Universidad de Chile, who entertained the continent in 2011 and -12 with their relentless attacking and haphazard defending. Sampaoli – a cross between Marcelo Bielsa, Pep Guardiola and a furious chimpanzee – has translated that system word for word to the national team, and they are sure to be the neutral’s favourite next year.

Looking at World Cup 2014 odds, Chile could be a good outside bet for reaching the semi-finals.

Perhaps unfairly regarded as a surprise entrant, Ecuador sealed the fourth and final automatic qualifying spot. Their Colombian coach Reginaldo Rueda has built a solid unit capable of causing problems to any team, spearheaded by excellent wingers Antonio Valencia and Jefferson Montero.

With the tragic death of Cristián “Chucho” Benítez earlier in the year, Ecuador had to overcome a particularly tough hurdle in order to qualify. Besides being a close friend to many of the squad and an irreplaceable dressing room presence, Chucho was also crucial to Ecuador’s style on the pitch.

Playing as a second striker behind Felipe Caicedo, Chucho would work the channels and frustrate defences, often creating chances out of nothing. Ecuador have no-one else in that mould, and while they struggled to adept emotionally and technically, they very nearly lost their place in the top four.

Current Copa América holders Uruguay finished in fifth place and will play off against Jordan for a spot in Brazil. Despite a disappointing campaign, I fully expect them to qualify, but I will talk more about them another day.

With teams around the world scrambling for places in the group stage draw, hosts Brazil and their coach Luiz Felipe Scolari are putting the finishing touches to their preparation. The Seleção played two friendlies during this international break, two 2-0 wins over South Korea and Zambia in the Far East.

It is clear that the side that won the Confederations Cup in July will form the base of their team at the World Cup, with several fringe players fighting for the final spots in the 23-man squad. These friendlies have more or less confirmed the presence of Jefferson and Diego Cavalieri as back-up goalkeepers, Dante and Dedé as the reserve centre-backs and Maxwell as Marcelo’s understudy at left-back.

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Liverpool’s defensive midfielder Lucas Leiva made an excellent return to the national side, and he may be in with a chance of a starting berth ahead of Luiz Gustavo. It doesn’t look like good news for Lucas Moura or Alexandre Pato though, as both were disappointing, slated by Brazilian journalists and will probably miss the final cut.

By my reckoning, there are only two available spots in Brazil’s World Cup squad: a centre-forward (most likely Fred on his return from injury, possibly Diego Costa) and a reserve attacking midfielder. If I were Felipão, I would be looking at either Liverpool’s Phillipe Coutinho or Atlético-MG’s Diego Tardelli.

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Common Sense FC

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.

bomsensofcThe 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

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.

From AmorimCartoons

From AmorimCartoons

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