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.

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Day two: Roubado é mais gostoso

I’ve seen it close to a million times and I still cannot understand why it was given. The decision to award Brazil a penalty kick with the scores at 1-1 left an unpleasant aftertaste to an entertaining opening match.

The referee was poor throughout, so much so that even Brazil’s commentary teams were criticising Mr Nishimura in the second half. His performance was certainly not the worse I’ve seen from a referee, nor the worse I’ve seen from a referee at a World Cup, but he fundamentally changed the course of the match when incorrectly blowing for a foul when Fred fell over in the penalty area under no unlawful contact from Dejan Lovren.

Croatia have every right to feel hard done to. I was impressed with their approach for most of the match: disciplined at the back, quick on offensive transitions and always looking to provide their own threat, as well as trying to neutralise Brazil’s. Their game plan appeared to be working too, as with the scores level Brazil were struggling to find an opening. After the penalty and 2-1 down however, they were forced to open up and a third Brazil goal became a real possibility.

Brazil have the three points, but it was not all good news for the Seleção.

An issue I identified during this opening match was with their full-backs, Marcelo and Daniel Alves. Brazil’s full-backs have always been a weapon and a vulnerability, their offensive talents provide an added threat going forward, but the space they leave behind them is always there for swift opposing transitions to exploit. The problem yesterday however, was different. While in defensive areas, Marcelo and Daniel struggled to cope with the threat of Croatia’s wide play and deal with the drilled crosses constantly sent into their penalty area. It was one of these situations, with Daniel Alves being beaten on the right flank and Marcelo arriving at the far post and struggling to clear his lines, which resulted in Croatia’s goal.

Marcelo already knew he had an important role against Croatia with Darijo Srna and Ivan Perisic attacking his sector. After the own goal, he seemed to feel the pressure, hesitant to burst forward into attack and happy to play easy passes to his team-mates. Understandable, considering the psychological sledgehammer blow that was scoring an own goal in Brazil’s opening match of the World Cup on home soil.

Had Mario Mandzukic played, you could argue these problems would not have appeared as often. Croatia would have played higher crosses into the area, with David Luiz and Thiago Silva keeping an eye on the striker.

Another let-off for Brazil was that Neymar could count himself lucky to be on the pitch to score his two goals. His first-half elbow on Luka Modric was dishonest, and had the referee had a better look at it he could have shown a straight red card instead of yellow. A short time afterwards, Neymar also got away with a handball and some simulation. I would not go as far as saying that Neymar remaining on the pitch was an injustice of any kind, just that he needs to watch his step, as he may come across referees who are more inclined to penalise him.

As Flamengo’s goalkeeper Felipe said, after winning the Rio state championship over rivals Vasco with the help of some poor refereeing decisions: Roubado é mais gostoso. It feels even better when it’s stolen.

Of course, a 3-1 win on opening day came with plenty of positives for Felipão’s team. They came from behind, a difficult thing to do at any level, and something that is potentially useful for their chances further in the tournament. In 2010 in South Africa, the Seleção comfortably won all of their group games and their last 16 tie against Chile after a huge unbeaten run in qualifying, so that when Holland pegged them back in the quarter-finals, they did not know how to react. Now, the team have belief that they are strong enough to win, even when behind.

Neymar was excellent, taking the game by the scruff of the neck and scoring twice, including a magnificent equalising goal. He is the heart of the team, on and off the pitch. His wonderful strike to level the scores came from one of the old dribbles from deep that the always loved to do in his Santos days. It has been a while since he has been able to pull something off like that at the top level, with his space often running out, but yesterday he found the channels and showed his immense talent to the world. Of course, it may have helped that the referee was happy to award him free-kicks whenever he went over. Two key goals to help his team win under pressure in his first World Cup match – I may be mistaken, but I cannot remember Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi having done the same for their respective national teams in the World Cup.

Oscar was my man of the match, especially in the face of the criticism he has faced recently. I noticed Oscar saving himself a little when playing in friendlies and near the end of the season for Chelsea, but at the same time his role is often a quiet one, far more about keeping the midfield’s shape with all of the movement going on around him. He has such an excellent positional sense that it is easy for him to blend into matches, appearing not to be making an impact.

Against Croatia, he was more involved, looking for the ball and creating attacks, generally taking more responsibility. He channelled the spirit of Santos legend Feitiço with his third goal, the genius toe-poke that took the goalkeeper by surprise.

Off the pitch, I spent the match at the Fan Fest in São Paulo. The atmosphere was excellent and the organisation of the event was impressive, contrary to what many pessimists believed.

With the hosts out of the way, today we have three games to enjoy, with special attention placed on Spain v Holland in Salvador. Of course, these were the two sides that contested the last World Cup final, and many of the same personnel will be involved today. Spain will play their usual tiki-taka style, following the wisdom of Neném Prancha: “It is the ball who has to run. Otherwise, all you would need is a team of pickpockets.” While you try to work that one out, I’m personally looking forward to watching Chile’s opener, surely the most exciting team in the tournament.

After the perfect conditions we enjoyed in São Paulo for the opening match, today will be the first test of the Brazilian heat. Natal will be particularly punishing for Mexico v Cameroon at 1 o’clock, Salvador should be sticky and humid for Spain v Holland, while Cuiabá is one of the hottest places on the planet, even at 7 o’clock. Chile and Australia may be running on empty come the second half.

Having recently written A to Zico: an alphabet of Brazilian football, this World Cup has gained a special significance. In the book, Mauricio and I chronicled Brazil’s performances in the World Cup, among other topics, by threading together our own knowledge with any material and records available. This has made me fully respect how important every minute of this tournament is. What may seem coincidental, unimportant or just downright mundane today, in a decade or two will become part of a rich narrative. Soak it in, note it down if you have to, twenty years from now there will be a young journalist like myself scrambling around to find any scraps of information from a tournament long gone.

Day one: World Cup in Zona Leste

My World Cup began this morning at 6 o’clock sharp, with the familiar whine of a vuvuzela being blown outside of my front door. This proved not to be a one-off, with the brothers and distant cousins of the much detested South African horn following suit soon after, accompanied by fireworks, whistles, car horns and anything else the local people could think of. Vehicular alarms were even being set off on purpose, just to raise the decibels. This description is unlikely to match the ones being relayed by journalists and fans staying in São Paulo, who talked of a general feeling of apathy among the population and, above all, quiet.

The difference is that I, unlike almost all foreigners in Greater São Paulo, live on the city’s almost exclusively working-class east zone – Zona Leste in Portuguese. Ignored by the media, Zona Leste (or Zona Lost as it is often cruelly referred to) is dismissed by many paulistanos, including São Paulo FC’s president Carlos Miguel Aidar, as being “another world”, not just because of the time it takes to get there, but because of the stark differences between the chic bars and restaurants of Jardins and the simple bakeries and drinking holes of Sapopemba. Well, sorry São Paulo, but today Zona Leste is hosting the World Cup.

A recent poll says rich Brazilians are far more likely to be opposed to the World Cup than the rest of the class spectrum, with many anti-World Cup protests being orchestrated by the middle class. Where I live, there is a lot of disagreement with Brazil’s problems with education, housing and health, but there are also non-stop fireworks. Indeed, Arena Corinthians, the stage for the opening match between Brazil and Croatia, is situated in the neighbourhood of Itaquera, slap bang in the middle of Zona Leste.

Itaquera is not the most attractive part of São Paulo by any means. It is a cramped space with winding, congested streets, rubbish littered on pavements and the odd open sewer or two. They have serious housing issues, and labour in the city is so centralised that the majority of Itaquera’s inhabitants have to commute for up to two hours to arrive at their place of work, the opposite of how the quality of life-commute dynamic works in the UK. Unlike the city centre, here you will find widespread optimism about the coming tournament and plenty of national pride.

The tragedy is that despite their general excitement about the tournament, the people of Itaquera, and Zona Leste as a whole, are being actively kept out of the party. On Tuesday, I visited the Copa do Povo (People’s Cup), a 4,800-strong camp of homeless workers, situated only 3km from Arena Corinthians. Led by the Landless Workers’ Movement (MTST), the Copa do Povo is an invasion of unused land, where the squatters have built a fascinating maze of shelters built out of branches and black bin bags. For its appearance, the camp is incredibly organised. The large population is split into eight groups, each with their own kitchen and bathroom and coordination system. Every shelter is numbered, with the MTST organisers knowing exactly who is living where.

After a month of demonstrations and negotiations with the federal government, the MTST have been granted their wish and the owners of the land (a construction company who had not been paying sufficient tax on it) will now be obliged to build houses there for low-income families.

Speaking to some of the families living there, I got the impression that their biggest gripe about the World Cup was Fifa’s plans to close the roads around the stadium on match days, meaning the local people could not get near the stadium, neither could they go about their everyday business. While others have the day off today, many of the workers in Copa do Povo went to their jobs this morning and had their usual public transport routes changed dramatically, with buses cancelled and the subway unreachable. A two-hour commute turned into a three-hour commute.

Even if these workers do get the half day that most businesses are promising, they will not be able to return to the camp and watch the match. They are unable to get any electricity inside the camp, with no power companies willing to help them. From the top of the Copa do Povo camp, you can see the Arena Corinthians nestled nearby. However, for these workers, it could not be farther away. This afternoon, instead of watching Brazil play Croatia, the MTST have organised their own football tournament, to take place at the Copa do Povo, between teams of landless workers.

The problems in Itaquera did not begin when Brazil was chosen to host the World Cup. Had this tournament been in the UK or the USA, the homeless workers in Copa do Povo would still struggle to find a television to watch the opening game. These are a result of Brazilian society as a whole, the centralisation of labour in big cities and the inequality and class hatred that is seen here every day.

I was on the subway yesterday, going from Zona Leste in the direction of the city centre. I had got on at the same station as three teenage girls, all dark-skinned, all coming from a nearby poor neighbourhood. As we went on our way, the train announcements played in Portuguese and English, a novelty for the World Cup. The girls found the English voice funny (which it most certainly was), and while giggling they tried to recreate the lines in their best received pronunciation. “Nextchie staayshon … ” I found it quite funny and charming, but the woman sitting next to me did not agree. Shaking her head, clutching her Louis Vuitton bag close to her chest, she muttered: “Que povinho mal-educado”.

Portuguese uses the diminutive form, -inho and -inha, for many reasons. Sometimes it is to represent size, often it is to show affection, however, it can also be used to show disdain and disgust, as was this example. Translated literally, what this woman said was “what uneducated little people”. “Little people”, not because of their height, their age and certainly not because the woman found them cute and worthy of affection.

Povinho is a slur I hear used every day in São Paulo and it perfectly represents the class hatred evident in this city and makes me sick to my stomach. It is this “povinho” that is celebrating on the streets before a ball has even been kicked, honking their car horns and waving Brazilian flags despite the fact the middle class constantly tries to ignore them. They cannot be ignored any more, as the World Cup has not arrived in São Paulo, it has arrived in Zona Leste and the rest of the city will just have to deal with it.

A to Zico: An alphabet of Brazilian football – Available now

I can proudly say that the ebook written by Mauricio Savarese and myself, A to Zico: An alphabet of Brazilian football, is now available on the Kindle store. The book is a primer on Brazilian football and culture, coming just in time for the 2014 World Cup, choosing one of the myriad subjects and themes for each letter of the alphabet. We cover such topics as the history of the Brazilian national team and their influence on the rest of the world of football, the people who made Pelé the legend he is today, the legacy of the Maracanazo (Brazil’s World Cup defeat in 1950) and how the military dictatorship exploited football for their own gains.

It is the culmination of months of research, hard work and sleepless nights. Special thanks go to my dad, Harry Marshall, for providing us with the excellent illustrations which appear throughout the book. For now, it will only be available in English and in ebook format, but any interested publishers should get in touch with Mauricio and myself through our respective blogs.

The following excerpt comes from chapter M… is for Maracanazo, and goes into detail about the infamous World Cup final of 1950 — which Brazil lost in front of their own fans — and its deep influence on Brazil’s self image. For the rest of this chapter and much, much more, get your copy of A to Zico: An alphabet of Brazilian football from Amazon today. If you like it, leave a review!

M1 M3 M2

The Museum of Football is a mandatory stop for anyone visiting São Paulo. Housed inside the charming Pacaembu stadium, it hosts a fascinating collection of photographs, artefacts and memorabilia from Brazil’s football history, including an impressive permanent exhibition that chronicles every edition of the World Cup to date. However, before reaching the more colourful and exciting parts of the museum, there is one room through which every visitor must pass.

It is a small, dark space, empty apart from a projection screen on one wall. On a loop, it plays black-and-white footage of Brazil v Uruguay – the decisive match of the 1950 World Cup. Brazil’s opening goal. Uruguay’s equaliser. Alcides Ghiggia’s winner. Silence in the Maracanã. Brazil 1-2 Uruguay. The Maracanazo.

Brazil’s defeat in 1950 was not just a sporting upset, it was a turning point in the country’s history, provoking a period of self-hatred and the birth of an inferiority complex that has yet to dissipate. In the Museum of Football, if you want to see the rest of the collection, you must first pass through the screening room and watch Uruguay’s two goals – there is no way around it. Equally, for those wanting to understand Brazilian football and culture, you must first go back to the Maracanazo and understand what happened that day – there is no way around it.

The 1950 World Cup was Brazil’s opportunity to establish themselves on the world stage. In Europe, the traditional footballing powers were in a period of reconstruction after the end of the second world war. Although it was also involved in the war, Brazil’s economy was booming in comparison. They had sent a force of only 25,000 to mainland Europe in the 1940s, suffering less than 1,000 casualties. Furthermore, Brazil actually received significant investment from the United States in exchange for declaring war on the Axis. On the football pitch, the Brazilian national team played throughout the war, facing only South American opposition and obtaining good results. In 1938, Brazil were one of the few countries to make a bid for hosting the planned 1942 World Cup, even though the strongest proposal came from Nazi Germany, who wanted to build on the success of the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, all tournament plans were scrapped and the World Cup would not be disputed again until 1950. When Fifa got together in Luxembourg in 1946 to discuss their first postwar event, Brazil was the only applicant remaining.

With the opportunity to host football’s biggest prize for the first time, Brazil got to work on planning the tournament of tournaments. With a positive economic situation and an optimistic population (the country had just made the shift to democracy after fifteen years of dictatorship), there was a genuine feeling that Brazil would win the World Cup and consolidate itself as a leading power in the modern world. With that in mind, they began construction of a brand new football stadium in the heart of then capital city Rio de Janeiro. The Maracanã stadium would be built to hold 180,000 spectators, overtaking Glasgow’s Hampden Park as the biggest in the world.

When 1950 came around, the tournament went smoothly and Brazil were praised for their superb planning and organisation. They also gained admirers for their performances on the pitch after flattening Mexico 4-0 in their opening match. Some concerns crept in after their second game however, a draw against Switzerland in São Paulo. Despite the excellent performance against Mexico, Brazil coach Flávio Costa made several changes to his side to play the Swiss, bringing in several players from São Paulo in an attempt to appease the home crowd – a common practice at the time with the Brazilian national side. Switzerland played their characteristically deep and defensive formation, while Brazil’s novel starting lineup struggled to break them down and puffed and wheezed to a 2-2 draw. Faith was restored after their last group match, when the Seleção defeated a tough Yugoslavia side 2-0 to qualify for the final stage.

In a never-before (and never-again) used format, the 1950 World Cup was decided by a round-robin group made up of the four group stage winners. Brazil would have to overcome Sweden, Spain and Uruguay to get their hands on the trophy. The victory against the strong Yugoslavian team filled the Seleção with confidence and it showed on the pitch. They were ruthless against Sweden and Spain, beating them 7-1 and 6-1 respectively, playing some of the most dominant football ever seen at a World Cup. British football writer Brian Glanville described them as “playing the football of the future, tactically unexceptional but technically superb”. They went into their final match against Uruguay needing only to avoid defeat to become world champions …

Common Sense FC

Months after millions of Brazilians took to the streets to protest against rising public transport costs, government corruption and Fifa, Brazil’s professional footballers are getting in on the act.

A group of over 70 of the league’s most influential senior players have signed a petition to demand changes to the new calendar proposed by Brazil’s football governing body, the CBF, for the 2014 season.

To factor in a month-long pause for the World Cup in July, the massive number of matches that already comprise a Brazilian season are to be squeezed into a much shorter period of time. The new calendar will also make pre-season preparation impossible, as the 2013 season ends on 8th December and the 2014 state championships are scheduled to kick off on 12th January, leaving a gap of only 35 days. Discounting 30 days for the players’ holidays, many teams will have only five days of pre-season training.

bomsensofcThe players’ movement, led by Corinthians’ Paulo André and Coritiba’s Alex and reportedly organised via a private WhatsApp group, goes by the name of Bom Senso FC (Common Sense FC) and was established without any collaboration with Brazil’s much maligned players’ union, Fenapaf. Bom Senso FC has demanded a meeting with the CBF to discuss changes to the calendar, citing the athletes’ health and the quality of the spectacle as their main concerns.

So far support for Bom Senso FC has been good, with several players, coaches, directors and journalists speaking out in favour of their cause. Grêmio’s playboy head coach Renato Gaúcho quipped yesterday that a short pre-season was like “a honeymoon without your wife”.

National team head coach Felipão, as is expected of a CBF employee with authoritarian tendencies, distanced himself from the movement and toed the party line, suggesting that although the dialogue is important, Brazil’s calendar isn’t terribly different from Europe’s major leagues.

I can’t be sure whether Felipão really believes that or not, either way it is wildly inaccurate.

In their 2012-13 season Bayern Munich won the treble by playing a total of 59 matches: 34 in the Bundesliga, 13 in the Champions League, 11 in the DFB-Pokal and the one-off DFL-Supercup final.

The Brasileirão’s current leaders Cruzeiro, who did not participate in any continental tournament and only played four matches before being eliminated in the last 16 of the Copa do Brasil, will have played 60 times by the end of the 2013 season.

Corinthians will have played at least 75 times come the New Year, Atlético-MG aren’t far behind with 71. For a Brazilian team to repeat Bayern’s successes and win the treble, they would need to play around 80 matches in a single season.

Fluminense’s Rafael Sóbis, who has previously played in Spain and the United Arab Emirates, last week gave one of the clearest demonstrations of the dangers facing these overworked professionals. After the final whistle of Flu’s home match against Coritiba, Sóbis collapsed on the pitch, vomited in the centre circle and had to be carried down the tunnel by Fluminense’s medical staff.

In a subsequent interview with Lance!Net, Sóbis admitted that he and other players regularly have to play with injuries.

“I feel angry because we can’t do anything about it,” he said. “We’re not machines.”

The obvious problem is Brazil’s state championships, which are played at the start of every year. Relics of a time when a Brazilian national championship was impractical, the estaduais were once highly regarded and fiercely contested. Now, Brazil’s principal state championships (São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais, Rio Grande do Sul, Paraná, Bahia and Pernambuco) consist of a handful of top division teams inanely battering part-time opposition, often in harsh weather and on woeful pitches.

Santos's Walter Montillo (blue) during a Campeonato Paulista match this year. Photo: Gazeta Press
Santos’s Walter Montillo (blue) during a Campeonato Paulista match this year. Photo: Gazeta Press

Realistically, these tournaments aren’t going anywhere, regardless of player protests. Brazil’s football governing body, the CBF, is a confederation of Brazil’s 27 states and one federal district, which breeds a culture of exchanging favours and attempts to keep each state happy. Scrapping the state federations’ principal tournaments would be political suicide for anyone at the head of the CBF.

However what does need to happen is the slimming down of some of the more jowly tournaments. São Paulo’s state championship, the Campeonato Paulista, consists of an opening phase of 19 matches before a final knockout stage with eight teams. The 20-team tournament could just as easily be split into two, three or even four groups, dramatically reducing its length.

Brazilian football’s long-term problem is the calendar itself. Instead of the July-May season used in most of the world (and recently adopted by several South American nations), Brazil’s football season is in line with the Gregorian calendar.

Playing from February to December makes perfect sense considering Brazil’s climate, but being out of sync with the rest of the world brings myriad setbacks.

For example, Brazil’s football season does not make space for Fifa’s international dates, meaning that the bigger clubs are regularly losing their top players to international duty. The international transfer window also comes at a terrible time for Brazilian clubs, making long-term planning impossible as top talents are poached by European clubs during the season.

A transition to a world calendar is unlikely, because (as you may have guessed) the CBF are an ultra-conservative bunch and it would require something huge to force a change. Theoretically, Brazil’s big clubs could break away and form their own league à la the Premier League, but many of these organisations are struggling with their own massive debts (Rangers FC were liquidated for having debts eleven times smaller than Flamengo’s current arrears).

The arrival of Bom Senso FC is certainly an exciting development, but after just a few years in Brazil, I have become somewhat pessimistic about such things. Brazilians have a popular phrase used in times like these, “tudo acaba em pizza”, literally, everything ends in pizza. It encapsulates a tendency in Brazil of whenever reform is on the table, favours are exchanged, compromises are made, and everyone ends up with a slice of the pie, therefore blocking any genuine change.

When the leaders of Bom Senso FC meet with the heads of the CBF, let’s hope pizza isn’t on the menu.

From AmorimCartoons
From AmorimCartoons