Adiós, Osorio

After over a month of humming and hawing, back and forth and ‘will he, won’t he?’, Juan Carlos Osorio has resigned from his post as São Paulo head coach. The Colombian will take over the Mexican national team, whose World Cup qualification campaign begins next month.

The feeling is one of a missed opportunity for Brazilian football. Having arrived in São Paulo at the end of May, Osorio has not had nearly enough time to make a lasting impression on the league. Continue reading Adiós, Osorio

Sending off and on again

Chapecoense have taken an early lead against Palmeiras. The visitors look rattled and the hosts push for a second goal. Palmeiras left-back Egídio is caught out of position and winger Willian Bárbio is put through one-on-one with the goalkeeper. Bárbio hesitates, Egídio recovers, goes to ground and steals the ball. Bárbio is left writhing in pain on the edge of the box. Referee Jaílson Freitas blows his whistle. Free-kick. Red card.

Palmeiras players are furious, while television pictures show viewers at home that Egídio did in fact win the ball cleanly and there was no foul. Another replay shows the assistant referee, the closest official to the incident, opting not to raise his flag. It would appear that the decision to send off Egídio came from Freitas himself, who was lagging behind the play, still inside the centre circle.

Four minutes of debate ensue on the pitch. Palmeiras players appeal to the referee while Chapecoense prepare to take their free-kick. Suddenly, Freitas gets a word in his earpiece and goes to speak to his assistant. The fourth official joins them. “He got the ball? Only the ball?” the referee is seen asking the fourth official. After receiving confirmation, Freitas overturns his decision. Goal-kick to Palmeiras. Continue reading Sending off and on again

The coach

In Brazilian football, coaches are scandalously overvalued. Tite, manager of league leaders Corinthians, earns a reported R$ 500,000 (approximately £85,000) a month. The league’s best player, Renato Augusto (once of Bayer Leverkusen), earns R$ 100,000 less. Corinthians have many players on salaries between $ 400,000 and R$ 500,000, but no-one earns as much as the coach.

Take Manchester City as a comparison. Manager Manuel Pellegrini earns £325,000 a month, while the vast majority of his squad receive far more. Sergio Agüero, City’s highest earner, is paid almost three times more than his coach.

The root of this skewed economy lies in the regularity with which teams change coaches. After 28 rounds of play, this year’s Brazilian championship has seen 24 managers sacked or resign. Only four teams have yet to substitute their head coach. Continue reading The coach

Who’s up for the Cup?

The quarter finals of Brazil’s domestic cup competition, the Copa do Brasil, get underway this midweek. Recently adapted to include all top-flight teams (those participating in the Copa Libertadores were previously exempt) and align its final stages to the last few months of the league season, the Copa has become one of the biggest attractions of Brazilian football’s long and packed calendar. It provides full stadiums, quality football and quenches the Brazilian fan’s thirst for knockout tournaments.

The Copa do Brasil is quite different from most of the traditional European domestic cups, owing more of a debt to Spain’s Copa del Rey in its two-legged format. Major upsets are rare, while the idea of a “cup run” is alien. Due to Brazilian teams’ overcrowded fixture lists, competing seriously in the Copa is a calculated choice as opposed to naturally building momentum.

Challenging in both the league and cup is difficult. It is no coincidence that at this late stage in the tournament, Corinthians and Atlético Mineiro, 1st and 2nd in the league, are already eliminated from the cup. Continue reading Who’s up for the Cup?

This Is The End(erson)

After losing 4-1 at home to Palmeiras on Wednesday, Fluminense dismissed head coach Enderson Moreira with just under three months of the season remaining. Less than 24 hours later, they announced Sport Recife’s Eduardo Baptista as his replacement. The team’s form has dipped sharply, from top four challengers to winning just two of their last 13 league matches. They currently lie in 11th place and rock bottom of the form table.

This is hardly surprising when you consider that Fluminense have just hired their third different head coach of the league season, their fourth in 2015. Continue reading This Is The End(erson)

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

Grêmio wave goodbye to title hopes

Roger Machado’s exciting Grêmio side have surely been the story of this Brazilian season, though they have seen their title chances slip away this week after disappointing results against Corinthians and São Paulo.

At the start of the championship, Grêmio were touted as relegation candidates, with then manager Luiz Felipe Scolari playing a most uninspiring and cynical brand of football, with no individual talent to back it up.

The tricolor drew their opening match at home to Ponte Preta before losing away to Coritiba. Felipão, sensing his position was under threat, resigned and headed off to China, leaving Grêmio without a coach less than two weeks into the league season.

With no money in the bank to bring in a big-name replacement, Grêmio looked down the leagues and brought in the relatively untested Roger Machado, a former player of the Porto Alegre side in the 1990s.

Roger hit the ground running, winning seven of his first ten matches in charge. Meanwhile, he managed to find a playing style to suit his squad, focusing on speed, transitions and rapid passing – exactly what Brazilian defences have the most trouble with. Continue reading Grêmio wave goodbye to title hopes

Palmeiras win, but fail to impress

“Palmeiras beat Figueirense at home and win again after three matches” – FOLHA DE S.PAULO

Palmeiras earned an important home victory this evening, beating struggling Figueirense 2-0 in São Paulo. Both goals came in the second half – the first from a corner kick and the second from the penalty spot.

The scoreline was misleading though, as Palmeiras delivered yet another below-par performance.

A look at the cold, hard figures would suggest Palmeiras to be one of the most dominant sides in Brazil. They boast the league’s best attack with 41 goals in 25 games, while their shots on target ratio (shots on target for/shots on target against, a reliable indicator of team performance) is 1.48, also the best in the league. Against Figueirense, they had six shots on target to the away side’s two.

Yet they sit in fifth place, outside of the top four and 13 points behind leaders Corinthians.

So what is to blame for their underwhelming league position? Arguably, their form has dipped just as their rivals have improved. Continue reading Palmeiras win, but fail to impress

Tite and Corinthians overcome Tolima trauma

“Ghosts don’t frighten me.”

No, not a rejected line from the Ghostbusters theme song, but the words of Corinthians coach Tite after seeing his side destroy Colombian opponents Once Caldas 4-0 in the first leg of their Copa Libertadores first round tie, last night in São Paulo.

The ghost in question was that of Deportes Tolima. Four years ago, at the same stage of the competition, Corinthians faced Tolima, a modest club from the Colombian city of Ibagué. Despite the Brazilians having a squad that included World Cup winners Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos, they were held to a goalless draw in São Paulo before going down 2-0 in Colombia.

Their failure to negotiate their way past such average opposition and precocious elimination (or, as their rivals saw it, “tolimanation”) from the Copa Libertadores plunged Corinthians into a mini crisis. Fans protested, fingers were pointed and both Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos decided to part ways with the club.

A lot has changed at Corinthians since Tolima, they have since won the Brazilian championship, the Copa Libertadores and even the Club World Cup. Despite that, when these two teams were drawn together Brazil’s sports press ran amok with Tolima comparisons.

While the first leg in 2011 was a tense, uneventful affair, last night’s match at the Arena Corinthians was anything but. The action started from the very first minute, with the home side taking the lead after only 30 seconds of play. Three red cards, a wrongly disallowed goal and two wonderful passing moves later, Corinthians all but sealed their place in the Copa Libertadores group stage.

This was an overwhelmingly impressive performance from Tite’s men. Straight from the first whistle they pressed Once Caldas very high up the pitch, giving their defenders no time on the ball and forcing them into several mistakes. After winning back possession, they looked comfortable, patiently looking for openings in the Once Caldas defence.

Their real merit came in the second half however, as they were playing with a man disadvantage after Paolo Guerrero’s red card. As Once Caldas threw players forward, Corinthians remained extremely compact in a 4-2-3 shape and managed to keep their opponents at bay.

As the Colombians’ desperation became evident, Corinthians began punishing them on the counterattack and we were treated to two magnificent examples of quick passing football, ending in goals for Elias and Fagner. The comprehensiveness of the result perhaps was not an accurate representation of the 90 minutes, but was a testament to Tite’s marvellous adaptability and the squad’s determination so early in the season.

Corinthians’ performance was not perfect, gaps behind the full-backs and poor defensive positioning, already evident in the weekend’s state championship match against Marilia, reared their ugly heads once again. Once Caldas identified these weaknesses early on, and had they been able to count on a centre-forward more talented than the lumbering Sebastián Penco, it is likely they would have scored an away goal.

It is too early to tell, but after apathetic performances from the Brazilian clubs in last year’s Copa Libertadores, it is refreshing to see a motivated and energetic Corinthians side, while the group stage clássico against São Paulo on Ash Wednesday has the potential to be one of the games of the year.

Tough times ahead for Timão

World champions in 2012, Corinthians have failed to build on success and face years of austerity


This is the final post in a four-part series previewing the 2015 Brazilian football season. The first in the series, covering Cruzeiro and Atlético Mineiro, can be found here; the second, looking forward to a promising year for Palmeiras, can be found here and the third, detailing Santos’ financial crisis, can be found here..

In December 2012, Corinthians defeated European champions Chelsea by one goal to nil to win the Club World Cup in Yokohama, Japan. The triumph was the crowning achievement of a marvellous year for São Paulo’s largest club, who had become South American champions for the first time after beating Boca Juniors in an ultra-tense Copa Libertadores final in July. However, becoming champions of the world was just phase one of the Corinthians master plan.

Weeks after Corinthians’ win in Japan, British professional services firm Deloitte released their annual Football Money League report. Corinthians’ revenue of €94.1m saw them reach 31st place, an all-time high for South American clubs. With their brand-new stadium close to completion, the plan was to consolidate their position as the biggest club on the continent and break into the world’s top 20.

The following year, the project appeared to be well on track, with the club jumping seven places in the ranking and becoming the 24th richest club in world football, ahead of the likes of Benfica, Newcastle United and Ajax.

A lot can change in the space of 12 months, however, and with the bursting of Brazilian football’s financial bubble accompanied by underwhelming on-pitch performances, the name Corinthians is nowhere to be seen in this year’s Money League study. As it turned out, the second phase of the Corinthians master plan was far tougher to execute than the first.

In early 2013, in an attempt to flex their financial muscles and show the world what they were capable of, Corinthians prepared a sizable investment to sign AC Milan forward Alexandre Pato. Outbidding clubs in Europe, Corinthians repatriated the 22-year-old, with the €15m transfer fee still standing as the highest paid by any Brazilian club.

Although the club seemed to solve Pato’s chronic injury problems that hampered his career at Milan, his on-pitch performances were not nearly as impressive as Corinthians had hoped. He made 57 appearances for the club in 2013, scoring 17 goals, five of those coming in state championship matches. Despite showing some flashes of quality, Pato was regularly criticised by the Corinthians fans for a perceived lack of effort and commitment to the club’s success. Their patience with the forward completely expired after he missed a crucial penalty in a cup shootout against Grêmio, having attempted a Panenka that went harmlessly into the arms of opposing goalkeeper Dida.

In February 2014, one year after his record-breaking transfer, Pato was loaned to rivals São Paulo, in a deal that sees Corinthians pay 50% of his R$ 800k monthly salary.

Besides the disastrous Pato investment, Corinthians had many other reasons to lament their fortunes in 2013. Their march towards retaining the Copa Libertadores title veered off course in their first group match, an away trip to Bolivia to play San José, a game that ended in tragedy. Only five minutes into the first half, one of the home supporters, 14-year-old Kevin Beltrán, was struck in the eye and fatally wounded by a flare released by a member of Corinthians’ travelling support.

Corinthians coach Tite, a father of two, was visibly shaken by the events, putting the situation into perspective by affirming he would exchange the world championship they had won the year before for Kevin’s life.

Although the punishment handed to the club was remarkably lenient (they were forced to play their three home group matches behind closed doors, a decision later overturned after appeal), the incident did appear to have an effect on the squad. They advanced from their group, but faced Boca Juniors in the round of 16 and were eliminated.

They were equally disappointing in the national championship, quickly becoming known for their uninspiring football and results that read like lines of binary code. The consensus was that the team had gone stale: they had played the same system without variation for a long period of time and became starved of creativity.

Corinthians finished the 2013 season in 10th place, missing out on qualification for the Copa Libertadores. The club chose not to extend Tite’s contract as head coach, and the man who led them to South American and World titles left at the end of the season, tipped for the Brazilian national team job after the 2014 World Cup.

His replacement was an old acquaintance of the Corinthians faithful having managed the club between 2008 and 2010: former Brazil boss Mano Menezes. Born in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, Menezes belongs to the escola gaúcha of Brazilian coaches (as does Tite), giving priority to defensive solidity and physicality over flair and creativity.

Menezes did not do a terrible job, largely reproducing Tite’s tactical system with some new faces in the squad, but fans demanded more from the team, unhappy with their ultra-conservative approach in away matches. Corinthians finished 4th in the Brazilian championship, qualifying them for this year’s Copa Libertadores. Despite the reasonable return in his first season back, revolt from radical factions of the club’s supporters and behind-the-scenes power plays led to the sacking of Mano Menezes. Tite, still a free agent since his dismissal the year before, was subsequently brought back to lead the team in 2015.

After being snubbed by the Brazilian national team, Tite is back for another spell at Corinthians. Photograph: Folhapress
After being snubbed by the Brazilian national team, Tite is back for another spell at Corinthians. Photograph: Folhapress

Corinthians did have some embarrassing results in 2014, but they primarily came off the field. In 2013, even with the disastrous investment in Alexandre Pato and poor performances on the pitch, the club managed to close the year with a slim profit of R$ 1m. In contrast, though balance sheets have yet to be released for 2014, Corinthians are expected to announce a loss of around R$ 90m for the year.

The deficit is largely due to the club’s new stadium, which opened in the middle of last year. The Arena Corinthians, despite being the pride and joy of the fans, has left the club with debt of around R$ 750m (£190m). Money from gate receipts (usually a significant source of income for the club) is all going towards repaying the stadium debt. Corinthians have yet to negotiate a naming rights contract for the stadium, which will be discounted from the R$ 750m, but their short-term future remains bleak. Their wage bill has increased 40% in relation to last season and the club is already behind on image rights payments to players and departed coach Mano Menezes.

Their transfer budget for this year has been set at a modest R$ 10m (£2.5m), with that figure relying at least R$ 38m of income from selling players. To put this into perspective, Peruvian forward Paolo Guerrero, arguably the club’s most important player and whose contract expires in June, is currently demanding a signing-on fee of R$ 18m to renew his deal at the club, almost double the budget Corinthians have set out for the entire year.

Not only is Guerrero the club’s principal goal threat, he is also the central figure in Tite’s vision for Corinthians in 2015. Though they seem unable to afford him, losing such a quality player could be disastrous to their chances on the pitch.

After being scandalously overlooked for the national team job after the embarrassment of the 2014 World Cup, Tite spent his period of unemployment travelling, studying the game and speaking with peers. The biggest influence on his current coaching philosophy comes from the time he spent in Spain, visiting Real Madrid and Carlo Ancelotti.

Wanting to learn more about the 4-1-4-1 system employed at the Bernabéu, Tite went along to matches and training sessions, trying to gather as much information as he could to implement the same style in his next job. The principal virtue of Ancelotti’s Real Madrid team, superbly examined by Michael Cox, is their ability to successfully marry the two most effective philosophies in modern football: possession and counterattacking. It is this mixture that Tite wants to bring to Corinthians.

In the words of Michael Cox, Real Madrid’s attacking unit consists of “three midfield playmakers, two brilliant counterattackers and a hard-working, selfless number nine”. The midfield trio allow the team to establish control of possession, while their wide attackers exploit any space left by their opponents on transitions.

Such a complete attacking force would be too difficult to recreate in Brazilian domestic football, but with some alterations to the standard 2-2 block midfield setup in Brazil, Tite has brought his side somewhat closer to the Real Madrid model. Renato Augusto, for example, usually regarded as an out-and-out attacking midfielder, has been brought back into central midfield, along with Elias and Ralf. For their wide attackers, Tite has proposed playing a playmaker on the right (one of Nicolás Lodeiro, Danilo or Jadson) with a deep option on the left (Emerson, Malcom or Mendoza). Paolo Guerrero leads the line, getting on the end of any service coming his way, while also helping to create space for forward runs from midfield.

It will be interesting to see whether they can achieve the balance between possession and counterattack, pre-season performances indicate that it will be difficult. Against Bayer Leverkusen, Corinthians surrendered possession to their German opponents, mainly threatening from set-pieces, and in last week’s friendly against English non-league outfit Corinthian Casuals, they had the ball but lacked the guile and incisiveness to get behind a part-time defence.

Either way, instant success is unlikely. Though he has some of his old squad, Tite is a coach that requires time to make a team his own. The question is, will he be allowed that time? Since 2012, Corinthians is a completely different organisation, with loftier expectations and even less patience. Tite, partly responsible for the world and continental honours, was not given the chance to rebuild the team in 2013. Mano Menezes, with a proud history in his first spell as coach, was not even allowed to settle at the club before he was sacked. With what are sure to be some tricky and austere years ahead for Corinthians, Tite has to be prepared for much unjust criticism if results do not come along right away.