GAZETINHA 4 – Brazilian Championship Matchday 2

This week’s Gazetinha sees Euan Marshall (@euanmarshall) round up the second round of the Brazilian championship, as well as profiling Europe-bound Gabriel Barbosa (or Gabigol, if you can say that with a straight face) and heaping more praise on Santa Cruz.

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Gazeta Brasil

Good evening, dear readers. As you may or may not have noticed, I have begun a new video project with the help of Daniel Hunt of Fábrica Media and will start posting our latest videos here on ILFM for all you fine folk to enjoy.

The project is called Gazeta Brasil (which I’m not afraid to admit is a cheap play on Gazzetta Football Italia) and it involves yours truly speaking into a camera each week about all the latest Brazilian football business. We try to film at various interesting spots around São Paulo, like the excellent Mirante 9 de Julho, the Goethe-Institut (with their outstanding currywurst…) and the famous Paribar, and we’ve already got around twelve superb locations lined up for future episodes.

Check out episodes one, two and three and subscribe to our YouTube channel.

However, Daniel and I both have jobs and other commitments, so producing something that requires such preparation and production every single week was always unrealistic. That’s why I created Gazetinha, a concurrent series of simple, up-to-date videos to give you all your weekly fix of Brazilian football. Check out this week’s episode below:

Neither of us receive any sponsorship for these videos, so the best way to help is spreading the word and getting our content out there. Subscribe to our channel. Get your friends to subscribe. Get your parents to subscribe. Create an army of email aliases and get them to subscribe too.

Até mais.

Robinho’s return

After fulfilling his lifelong dream of sitting on the bench for a Chinese first division club, Robinho is back in Brazil. Though this comes as no shock, the fact he will play for Atlético Mineiro (and not Santos) has raised a few eyebrows.

Robinho’s connection with Santos and their fans is quite spectacular. Having grown up in the nearby town of São Vicente, Robinho joined Santos when he was 12 years old. In 2002, his first season of professional football, he helped take Santos to the Brazilian title, an astonishing achievement considering the club had not won a trophy since 1984 and that their two key players (Robinho and Diego) were teenagers.

On loan from Manchester City, he returned to Santos in 2010 and led the club to two titles: the São Paulo state championship and the Copa do Brasil. Besides the silverware, Robinho’s second spell at Santos was marked by the arrival of a new generation of exciting young talent at the club. Under Robinho’s wing, Neymar and Paulo Henrique Ganso began to flourish. The following year, with Robinho back in Europe with Milan, Neymar and Ganso took Santos to the Copa Libertadores title.

In 2014, he was back home once more. At 30 years old, Brazilian football fans saw Robinho’s transition from lightning-fast forward to intelligent playmaker. Despite not having the same physical condition as his younger days, Robinho’s vision and reading of the game allowed him to stand out at domestic level. While the club hemorrhaged money and struggled to find any sustainable source of income, Robinho’s exploits on the pitch helped keep the wolves at bay.

Today, with more exciting talents coming through the ranks at Santos, particularly 19 year old forward Gabriel “Gabigol” Barbosa, was Robinho not tempted to return for a fourth time? One last hurrah? I’d imagine so, but I’m glad he turned them down.

Santos no longer represents a challenge for Robinho, it is his home and the fans adore him unconditionally. Furthermore, during his last stay at Santos he was owed thousands in unpaid wages. Knowing the club was going through hard times and aware of his own financial security, he chose to stay silent while his team-mates took Santos to court. This was a sacrifice he made as a senior player, but returning to the club after what happened would be very strange indeed.

At this stage, it is impossible to know whether Robinho will be a success at Atlético. He has joined a much bigger and more demanding club where he will need to prove his worth.

In 2012, Ronaldinho Gaúcho was in a similar position having joined Atlético. The following year he led the club to their first ever Copa Libertadores triumph, playing his best football since leaving Barcelona.

Juca Kfouri and the CPIs

Yesterday I had the pleasure of interviewing Juca Kfouri, a living legend of Brazilian journalism. As editor of the iconic weekly (now monthly) sports magazine Placar and later of Playboy, Juca worked tirelessly throughout the 1980s and 1990s to investigate and expose corruption in Brazilian sport.

Being an investigative sports journalist in Brazil was a thankless task back then. Brazilian society treated the idea of corruption in sport as a wacky conspiracy theory, most likely due to decades of the public being sheltered from government corruption under the military dictatorship (1964-1985) and its tight grip on information.

This changed in 2001 when Congress opened two separate parliamentary inquiries (CPIs) into corruption in football. The first, in the lower house, aimed at the sponsorship contract between Nike and the Brazilian FA (CBF), leaked to the press in 1999 and suspected of “violating Brazilian sovereignty”. At the same time, another CPI was opened in the Senate, going after club presidents and the CBF itself.

Due to pressure from the so-called “football caucus”, the CPI in the lower house was not approved. Yet the Senate CPI survived and made a host of indictments of 17 important figures in the national game, including then CBF president Ricardo Teixeira, current and ex-presidents of Vasco da Gama, Flamengo, Santos and even national team coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo. None of these accusations were taken any further though, due to what Juca calls the “slow, morose” Brazilian judiciary. The national team’s success in the 2002 World Cup also served to deflect bad press away from the CBF. Continue reading Juca Kfouri and the CPIs

A year to forget

A century after the club’s foundation by a group of Italian immigrants in São Paulo, 2014 was meant to be a year of celebration for Palmeiras. However, thanks to a string of woeful executive decisions, their centennial turned out to be their annus horribilis, with Verdão fans left desperate to ring in the New Year as soon as possible.

With their return to Brazil’s first division, the impending inauguration of their gorgeous new stadium Allianz Parque and the small matter of the club’s centenary celebrations, Palmeiras supporters demanded the board spare no expense and think big for the 2014 season. Initially, it seemed those in charge would oblige. Prestigious managerial candidates were interviewed and potential multi-million signings were floated, but club president Paulo Nobre’s obsession for austerity spoke louder.

The quality reinforcements did not come, Palmeiras instead brought in aging world champion centre-back Lúcio on a free transfer (out of action for six months after being dropped by rivals São Paulo) and loaned Uruguayan defender Mauricio Victorino (on the sidelines for over a year with a heel injury) and midfielder Bruno César, who arrived from Saudi Arabia comically overweight. Jobbing head coach Gilson Kleina, who led the team to the second division title in 2013, was kept on, although it was made abundantly clear he was not their first choice and would walk the plank should results falter.

The nightmare began with the São Paulo state championship: Palmeiras progressed from the first stage without any major surprises, but in their quarter-final match against minnows Ituano, they were beaten 1-0 and eliminated in front of their own fans. Kleina kept his job, but would receive his inevitable marching orders two months later, after only three matches of the Brazilian championship campaign.

Palmeiras-drama-na-Allianz-Parque-20141207-0007-size-598

As if that was not sufficiently suicidal, Paulo Nobre then pulled off his most ambitious (and under the circumstances, short-sighted) move of a disastrous year and brought in Argentinian coach Ricardo Gareca to replace Kleina. Intelligent and forward-thinking, Gareca came highly recommended after some great years in his homeland with Vélez Sarsfield, but when thrown into the hectic environment that is the Palmeiras training ground, with the league season already well underway, he was destined to fail.

Gareca’s Palmeiras showed some promising signs, their midfield looked more organised than it had been in a long time, but a leaky defence, lack of mental toughness and a complete inability to hold onto results saw them plummet to the lower half of the table. There was also reports that some members of the squad were less than happy about playing under an Argentinian manager.

Foreign coaches are almost unheard of in Brazilian football and Ricardo Gareca’s scandalously brief stint in São Paulo will do nothing to help that. Granted, the universal preference for home-grown coaches in Brazil is not a matter of prejudice or intolerance, there are practical motives behind it. In general, Brazilian players respond best to coaches who are able to relate to and mentor them. The harsh reality is that many footballers in Brazil come from poorer backgrounds and may have had to leave their family at an early age. In these cases, the football coach fills the role of a father figure, something which cannot be achieved across a language barrier.

The Argentinian was given a grand total of nine league matches over the space of six weeks before getting the sack, this coming after the club had spent an approximated R$ 30 million (around £7 million) to bring in four Argentinian players, Fernando Tóbio, Pablo Mouche, Agustín Allione and Jonathan Cristaldo on Gareca’s request.

Trying to salvage something from an already disappointing centenary, Paulo Nobre rushed to appoint Gareca’s replacement, announcing Dorival Júnior, the bespectacled former Palmeiras midfielder fresh from a string of managerial failures at Flamengo, Vasco and Fluminense, as the man tasked with keeping the Verdão in the first division.

Thanks to some naïve tactical choices, bad luck with injuries, his reluctance to play his four unhappy Argentinians and a crippling mental inferiority that spread throughout the entire squad, Dorival very nearly commanded Palmeiras to their third relegation in the 21st century.

After some embarrassing results (a 6-0 defeat to Goiás, a 2-0 defeat at home to Atlético Mineiro’s B team and losing 2-0 to Sport Recife in the inaugural game at the stunning Allianz Parque), Palmeiras went into the last match of the season needing (at the very least) a point at home against Atlético Paranaense to avoid the drop. Their opponents had no stake in the result and fielded a reserve side, but Palmeiras coughed and spluttered to a 1-1 draw with the help of a dubious first-half penalty kick. The Verdão’s salvation came when news filtered through that Santos (traditionally one of Palmeiras’ rivals) had scored a last-minute winner to relegate north-eastern club Vitória. The club ended the division in 16th place with 20 losses and 40 points. Since the Brazilian championship made the switch to the 38-game season, no club had ever avoided relegation with 40 points.

As it was when they won the second division last year, when their place in the first division was confirmed for 2015, there was no celebration from Palmeiras fans, with the team booed off the field accompanied by chants of “time sem vergonha!”, literally “shameless team”.

Palmeiras’ woeful performance in 2014, amid centennial celebrations, is another dent in the reputation of one of Brazil’s proudest football clubs. In the words of Brazilian journalist Mauricio Savarese, despite remaining in the first division, Palmeiras were relegated in 2014.

Next year could well be the most crucial in Palmeiras’ 100-year history. Another relegation fight (or worse, another relegation) could see them reduced to yo-yo club status, and at a time when the country’s better-run big clubs (Cruzeiro, Corinthians, Atlético Mineiro, São Paulo) are threatening to distance themselves from the rest in a way Brazilian football has never seen before, such a step down could create an insurmountable gap between Palmeiras and Brazil’s elite.

Day four: keeping up appearances…

Watching four games of football back-to-back in one day is no mean feat, especially when scheduled around other commitments and deadlines, so forgive me if today’s diary is late and more abrupt than usual.

It says something about the standard of this year’s World Cup when a 3-0 win can be considered among the least entertaining matches of these three days of play. Colombia flattened Greece, showing they are not reliant on the presence of Monaco striker Radamel Falcao and putting them in with a good chance of qualifying from Group C.

Bravely, Colombia’s coach José Pékerman decided against fielding a like-for-like Falcao replacement in attack, instead going with a more mobile front two of Victor Ibarbo and Teo Gutiérrez. This is the potential benefit of Falcao’s injury: Pékerman’s sides struggled to find a good balance between defence and attack when playing the big No 9, as for him to show his incredible talents he needs plenty of support. Without Falcao, Colombia can reinforce their midfield and gain more control over games, as we saw against Greece. Pékerman would be unable to have the strength of Aguilar and Sánchez, the industry of Ibarbo and Cuadrado, the creativity of James Rodríguez and the intelligence of Gutiérrez if he was forced to play with a static (although incredibly dangerous) centre-forward.

Colombia’s opening goal was a wonderful moment. With the Mineirão stadium decked out in yellow and blue, wing-back Pablo Armero led the rest of the squad into one of his famous dancing celebrations after his scuffed shot crept past Karnezis in the Greek goal. What has been evident throughout the World Cup qualifiers is that this Colombia team are such a tight-knit group, full of joy and excitement. The team is quite varied in terms of ages, but this is the first World Cup for everyone involved (except 42-year-old substitute goalkeeper Mondragon, who played in 1998, Colombia’s last tournament appearance) and they are all enjoying this wondrous moment together.

England v Italy was perhaps my favourite match of the tournament so far (well, it would be, wouldn’t it?): two former world champions facing off in the heart of the Amazon. England were surprisingly entertaining to watch, vibrant and daring going forward. They still have some way to go however, I cannot help but think they lack creativity, the team would be improved hugely with the inclusion of an attacking midfielder with vision and technique.

Their big problem last night, however, was defending their left side. Baines does not seem to offer much in the way of defending, while Rooney gave him no cover from midfield. No wonder Italy focused so heavily on attacking that side with Candreva and Darmian.

Pirlo had a predictably excellent match, with his “assist” for Marchisio’s goal sure to go down in history. However, Raheem Sterling’s slanted, defence-splitting pass to Rooney in the buildup to England’s goal was just as impressive and bears repeating.

In the evening game, Japan took the lead against Ivory Coast but never looked in control. Zaccheroni’s side constantly invited pressure from the Ivorians, who attacked in numbers, with their full-backs overlapping constantly. The African side deservedly turned the game around, albeit in shocking circumstances, with two goals from crosses in the space of two minutes.

On to Sunday, France were impressive in their win over a poor Honduras side who spent over half the match with ten men. Despite taking longer than expected to break the deadlock, France did not panic, stuck to their gameplan and Wilson Palacios’ idiotic foul on Paul Pogba in the penalty area gave them the break they needed.

I’m about to sit down to watch Lionel Messi play at the Maracanã, and I cannot tell you how delighted that makes me feel.

Day three: Chocolate orange

The Netherlands plays an important part in the history of the north-east of Brazil. During the 17th century, the modern-day states of Pernambuco, Sergipe, Rio Grande do Norte and Alagoas were all under Dutch rule, as well as parts of Ceará, Maranhão and Piauí. The area was known as New Holland, and was an official Dutch territory for around 20 years, with its capital city in Recife, then known as Mauritsstad.

They struggled to expand their sovereignty further south into Bahia, a traditional Portuguese stronghold. They managed to invade and conquer the city of Salvador in 1624, but it was recaptured less than a year later by the Spanish empire, led by King Felipe IV and his Spanish and Portuguese forces.

Now, this is the part where I link the historic event to the game of football that happened yesterday. I’m saving my energy for today’s four-game marathon, so if you could fill in the blanks yourselves, that would be much appreciated.

Many have jumped to the conclusion that Holland have knocked off Spain’s crown, and that the era of tiki-taka domination is at an end. They may be correct: I was quick to brush off the “end of an era” discourse after Brazil battered the world champions in the final of last year’s Confederations Cup, but now the sample size has doubled.

The result was momentous, and certainly does justice to Holland’s complete dominance in the second half, but the first half was controlled by Spain. They kept possession well, grinding down their opponents before taking the lead and threatening to score more. If David Silva had scored his one-on-one chance against Cillessen, Spain would have taken a 2-0 lead into the interval, closed the game out in the second half and we would be talking about business as usual. The idea that “tiki-taka is finished” is silly. The style and ethos of both teams were not the deciding factors in yesterday’s game.

Spain did not approach the game correctly, drawing attention to their own weaknesses in defence, lacking a deep option in attack to stretch play and not studying their opposition well enough. Anyone who saw Holland’s pre-tournament friendlies could tell you that Van Gaal’s team like to play long, sweeping passes behind the defence to feed their forwards. Van Persie’s goal against Ecuador was an excellent example.

Holland, on the other hand, were incredibly well prepared for the match and from Robin Van Persie’s post-match comments, it appears Van Gaal predicted the outcome of the match with startling accuracy.

In Brazil, a comprehensive victory such as this (usually one with five goals scored by the winning team) is called a chocolate. Yesterday’s result, chocolate com laranja.

In the late game, Chile were everything we expected them to be. Vibrant going forward, vulnerable in defence. They made hard work of an Australia side who were, although better than I had expected, fairly unimpressive. My impression was that the Cuiabá heat played a part (it remained above 30C throughout the match, at 7-9pm local time), with some of Chile’s midfield not pressing and overlapping with the same intensity as they usually do.

They cannot afford to do that in their remaining group games, especially not against Van Persie and Robben. Playing such a high defensive line requires constant pressing of the ball, so as not to give time for the opponent to exploit the space behind the defence. If Chile play as they did last night, Spain and Holland should win comfortably.

To finish, Diego Costa. The debate about naturalisation has been reopened today since Costa made the Spain starting XI and was roundly booed by thousands in the Arena Fonte Nova. The question of “should he have been booed?” is a silly one. I wouldn’t jeer him myself, but it is perfectly understandable why some Brazilian fans would, as it is perfectly understandable (in my opinion) why Diego Costa preferred to represent Spain instead of his country of birth.

The serious issue, almost completely ignored, were the chants directed at him. “Diego, viado” – I hear it on the stands every week in Brazil, directed at any opposing player worthy of ire. The word viado is not, as The Guardian published in Sid Lowe’s article on Costa, “slang for gay”. Viado is a very strong homophobic slur; if I had to find an equivalent in English, my opinion is that it is closest to the word “faggot”. Imagine thousands of English fans chanting similar at Costa on his debut at Chelsea and you have a hate crime on your hands. It is part of a huge homophobia problem in Brazil, one which needs to be addressed and understood.