Getting in the way

On Wednesday evening, at the same time as the Copa Libertadores final between Olímpia and Atlético-MG, Corinthians and São Paulo will decide the 2013 Recopa Sul-Americana.

I’ve never understood the Recopa. It’s South America’s answer to the Uefa Super Cup but unlike its European equivalent that serves as a harmless introduction to the league season, the Recopa strikes me as being poorly planned and frankly, it gets in the way.

The problem, like many things in South American football, is the space it takes up in the calendar. It is played just as the Brazilian national championship is trying to gain momentum and after the other major South American leagues have come to a close. It is also contested over two legs, home and away.

My other qualm is with the name. Tomorrow evening will determine the winner of the 2013 Recopa, even though São Paulo won the Copa Sul-Americana in December of 2012, and Corinthians won the Copa Libertadores over a year ago, in July 2012. The fact that the second leg clashes with the 2013 Copa Libertadores final tells you everything you need to know about how well-thought out this trophy really is.

So, why do people pay any attention to it? Before the first leg, I asked a friend of mine – a São Paulo fan – this very question.

“We only have to play these two matches, and we can win a trophy. The Brasileirão takes 38 matches…”

Therein lays the Brazilian mentality toward sport. You could argue that many fans don’t love football; they just love cheering the winner. For the clubs involved, the Recopa is a notch on the proverbial bedpost. It might not be the Libertadores, but they all count, right?

Here in São Paulo, extra importance has been placed upon this year’s edition as not only do we have two Brazilian teams in the final, we have two of São Paulo city’s trio de ferro, and both are desperate for a result.

I have discussed São Paulo FC’s problems on more than one occasion over the past few weeks, and Sunday’s demoralising 3-2 defeat away to Vitória only served to drag them deeper into the thick stuff. In truth, 3-2 was kind on the tricolor, who were outplayed for the entire 90 minutes by Caio Júnior’s gutsy Vitória. While the home side were pressing hard, making overlapping runs and contesting every loose ball, São Paulo were absent, lethargic and looked mentally exhausted (see diagram below).

Vitória's mobile midfield versus São Paulo's static diamond
Vitória’s mobile midfield versus São Paulo’s static diamond

Perhaps they could take a leaf out of Santos’ book and instead of indulging certain overrated and overvalued first team players, they could look to their youth squad and promote from within. It certainly couldn’t be any worse than their current situation, that’s for sure.

Their opponents Corinthians hold a 2-1 aggregate advantage from the first leg, but they are also in a precarious situation. They have had few decent performances since the national championship got underway, and Sunday’s 1-0 home loss to a mainly second-string Atlético-MG side has made Wednesday’s second leg crucial. In Brazilian football, crisis is never more than two bad results away.

Corinthians problem is different to that of their rivals. The effort is there, but the team is making too many mistakes in front of goal and in defence. Alexandre Pato, the most expensive signing in the history of Brazilian football, has underwhelmed, while goalkeeper Cássio is still living off his heroic performance against Chelsea in the World Club Cup final.

The loss of Paulinho has also hit them hard. Tottenham Hotspur’s new midfielder was the lynchpin of this current Corinthians side, and replacements Ibson and Guilherme look to be a considerable step down in quality.

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Responsibilities

Being in control of a football club comes with certain responsibilities. First and foremost, there is a responsibility to run the club honestly and within the law. Besides that, there is also a responsibility to take decisions with the club’s best interests at heart.

The ‘new European model’ of club ownership has never sat particularly well with me, with control going to the highest bidder, people with absolutely no connection or passion for a club are capable of taking full control of it. It turns football into pure business. Furthermore, the abhorrence of a wealthy entrepreneur using a football club as a bank for his/her own personal debt goes against everything I believe football should be.

While these owners are almost always portrayed as successful, savvy businessmen, in my opinion the most intelligent business decision would have been to swerve club ownership in the first place. There is precious little money to be made by owning a football club.

Back in my native Scotland, the recent situation with Rangers Football Club is a textbook example of a traditional club being (knowingly) run into the ground by the ridiculous overspending under the watch of previous owner and chairman Sir David Murray. A blatant lack of owner’s responsibility.

The South American model, where football clubs are social clubs and not businesses, is certainly more appealing on an ideological level, but in practice it is perhaps even more of a mess than the European style. For example in Peru, the league is currently in the midst of a momentous player’s strike, after hundreds of players throughout the top flight have gone without wages for several months thanks to the clubs’ maddening financial situations and haphazard administration. As a result of this chaos, the 2012 Peruvian league season kicked off last week with sides only able to field youth teams.

In Argentina, the politics surrounding the election of club presidents and officials has given rise to a new breed of football thuggery, the ‘professional hooligan’. Every big club in Argentina has their own organised group of thugs, known as a barra brava, who are essentially employed by the club in exchange for political backing. The barras are involved in all kinds of illegal behaviour, from ticket touting to drug dealing at stadiums, and they are a true poison in Argentine football.

Here in Brazil there is a different problem, as fan-elected administration has given rise to a painfully counter-productive culture of short-termism. When a manager is brought in to coach a Brazilian club, he is expected to bring success immediately, and if he fails to do so, he will most likely be out on his behind faster than you can say Copacabana.

Last week, southern side Grêmio sacked their manager Caio Júnior after a paltry eight weeks in charge of the club. During his brief reign, Grêmio only played eight competitive matches; all of them in the largely inconsequential opening stage of the Rio Grande do Sul state championship. Out of those eight matches, Grêmio won four, drew one, and lost three times. Strangely enough, that record was enough for Grêmio to qualify – fairly comfortably – for the knockout phase of the tournament.

Whether I believe that Caio Júnior was the right man or not for Grêmio job is not ad rem, the fact is that this was another in a long line of ridiculous dismissals. Anyone with half a brain can see that eight weeks is clearly not enough time for a coach to leave his mark on a team.

Grêmio are one of the worst offenders in this surge of short-termism, since 2003 they have changed manager 16 times (not including caretaker managers or the pending arrival of Vanderlei Luxemburgo).

This problem has ramifications that run far deeper than Brazilian domestic football however, as it has significantly stunted the development of Brazil’s home-grown coaches. Afraid that one bad result will cost them their job, Brazilian managers often revert to safer, more defensive tactics. In addition, managers are employed for such short time periods that they often do no more than motivate the players in the dressing room and pick a starting eleven. They end up playing the role of cheerleader instead of head coach.

With this in mind, is there really any wonder why there are no Brazilian coaches managing at top-level clubs? Or that in the Copa Libertadores, Brazilian sides are often eliminated by continental sides who play much more expansive and attacking football? If Brazil ever wants to be the world’s greatest footballing nation once more, people at all levels of the game need to start taking responsibility.

Game of the Week: Botafogo 2×2 São Paulo

Good afternoon and welcome to the all-new Game of the Week feature on I Like Football Me. The premise is simple, I take a close look at a top-level match from the week passed and provide some of my own analysis. This time it is a game from the Campeonato Brasileiro but who knows, in future I may take a look at one in the Argentine Primera, or a midweek Copa Libertadores clash, or even a good old international match. Now, this may become a regular once a week feature, it may not, it depends on how it is received. So if you like it/don’t like it or if you have any suggestions, leave a comment at the bottom.

“Football is a game of two halves”

                                        Countless football-enthusiastic pedants since 1980

It is one of the most excruciatingly overused football clichés available, but its relevance has never ringed truer than it did on Sunday afternoon at the Engenhão. A 2×2 draw between two exciting and energetic sides like Botafogo and São Paulo sounds like a real classic spectacle, end-to-end, and with the momentum to-ing and fro-ing constantly throughout the ninety minutes. In fact, what we got was two distinct forty-five-minute periods of startlingly one-sided football. Continue reading Game of the Week: Botafogo 2×2 São Paulo