The Brazilian Premier League

This time last year, in an article entitled “Bom Senso F.C. & a battle for the soul of Brazilian football”, published on Brasil Wire, I wrote about the potential for a breakaway of Brazil’s major clubs from the Jurassic power structure that controls Brazilian football, headed by national and state federations.

In 1992, England’s largest clubs split from the Football League and created the Premier League: a standalone organisation that operated with the interests of clubs in mind. It a short time it became the richest league in world football. Brazilian clubs, by comparison, can claim to hold even more influence than their English counterparts (five teams in Brazil count their fan bases in the tens of millions – Flamengo, Corinthians, São Paulo, Palmeiras and Vasco da Gama), making the need for an independent league even greater. Continue reading The Brazilian Premier League

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Santos in crisis

Unable to pay their players and with no revenue coming in, could this be the end of Santos as we know it?


This is the third in a series of previews of the 2015 Brazilian football season. The first, covering the league’s chronic calendar problems and looking at the prospects of Cruzeiro and Atlético Mineiro, can be found here. The second, detailing the restructuring effort currently being made at Palmeiras, can be found here.

On the evening of the 14th April 1912, somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, the RMS Titanic struck an iceberg and sank. At the same time, in the Brazilian port city of Santos, a group of sportsmen gathered at their local athletics club to create a new football team – Santos Futebol Clube. They would go on to become one of the most important clubs in football history, helping to spread the sport worldwide during the 1960s and 70s.

Santos, however, have hit hard times. They are mired in a financial crisis that is undoubtedly the most severe in their long and proud history. Over a century after setting sail, the club are running a genuine risk of capsizing.

Nearly all major clubs in Brazil are in a ludicrous amount of debt. There are several explanations for this, but most stem from the fact clubs in Brazil are not businesses with shareholders, they are social clubs, where presidents are elected every two years by members. This system removes any personal responsibility that regular chief executives have, leading to irresponsible financial management and widespread short-termism.

For the past seven years, BDO Consulting have conducted an annual survey to calculate exactly how much Brazilian clubs owe. In their last study, covering the 2013 season, Flamengo retained the unwanted crown of being the most indebted club in Brazil, with a total bill of nearly R$ 760 million (around £190m). Santos, owing a comparatively modest R$ 297m, would appear to be some way away from Flamengo. However, the rubro-negro from Rio de Janeiro are the most popular club in the country, with a fan base countable in the tens of millions; Santos, on the other hand, do not have the structure to make a recovery any time soon.

Though they are one of the best-known Brazilian teams around the world, at home Santos are considered a small- to medium-sized club. The city of Santos is not particularly large, with a population comparable to that of Edinburgh, and it lies only 77km from the vast metropolitan area of São Paulo, which is over 40 times larger than Santos.

São Paulo’s three giant clubs: Corinthians, São Paulo FC and Palmeiras, are such institutions that there is little space left for Santos. Even in their own city, with less than half a million inhabitants, it is common to see people walking around with the shirts of either one of the state capital’s trio de ferro (iron trio).

Santos’ stadium, the Estádio Urbano Caldeira (commonly known as Vila Belmiro), is a charming but cramped venue, with its capacity of 16,798 making it the smallest in Brazil’s top flight. Not only is it undersized, it is rarely over half-full. Brazilian football has a problem with low attendances, one that hits clubs such as Santos harder than anyone else.

In the 2014 national championship, Santos’ average attendance at home matches was a paltry 8,560. Unsurprisingly, of all 20 top-flight clubs, Santos made the least profit from match-day income last year: an insignificant R$ 813k (just over £200k). To compare, rivals Corinthians raised almost R$ 17m of match-day profit over the same time period.

Then there is the television money. Under the current broadcasting rights agreement, Brazilian clubs receive an annual payment that varies from club to club according to their popularity: those who draw the bigger audiences command more money. Therefore, the country’s two largest teams, Flamengo and Corinthians, each receive R$ 110m per year from television behemoths Rede Globo. São Paulo and Palmeiras collect R$ 80m and R$ 70m respectively, while Santos get R$ 40m.

With a smaller fan base, less TV money and a tiny stadium, Santos have always been at a disadvantage when compared to their big-city neighbours. Crucially, they have always been aware of this and have conducted their business accordingly. Like many other South American clubs, Santos stay afloat by producing and selling talented young footballers.

In 2002, the last time Santos found themselves in financial trouble, they decided to promote a number of their youth players to the first team, notably Diego, Robinho and Elano. The youngsters were so effective that they ended up winning the national championship of that year, and the eventual sales of the trio helped the club regain financial stability.

Robinho (L) and Diego, the “Vila boys”, proved in 2002 that in Brazilian football, you can win things with kids. Photograph: Ari Ferreira
Robinho (L) and Diego, the “Vila boys”, proved in 2002 that in Brazilian football, you can win things with kids. Photograph: Ari Ferreira

In the late 2000s however, Brazil’s economy was booming and there were sponsors and investors aplenty, prompting Brazilian clubs to start spending money. Santos, with Neymar on their books, saw what they thought was a golden opportunity and decided to abandon their usual business model. They won the Copa Libertadores of 2011 and spent a fortune holding on to Neymar despite interest from Europe’s giants.

However, the subsequent success that Santos had banked on was very short-lived. In 2012, Neymar spent an inordinate amount of time out of the country playing for the national team, managing to miss over half of the Brazilian championship season. Without their key player, Santos struggled and finished the year in mid-table, missing out on continental qualification.

Neymar eventually signed for Barcelona in May of 2013 in what was meant to be Santos’ big pay day. However, of the €57.1m paid by Barcelona for the player, only €17m went to Santos. A sizable chunk of money for a Brazilian club, but hardly sufficient to cover the massive investment made to keep him at the club during 2012. That same year, Brazil’s economy began to slow down, bursting domestic football’s financial bubble. Sponsorships and investments disappeared and Santos’ future was thrust into uncertainty.

Their situation became so desperate that without a main sponsor and next to no match-day revenue, the entire R$ 40m Santos were due to receive later this month for 2015’s television rights was already spent in September of last year. The club asked Rede Globo for an advance in order for them to pay their wage bill.

Since then, the club have failed to pay players for the months of October, November and December, with Christmas bonuses (equivalent of one month’s wages, prescribed by Brazilian law) also going unpaid. Several of Santos’ key players have taken the club to court, as three months of unpaid salaries is considered grounds for contract termination.

One of the suing players in question is centre-forward Leandro Damião, whose transfer to the club in early 2014 could yet turn out to be a deathblow. Santos have yet to pay for Damião, having struck a deal with investors Doyen Sports to bring the striker to Vila Belmiro. Doyen paid R$ 42m to Internacional, Damião’s former club, for ownership of his contract, passing on his rights to Santos.

The plan was for the player to attract a move to Europe for a fee larger than R$ 42m, with Santos retaining any profit made. In practice, the transfer failed miserably. In 44 games for the club, he scored only 11 goals and fell out of favour with the fans. He was loaned out to Cruzeiro earlier this month.

In normal circumstances, it would be very difficult for Santos to get out of this deal without making a significant loss. With this court case, however, the club stand to lose an incredible amount of money. If the judge rules in favour of Damião, he will no longer be a Santos player, the club will be unable to make anything back on his transfer, they will owe Doyen Sports the entire R$ 42m fee as well as paying Damião the remainder of his contract and a sizable sum in compensation.

The paradox is that amid this woeful financial situation that only looks to be getting worse, Santos are aware that they still need to build a competitive football squad in order to stay in Brazil’s top division. They may have lost the spine of their first team to the courts: goalkeeper Aranha, veteran centre-back Edu Dracena, full-back Eugenio Mena, defensive midfielder Arouca and Leandro Damião, without receiving any compensation for their transfers, but what they really cannot afford is to be relegated.

Big clubs who have been relegated recently, Palmeiras and Vasco da Gama, received plenty of television and media coverage in the second division, they still did fairly well with their gate receipts and had enough quality to come straight back up. With Santos, this is less likely, they would run the risk of staying there.

However, it seems they will have enough quality to survive for this season at least. The current administration, elected in January when the damage was already done, have scoured the market for some affordable signings. Three players have come in on loans that involved no extra fees for the club: Grêmio centre-back Werley and wingers Marquinhos Gabriel and Chiquinho, while Fluminense midfielder Edwin Valencia, former AC Milan forward Ricardo Oliveira and returning favourite Elano have all joined on short-term deals.

Ignoring the severity of Santos’ situation would be unwise. Brazilian clubs have an air of invincibility surrounding them, regarding themselves as too big to fail. For the most part, this is true, even if a club such as Flamengo were to see their debts double over the next 12 months, they would be unlikely to run any palpable risk of collapse. Santos, however, are not in that tier. They are taking on water, some of the crew have jumped ship. Hopefully it’s not too late to keep them from sinking.

Next time: They say you should never return to a club where you have already had success, obviously no-one told Tite. After becoming world champions in his first spell, where can he take Corinthians second time around?

It’s just not the same

Sunday’s game between Fluminense and Flamengo was the first time the two rivals have met in the newly renovated Maracanã.

After construction work began on the iconic stadium in 2010, Flamengo and Fluminense resorted to playing their home games at the Engenhão, another government-owned stadium in Rio de Janeiro and the traditional home of fellow carioca club Botafogo.

When the Engenhão was closed in March of this year after failing to meet basic safety standards (how a stadium can be inaugurated in 2007 and closed six years later is beyond me), three of Rio’s big four became homeless.

One of the two most influential cities in Brazilian football, Rio de Janeiro had only one functional football stadium (the Estádio São Januário, owned by Vasco da Gama) and four top-flight clubs.

But with the reopening of the newer, shinier, whiter Maracanã, Rio is once again hosting regular matches.

The Maracanâ, though, seems to have lost its soul.

On television, the Maracanã looks empty during league matches. This impression is slightly misleading, as Maracanã attendances have been some of the highest of the 2013 Brasileirão so far. The reason for the empty stands is that touchline seats are so expensive (the most affordable middle seat would set you back a cool R$ 150), prompting fans to congregate behind the goals in the so-called “cheap seats”.

Whereas in the past, fans would come down from the nearby working-class neighbourhoods of Mangueira and São Cristóvão to pack the infamous geral section hours before kick-off (often paying only R$ 1 for entry, as recent as 2005) and create that iconic Maraca atmosphere, today fans file in minutes before the match starts, struggling to hear themselves think over the state-of-the-art PA system blasting awful pop music.

The atmosphere during the match isn’t terrible though, and as I mentioned, the demand for tickets has been reasonable, albeit coming from a far more middle-class clientele. But it is not the same, and never will be. The old Maracanã has gone forever, the New Maracana Stadium stands in its place.

For more on the new Maracanã, I suggest following Geostadia.com, where Christopher Gaffney has been closely following every aspect of the new stadium and others around the country.

Now on to the Fla-Flu.

The 3-2 final score was misleading, as Flamengo were in complete control throughout and could just as easily have won the match four or five-nil.

This was probably Flamengo’s best game since Mano Menezes took charge in June. The former Seleção coach has implemented a new system at the club, pressing high up the field in a 4-1-4-1 shape, with Elias and André Santos (formerly of Sporting and Arsenal, respectively) creating play in midfield, and two quick, young wingers stifling the opposing full-backs and providing a goal threat.

flaflu

As the above diagram shows, when Fluminense (right to left) started their first phase of play from their goalkeeper or centre-backs, Flamengo made sure to tightly mark their midfield and full-backs, virtually forcing Fluminense to hand over possession.

When Flamengo won the ball back, they would attack with wonderful combinations on either flank: Elias, Gabriel and full-back Léo Moura on the right; André Santos, Nixon and João Paulo on the left. Fluminense couldn’t get anywhere near their quick one-twos and overlapping runs.

The roles of André Santos and Elias are interesting, but it is hardly a surprise they are performing well considering who is in charge. Mano Menezes worked with both players at Corinthians between 2008 and 2010, and famously called both up to the national team on a regular basis. Menezes knows both players well, and crucially he knows how to get the best out of them.

André Santos, for example, a failure at full-back for Arsenal, is being played higher up the field and more central. Menezes yesterday quipped that André is “like a BMW going forward, but like a Fusca tracking back”.

In the past few weeks, Fluminense have shown the rest of the league the perfect way to beat them. It is all about stopping their full-backs. With Carlinhos, their main attacking outlet from left-back, booked early on and pinned back straight from kick-off, Fluminense’s offensive unit lost its key supply line. With Fred static at centre-forward, Felipe not sharp enough to break away from his marker and both full-backs kept in their own half, Fluminense were completely useless going forward. Whenever their full-backs did manage to get in their opponent’s half, Flu scored.

Last season, whenever an opponent would close down their full-backs, Fluminense could play aimless long balls and rely on the pace and guile of Wellington Nem to keep the ball in attack. Without him, they could be in real trouble.

Back to business

The Brasileirão is back after the month-long pause for the Confederations Cup. Plenty has changed since then: managers have been sacked, players have been signed and others sold. It’s almost as if we are back to week one.

This weekend’s headline games are on Sunday with two clássicos due to take place, but there is still plenty of interest in this evening’s four fixtures.

Renato Gaúcho will coach his first match at Grêmio since returning to the club earlier this week. Their first opponents are recently promoted Atlético-PR, whose quick and direct style will certainly cause Grêmio problems. Renato is unlikely to impose any drastic strategy changes early on and Grêmio should line up similarly to how they did under former coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo.

Renato’s primary objective is to restore confidence in the players, who have been struggling since their Copa Libertadores exit in May.

With the sale of Fernando to Shakhtar Donetsk for €11 million, Grêmio have lost an important presence in midfield. Fernando is an intelligent and strong defensive midfielder, able to defend and attack. His replacement, Adriano, is more of an auxiliary centre-back. He marks well, but does little else.

Flamengo will face Coritiba in the Mané Garrincha in Brasília, some 1,400 km from their home city of Rio de Janeiro. With the ongoing licitation process for the new Maracanã and the closure of the Engenhão for repairs, Flamengo have not played a match in the city of Rio de Janeiro since 6th April.

Although Flamengo do have a big support in Brasília (the match is expected to sell out), this situation cannot go on. With the constant travelling, the playing squad are starting to get upset, with goalkeeper Felipe commenting on social media that perhaps he “should move to Brasília, seeing as that’s where Flamengo play now”.

Since Mano Menezes has taken control at Flamengo, they are a more compact and organised side. Today’s match may not be a classic, but if Flamengo can get back to Rio soon they could have a very respectable year.

In Brazil’s northeast, Náutico – Ponte Preta marks another coach’s debut, that of Ponte’s new man Paulo César Carpegiani. Former manager of the Paraguayan national team and World Champion with Flamengo in 1981, Carpegiani is one of my favourite coaches in Brazil. While many of his peers are set in their ways and repeat the same mistakes over and over, Carpegiani is always looking to innovate and improve his methods.

For example, he was one of the first Brazilian coaches to choose to watch the match from the stands, where he has a better view of the field of play. Such practice is unheard of in Brazil, and usually frowned upon by supporters, who prefer their coach to be waving his arms and screaming on the touchline.

Tonight’s late game is between Portuguesa and Cruzeiro at the Canindé in São Paulo. Out of Brazil’s traditional big clubs, Cruzeiro is the one that has improved most during the current transfer window. Diego Souza, Dedé, Nilton, Everton Ribeiro and Dagoberto are all premium Série A quality players. The team is playing well and looking organised under Marcelo Oliveira. They are suffering from injuries today however, and will hope to avoid dropping points away to Lusa.

New Mirror Football post

Just a little reminder that my most recent post on the Mirror Football website was published today, a little look at the crazily competitive season we have had in the Brasileirão, with a mind-blowing stat to back it up.

You can find the post here, have a read, and if you have any opinions or anything you’d like to discuss, drop me a comment on the site, or here at the end of this post.

I’ll be back in mid-week (probably Thursday, Wednesday is a national holiday) with the Game of the Week from this weekend, and I will also have another Twenty to Watch profile going up. Stay tuned.

Game of the Week: Grêmio 4×2 Flamengo

As many will be aware of, Sunday’s match between Grêmio and Flamengo was not just a clash of two of Brazil’s titanic clubs, but it was also the homecoming of a particularly recognisable buck-toothed gaúcho.

In January of this year, it was announced that Ronaldinho Gaúcho would be coming home to Brazil after ten glorious years in Europe. With his rather unscrupulous brother-cum-agent Assis (you may know him better as A$$i$) in tow, Ronaldinho packed his bags and embarked on a whistle-stop tour around Brazil, lunching with directors of the country’s biggest sides. After the initial commotion, three clubs emerged as potential suitors, Palmeiras, Flamengo, and Grêmio. Ronaldinho revealed that Palmeiras had made him the best contract offer, and that Flamengo were also offering plenty of cash, but if it was up to him, he would sign for his boyhood heroes Grêmio. Continue reading Game of the Week: Grêmio 4×2 Flamengo

New MirrorFootball blog

Good afternoon all. Just a quick post to point you towards my blog on MirrorFootball for this weekend.

In this week’s article, I take a look at the many Brazilian clubs who have not been able to play at there home stadiums this season.

You can find the blog here.