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ArenaOct.
Torturous months, well years, are coming to an end. Yesterday, it was confirmed that 10.000 spectators will have the privilege to assist the first game to be played at the Allianz Parque – a veteran’s game in homage of “the Divine” Ademir da Guia. The match, taking place on Saturday 25 October, is the second test event out of three; the first event was a movie screening for a selected audience of 3.000 in late September.

Palmeiras and WTorre seem to be on speaking terms again, probably in a mutual understanding that the various pending issues regarding the contract – most importantly the right to commercialise seats – mustn’t hinder South America’s most modern multipurpose arena being put to good use as soon as possible. Last Monday, vice-president of the CBF, Mr Marco Polo del Nero, visited the Arena, for three hours, in the company of Walter Torre and Paulo Nobre. I can’t remember the last time I saw these two gentlemen together. A good sign.

Friendly games in all honour: when will Allianz Parque experience live ammo for the first time? Everything points toward 9 November, the date Palmeiras receive Atlético Mineiro for the 33th round of the Brasileirão. If – and that’s a big if – a third test event can be arranged before the 9 November, the Allianz Parque will be allowed to operate at full capacity when Palmeiras play Atlético: some 43.000 supporters. It’s speculated a training session – with 30.000 supporters on the stands – could be that third event. If no such event is carried out, only 30.000 supporters could be allowed in for the opener against Atlético. Not ideal, of course. Not bad either, but not ideal. Fingers crossed.

In any case, the stadium is 97% concluded and will be 100% ready when SIR PAUL McCARTNEY steps into the spotlights on 25 November, as now officially confirmed.
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Of course Sir Paul has chosen the Allianz Parque as his venue. The permanent technologic installations alone are worth some US$ 20 million. That includes 500 wi-fi antennas providing free internet access to spectators and the two jumbotrons, where interaction with the audience will take place much like in the NFL. In addition, expect regular TV screens in every corridor and corner – some 700 in total – allowing fans to watch the game when standing in line or executing some other fundamentally important biological function.

ArenaOctNightAllianz Parque is not only modern, but stunningly beautiful. Aerial shots at night, like the one to your right (by Dan Albuquerque), gives you an idea. Recently, the stadium won two categories in the prestigious “Corporate Architecture Awards”, one of the most important of its kind in Latin America. No wonder WTorre has already closed deals on 75 out of the 80 available VIP cabins, their annual renting fee coming at US$80K-210K a piece.

Did we mention the acoustic experience, expected to turn the Allianz Parque into a cauldron of Bombonera magnitude?

You might be asking yourself, who will run this flagship? None other than Susan Darrington, former vice-president of the CenturyLink Field, the largest stadium in Seattle, USA.

susan_darringtonCenturyLink Field is the home of current NFL champions Seattle Seahawks. It’s also where the Sounders receive an average 44.000 spectators a game in the Major League Soccer. The arena hosts a whopping 300 events per year – large and small – and 1.5 million visitors. For ten years, Canadian-born Mrs Darrington was one of the responsible for managing the CenturyLink Field. And it’s this experience she is now deploying as General Manager at the Allianz Parque. Yes, deploying, as in present time: Mrs Darrington is working for AEG – the company contracted by WTorre to run the Arena for the coming ten years – and has been in São Paulo since the beginning of 2014. Together with Director of Operations Raj Saha (with the Madison Square Garden on his CV) and the two Brazilian executives Felipe Soalheiro and Pedro Machado, she has the mission to transform the Allianz Parque into the main multipurpose arena in the country. The aim: attract same number of events as the CenturyLink Field.

Palmeirenses should keep in mind that the club is entitled to 20% of net revenues from “non-football” events during the first five years of the contract with WTorre (all revenues from games are Palmeiras’). The club’s share of these external revenues increases by 5% every five years, meaning Palmeiras will be entitled to 50% of net revenues during the last five years of the contract. When the contract expires, in 30 years’ time, all revenues will go to Palmeiras.

Just like a good wine, for Palmeiras, the Allianz Parque will get better and better year by year. Talk about a bright future!

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Home form has always been spoken of as a crucial element in the fight against relegation. It appears the rule applies even for giants like Palmeiras, threatened with the prospect of relegation for the last couple of months. The uneasy dip into the relegation zone a few weeks ago brought back ghosts from the past, but a run of four wins in the last five matches has propelled the Verdão closer to mid-table places. True, Brazilian betting odds from Betfair still places Palmeiras as one of the relegation candidates, but nevertheless, palmeirenses as of late sleep better at night.

Where does the transformation come from? We’ve earlier touched upon the importance of two key players performing: Fernando Prass and Valdivia. With these two in the starting eleven, Palmeiras as a whole change, the team clicks.

That being said, keeper Prass himself has laid a finger on the support from home fans as the reason for the recent turnaround: out of the four victories that the club has achieved in the last five matches, three have come at home. Indeed, anyone who saw 30.000 palmeirenses carrying Palmeiras toward victory against Grêmio last Saturday knows what Prass is talking about.

Brazilian football has been criticised in recent times for being fickle, but Prass has praised Palmeiras’ supporters for sticking with them even during tough times. There was a period when the club went ten matches without a victory, but even then, Palmeiras were capable of pulling in a regular crowd through the gates, even at more often than not abusive tickets prices.

Palmeiras may have put a four point buffer between them and the relegation zone, but the fight is not over just yet: bringing out the best for the upcoming tough games against Santos and top dog (or rather, fox) Cruzeiro is crucial. Focus and dedication is key, in addition to the continuation of striker Henrique’s good form. With ten rounds to go, an additional four victories should see Palmeiras clear of relegation. A little bit more, and we could even picture grabbing a spot in next year’s South America Cup. Who knows we might even celebrate a golden boot for Henrique at the end of it all?

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!
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In a parallel universe, Palmeiras only managed a draw against Botafogo before losing 1-0 to Grêmio, finishing round 28 in the penultimate position.

However, in this universe, Henrique stretched out to reach that genius cross from Valdivia, turned on the spot and slammed it into the net, declaring victory against the unhappy cariocas.
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Barcos fulfilled the eternal fate of former Palmeiras players scoring against the Verdão, while trying to ignore that his premature exit was also written in the stars: he opened up the scorecard for the southerners, but after his sending off, Palmeiras could step up the pressure applied all first half to successful conclusion in the second, luckily turning the tables on Grêmio and pocketing another three points after braces from Mouche and right-back João Pedro.
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Clashing against Grêmio, against Scolari, against Barcos, was special. Not only the result per se, not only the 30.000 cheering supporters on a Saturday night, not only the satisfaction of overcoming ghosts from the past. But primarily because Palmeiras were back. Palmeiras, the team. Palmeiras, ready to take on all competition in this Brasileirão as equals. Last Saturday, Palmeiras were as large as anybody. We haven’t seen that in a long time.

I’m not saying we’ve escaped relegation, neither that the squad is the seventh wonder, but I do say we saw glimpses of something new and promising. An internal force and confidence. Much owed, of course, to the splendid performances of Valdivia and Prass. It’s incredible how much these two add to the mix when on the pitch. Makes all the difference. Explains why Palmeiras currently rest in 12th position, not in the bottom four – albeit only four points currently separate the Verdão from the relegation zone.

The squad have now rested for two day and tomorrow starts preparing for Sunday’s game against Santos. Our opponent lost 3-0 to Criciúma on Sunday, and this coming Thursday face Botafogo in the quarter-finals of the Brazil Cup. I’m sticking my neck out, saying Palmeiras are the favourite. What about you?

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

Dr-Jekyll-y-Mr-Hyde.
What Palmeiras president Paulo Nobre is thinking or not thinking, doing or not doing is hard to tell. We see flares of activity, but they seem disconnected. Midfielder Josimar has left for second division Ponte Preta. Weldinho, Eguren and a few other players were on Nobre’s list of disposables a couple of weeks back, but Dorival apparently halted the process, giving our coach’s morale with the squad a boost. Still, alterations to the inflated squad are necessary. Deadline for reinforcement was last Friday, the only option finding players in the second division, as any first division players of quality would have reached the limit of seven games played in this edition of the Brasileirão. As mentioned in the previous post, two players were signed before Friday’s deadline and both were presented today: 25-year-old defensive midfielder Washington and 33-year-old keeper Jaílson. Not that Palmeiras couldn’t put Washington to good use: after all, Eguren, Renato, Josimar… And between the posts, Fábio and Deola have taking turns infuriating palmeirenses; if Jaílson is able to do the basics, it’s already a huge improvement. Too bad Palmeiras already lost many a precious points due to not having catered for this urgent keeper need sooner. It’s ironic that Jaílson is presented on the same day that Dorival announces the return of Fernando Prass between the posts tomorrow against Botafogo. We can only pray his elbow is 100%.

Palmeiras currently have the biggest squad among the clubs in the first division: 42 players. Many names, few talents. That’s planning for you.

With almost a starting eleven in the medical department, Palmeiras recently contracted the services of Cuban doctor José Amador. Dr Amador was responsible for Valdivia’s special preparation pre World Cup and has been working with him for almost a year. Would you believe the Chilean is actually paying part of the expenses of bringing and maintain the doctor at Palmeiras? That’s professional for you.

In addition, Palmeiras are also contracting the services of a motivational speaker. Second division club Portuguesa, threatened by relegation to the third division, has gone after a man who conducts hypnosis sessions. If Palmeiras opt in, I’ll let you know.

Excuse my sarcastic tone. It’s just that…

Some say Paulo Nobre has saved Palmeiras from financial ruin. Others claim he’s the worst president in the club’s centenary history. Who is right?

Both.

Nobre’s two-year mandate ends in December. We all know he inherited the club in financially dire straits, with some 75% of revenues already committed, facing big loans at high interest rates (close to three per cent a month) and fast maturing. He made the restructuring of administration and finances his top priority – and justly so. It’s also here results are clear and positive: total debts may have increased slightly, but they have also been completely rearranged (in all honesty, at large due to loans Nobre himself has negotiated in his name and passed on to Palmeiras), with a generous payback time and, for Brazilian standards, very low interest rate. The restructuring of debts were instrumental in Palmeiras, finally, receiving the CND certificate – a grading that allows the club to receive money from the government be it through sponsorship, tax breaks or other incentives. It was a lack of this certificate that halted the conclusion of a master sponsorship deal between Palmeiras and the public bank “Caixa Econômica Federal” earlier this year). In addition, a modernization process has taken place within the administration, including substantial upgrades in terms of equipment and software, allowing for the progressive detection of unnecessary costs and the outsourcing of certain services: all these measures and others allowing for both greater efficiency, transparency and cost/benefit. We can include the extinction of the “Palmeiras B” squad in this context. Certainly, Palmeiras’ next president, whoever that might be, will have better working conditions than any of his predecessors from the last couple of decades – at least when we talk administration and financial health.

In relation to marketing, results have been way under expectations. True, several traditional clubs have been without a master sponsor for some time now, but S.E. Palmeiras, in its centenary, shouldn’t have been one of them. And talking about the centenary: the number of jerseys launched – and their price tags – has become a joke amongst palmeirenses. Overall, prices has been one of the most controversial topics in these last two years, spanning from tickets to jerseys to the centenary banquet. It is known that the average palmeirense is better off financially than the average Brazilian and that he/she spends more than others on Palmeiras products and activities. That being said, there are, obviously, limits to everything. Recent price levels has felt like a slap in the face. In spite of this, the supporter programme has gone from 7K to 40K members in the last year, although it now seem to have stagnated – the team’s poor performance likely to be the main villain. Expect a new boost in adherence when Allianz Parque is up and running.

What else in marketing? Well, TV Palmeiras is a great success, as we’ve written about earlier.

Now, all of the above is overshadowed by the fact that Paulo Nobre, as a football manager, has been nothing short of a disaster. He was supposed to hand the football management over to a professional, but got a taste for it and just kept going. By the end of 2013, the squad’s core was there, all that was needed were a few adjustments, a few new players. But Nobre managed to keep those he shouldn’t (coach Kleina, Valdivia, Wesley) while letting the likes of Henrique and Alan Kardec lose. The team was unrecognisable, without reference. Players like Bruno César, Wesley and Leandro clearly lost interest. In a short span of time, what was a squad turned into something else, and results on the pitch matched the internal havoc.

Nobre brought in Ricardo Gareca. A gutsy move. But a gamble. When you gamble, you need luck. Or enough time and money to keep going until you start winning again. Palmeiras had neither time nor money: after three months, Gareca was fired and Palmeiras left with the four Argentine players the Argentine coach had asked for.

When Prass broke his elbow, who believed Deola was cut for the job? Deola, dismissed from Vitória because he wasn’t considered good enough? Or Fábio? Who believed young Fábio was ready to take on such a burden? Well, at least Nobre, because solutions were sought only when Palmeiras topped the “most goals suffered” stats. Now we have Jaílson. Too little too late, I’m afraid.

Yes, it’s easy to criticize in hindsight. Doesn’t take away the fact that Nobre might be the worse football manager Palmeiras has ever seen, getting it wrong even when he’s initially right – bringing in Kardec from Benfica was a very successful move, but losing him to São Paulo was many times more disgraceful.

Paulo Nobre’s mandate is soon over. Election are coming up. Three candidates have announced their intentions: Wladimir Pescarmona, Luiz Carlos Granieri and Paulo Nobre. I have no idea who Granieri is and where his vice-presidents stand. What Nobre is capable (and incapable) of, I do know. And Pescarmona… with César Maluco and former president Belluzzo as vice presidents? The men who frequently are seen in the media publicly defending the interests of WTorre against Palmeiras? You tell me who deserves our vote…

On 13 October, Palmeiras’ Deliberate Council takes a vote: candidates need at least 15% of approval to qualify for the actual voting – cast by the current 10.000 members of S.E. Palmeiras – scheduled for 29 November. It’s not going to be pretty.

Scholars of chaos theory sometimes make reference to “the butterfly effect”, in which a small change at one place in a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state. The name of the effect was coined by Edward Lorenz, who claimed that a hurricane could have its origins in something as humble as the flapping of the wings of a distant butterfly weeks back in time.

In chaos theory, the mathematical models are absurdly complex and, infallibly, most factors that should be taken into consideration are not even known to the scientist. Even so, these brilliant minds come up with rather astonishing models.

That being said, I dare any of them to explain football.

After the 2-2 draw against Flamengo, Palmeiras’ ability to react – even under severe pressure – seemed to point in the right direction. Dorival Júnior might not have the best of squads in his hands, but enough material do work with – physically and mentally – to rebuild something that would resemble a team.

On the Sunday against Goiás, Palmeiras’ momentum of evolution was to be confirmed. But Palmeiras were beaten to a pulp. 6-0 are shocking numbers against any team and, with all due respect, even more so against Goiás. After a defeat like that, and with Palmeiras finishing the round in the bottom of the tables, obviously the President steps up to face the music. Well, not our president: 48 hours after the disaster, Paulo Nobre was still nowhere to be seen. Journalists were instead treated to 19-year-old Nathan – who made his first team debut against Fluminense on September 13 but didn’t even come on against Goiás – to quench their thirst. Apparently, the kid trembled like a leaf during the press conference but nevertheless stood his ground: “I’m only 19 but I speak for Palmeiras. I’ve waited for this opportunity and I’m ready”.

Nathan was found on the bench the following game against Vitória. Against a direct contender for relegation, Palmeiras did well at the Pacaembu and won 2-0 after goals from Lúcio and Henrique, one in each half. The three points did not lift Palmeiras out of the relegation zone, but close enough to relight hopes amongst supporters.

Hopes trashed the following Sunday, as Palmeiras let an odd goal away victory over Figueirense bizarrely slip away in the last 15 minutes, the game ending 3-1.

Yesterday, it was once again all or nothing against another direct contender for relegation: Chapecoense. Palmeiras came on guns ablaze and we could have had 2-0 within 15 minutes. Instead, the action slowly levelled and then, just before halftime, Chapecoense took the lead. With ten minutes of the second half, not a soul at the Pacaembu stadium was believing the scorecard was still 0-1, Chapecoense having blown three clear opportunities to drive it home. Everything spelled disaster and relegation when Wesley – in the starting eleven enjoying the confidence of coach Dorival, who worked with him at Santos – equalised. Jaws then dropped all over the universe as Henrique quickly followed up with a legitimate hat-trick, before Chapecoense made it 4-2 in the dying minutes of the game.
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The three points lifted Palmeiras out of the relegations zone, regardless of other results in this 26th of 38 rounds taking place this weekend. Henrique is currently top scorer in the 2014 Brazilian championship. Our next adversary are crisis-stricken Botafogo, and another victory could put Palmeiras at a distance of no more than one or two points from the upper half of the tables. Suck on that, professors of chaos.

— ooo —

Today the national transfer window closed and Palmeiras brought in two second-division players: keeper Jaílson from Ceará and defensive midfielder Washington from Joinville (although negotiations were conducted with Penapolense). Jaílsons contract with Palmeitras runs until May next year. He was second option between the posts at Ceará, but that might very likely be better than Palmeiras current first and second option. Washington was a regular in Joinville’s starting eleven and should be able to fight for a position also at Palmeiras’. He has three months to make a lasting impression. More on these two later.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

Coming up

Apologies for the lack of updates: I’m travelling and have not been able to dedicate time to Palmeiras. Stay tuned later this week for a comprehensive summing up. Abraços.

Dorival Júnior promoted five changes to the starting eleven we saw last week against Fluminense: Deola substituted Fábio between the posts; Lúcio returned from injury to compose the centre-lock with Nathan; 17-year-old João Pedro made his debut on the right flank; Cristaldo and Mouche up front with Henrique.

Pressure was on already before kick-off, as a couple of bad results were pushing Palmeiras down the tables: Fluminense lost to Vitória (goals by former Palmeiras players Dinei and Vinícius) while Criciúma were beating Figueirense.

31-year-old Deola had not played a game since March, but he was not to blame for the disastrous first half. Palmeiras had no creativeness on the midfield and the use of the flanks was easily neutralised by Flamengo, easily approaching the Palmeiras box. With six minutes, Juninho, on the midfield instead for on his usual right flank, was booked. At ten minutes, he almost saw his second yellow. At twelve minutes, he screwed up while trying to clear the ball, and Flamengo open up the scorecard.

Diogo failed in everything he tried. Flamengo withdrew slightly, clearly awaiting those mortal opportunities to counter-attack. At 32 minutes, Lúcio didn’t move in harmony with the offside trap, leaving two Flamengo players clean with Deola, who rushed out to clear the ball, which bounced up on the Flamengo attacker hand before he passed it on to Alecsandro – in offside position – to increase the lead. Nightmare.

At 42 minutes, Palmeiras were denied a clear penalty as Henrique was dislocated in plain flight, in excellent scoring position.

In half-time, Dorival swapped Henrique and Mouche for Allione and Valdivia, the only question being why he waited so long.

Kick-off and full speed ahead. With 2 minutes on the clock, Diogo scored his first goal in twelve months. We saw a completely different game, it was night and day in relation to the first half. Valdivia was instrumental, as he normally is when on the pitch.

Palmeiras dominated the following 15 minutes completely, then Flamengo started to adapt to the new scenario. But it was Valdivia, exchanging quick passes with Diogo and Victor Luis, who allowed the latter to whip in the equaliser with 23 minutes on the clock. The 21.500 at the Pacaembu exploded: our supporters never stopped chanting – not even during the most dreadful moments of the first half of the game – and now they were rewarded for their loyalty.
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Palmeiras looked as if winning the game was possible, pressuring Flamengo hard, but that changed in the 37th minutes when man-of-the-match Valdivia did what he does best: leaves everyone flabbergasted with his immaturity. This time he STEPPED on a lying opponent, deservedly being sent straight to the showers. Unbelievable. The man is a mental case. When he doesn’t get injured, he does something incredibly stupid. Valdivia is an idiot. A complete idiot. This must be dealt with. Internally.

With the results from this 22nd round, Palmeiras are back in the relegation zone with 22 points, ahead of Criciúma (22) and Vitória (21). Above, we find Botafogo (22), Bahia (23), Coritiba (23) and Chapecoense (23). Nice and intimate.

Today was the first of six crucial games against direct contenders for relegation: Flamengo (home), Goiás (away), Vitória (home), Figueirense (away), Chapecoense (home) and Botafogo (away). We’re not off to a good start, although today’s draw admittedly carries a certain air of victory due to the circumstances. Watching the team react was actually a relief. Deola played well. So did João Pedro – just a kid – in his debut.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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