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.

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In the name of objectivity

After a little post-World Cup break and time dedicated to other projects, this blogger-turned-author is returning to the comforting and cathartic confines of this humble blog. I am also working a lot more in Portuguese these days, so if you stumble across some indecipherable text with strange accents and excessive punctuation on this blog, please, forgive me. 

I have yet to put pen to paper regarding my opinion on the Brazilian FA (CBF)’s appointment of Dunga as the new (old) national team coach. There are two reasons for this: one, is that I simply did not find the time, and two, is that even though Dunga may have flattered to deceive in his first spell in the job, even though he failed miserably as the coach of Internacional and has not managed a team since and even though he embodies the process of uglification the once-revered Brazilian national team has underwent from 1982 until today, we must restrain ourselves and remember he has just been appointed. In the name of objectivity, Dunga’s second attempt at the Brazil job must be evaluated in isolation and on its own merit. The coach had yet to actually do anything as the manager of the Brazilian national team (except failing to remember the names of Real Madrid’s James Rodríguez [“that Colombian kid, Jimenez”] and Milan’s iconic coach Arrigo Sacchi [“I have spoken with Enrico Sacchi”]) – so, naturally, I remained quiet.

This week, Dunga announced his first Brazil squad (see below) to dispute two friendlies at the beginning of September, against James “Jimenez” Rodríguez’s Colombia and Ecuador. Again, it is still too early to praise or criticise his work, as the squad selection is impossible to judge when separated from the context of the matches that will follow. The list does, however, give some clues as to how the Brazil side of the Second Age of Dunga will behave on the pitch. And starved of interesting topics to write about, that’s more than enough of an invitation for this journalist to speak his mind.

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First impressions were largely encouraging, which was always going to be the case considering those who were skeptic about Dunga’s appointment had been creating wild nightmares for the past month, imagining Felipe Melo being handed the captain’s armband and Neymar being dropped in favour of someone more “disciplined”. The reality, as is so often the case, turned out not to be so dramatic after all.

Although Dunga has been cautious to put too much emphasis on the 7-1 defeat to Germany, towing the CBF party line, he did make a conscious effort to omit a significant group of the World Cup squad. From his 22-man group, only 10 are survivors from Felipão’s squad, with the obvious caveat that Thiago Silva is injured and unavailable.

However irrelevant those at the CBF seem to feel was the Germany loss, this process of renovation and blooding new players is important. Furthermore, Dunga did not take things too far, players such as Luiz Gustavo, Hulk, Oscar and Willian all remain in the squad despite coming in for criticism last month, and all four can play important roles in this new team.

Another positive aspect was the players called up for the centre of midfield. One of the biggest criticisms of Dunga’s first attempt at the national team job was his side’s complete lack of midfield articulation and creativity. While every other team in world football made sure to play midfielders who were able to defend and attack (and most importantly, complete a five-yard pass), Dunga’s Brazil put their faith in hard men, essentially converted centre-backs who knew how to tackle. In the World Cup in South Africa, while Spain had Xavi, Iniesta and Xabi Alonso, Brazil had Felipe Melo and Gilberto Silva.

As well as maintaining Luiz Gustavo, Fernandinho and Ramires, all well-rounded midfielders, Dunga called up Elias of Corinthians (formerly of Sporting and Atlético Madrid) who is energetic, technical and a proficient marker. He also has the option of playing Oscar or Philippe Coutinho in that deeper role, all of these are positive signs.

That leads on to another interesting feature of this squad: the lack of a fixed centre-forward and an abundance of unpredictable attacking midfield threat. The selection indicates that Dunga may well revisit the work of ex-Brazil coach Mano Menezes, who experimented with a strikerless formation, playing Neymar as a mobile centre-forward. There is a worry that Dunga could try to shoehorn one of his players into a traditional centre-forward role, which would be an error. Neymar always needs the freedom to move into channels and drop deep when he wants to; Hulk’s effectiveness comes as a direct option down either flank; Diego Tardelli started his career as an out-and-out centre-forward but now plays much deeper, usually on the right; young Ricardo Goulart is an extremely interesting talent, but already at Cruzeiro he has shown he is not a pure centre-forward, instead he is more of an attacking midfielder, arriving late into the box to score.

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With some new faces and Neymar at centre-forward, a potential XI to start the game against Colombia.

Last month I mentioned that only once has a country won the World Cup with a squad made up of a majority of foreign-based players (France in 1998) and it seems to have really resonated with Dunga, who is, of course, a long-time reader of this blog. The coach has made a conscious effort to select more domestic-based outfield players and has called up some interesting names and perhaps missed a few.

All of the domestic-based players in the squad have done enough individually to deserve the callup, although in some cases I’m unsure about the long-term benefit of some of the players being involved in the setup. It is hard to see Diego Tardelli, Atlético Mineiro’s striker-turned-playmaker, still being involved in the team come next year’s Copa América. Even Elias and Éverton Ribeiro, excellent as they are in Brazil, give the impression that they could suffer with the competition for places in those midfield spots.

Corinthians’ centre-back Gil, especially with the absence of Thiago Silva, strikes me as a wise selection. He has some modest experience in Europe with French side Valenciennes, but has improved greatly since his return to Brazil, with great positioning, technique and a threat at set-pieces.

I was delighted to see Cruzeiro’s Ricardo Goulart get the call, as he is certainly a player who could go on to do great things for Brazil. As alluded to earlier, he is an attacking midfielder who likes to play just off a principal striker. He is clever, strong, good in the air, has a natural eye for goal and he keeps getting better and better. Brazil do not have any other player in that same mould, so seeing him in the national team setup is exciting.

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.

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.

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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.

Felipão may be a ten-year step in the wrong direction

As expected, the CBF have appointed Luiz Felipe Scolari, Felipão, as the new head coach of the seleção, replacing Mano Menezes. The clues were laid out for all to see when Felipão was appointed as a consultant to the Ministry of Sport at the end of September, not long after leaving his post as head coach of Palmeiras.

While on the one hand Mano Menezes is cold, serious and thoughtful, Felipão is charismatic, cheery, and has a far better connection with the Brazilian public. Considering the magnitude of the task of leading Brazil to the 2014 World Cup, Felipão’s personality fits the bill. Continue reading Felipão may be a ten-year step in the wrong direction

Five talking points from Brazil 1×1 Colombia

1. Colombia sacrificed midfield creativity for wing play – and it paid off

Since taking the Colombia job, Argentine coach José Pékerman has established a basic standard of selecting four defenders, two deep midfielders, and four attackers. Within these parameters, there are a number of variations Pékerman can make, depending on the match situation and the level of opposition.

One of the main variations concerns the deep midfield duo, and is a choice between creativity and solidity. On the one hand, you have Fredy Guarín of Internazionale and Monarcas’ Aldo Leão Ramírez – both strong, competitive midfielders, but with great vision and a wide passing range. On the other, there are players like Deportivo’s Abel Aguilar, Valenciennes’ Carlos Sánchez and Fluminense’s Edwin Valencia. All three are holding midfielders, tasked with breaking up play and covering Colombia’s marauding full-backs. Continue reading Five talking points from Brazil 1×1 Colombia