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Taking off from James Young’s article featured in a recent post, I will contextualize the immediacy of Brazilian football directors and fans, based on an exchange of tweets I had earlier today.

I’ve been sustaining the argument that you cannot spend money you do not have. You cannot risk the life of an institution that has been around for a hundred years, buying expensive players in the belief trophies and additional revenues will come and take care of the deficit. That would be irresponsible. Unjustifiable.

The ferocity of the argumentation from my twitter “opponent” took me somewhat by surprise. Yes, I know he’s a fervent palmeirense, but he’s also a recognised historian, and specialised in, would you guess, Palmeiras. I thought he, if any, would seal for the longevity and stability of the institution.

Instead, he let me know he is a supporter first and foremost and what matters to him is seeing Palmeiras strong on the pitch. Football first. “Inverting the pyramid is suicide”, he claimed. He concluded that it was a matter of ambition: either you invest aggressively in order to win, or you invest nothing and fight against relegation. For this particular man, “fiscal responsibility” is a swearword. He’s not alone. Far from it.

I imagine this to be the exact reasoning behind the massive debts most Brazilian clubs sustain. In fact, club directors don’t even make an effort to hide it. In the words of Corinthians’ chief financial director, Raul Correa: “We decided on a policy to set things straight. First, we invested in football. That left us with no money to pay taxes. Then, when we were in a better shape, we started paying. Today we pay regularly. But there’s this residual to pay.” By “residual”, Correa is referring to a US$ 77 million trifle. Now, what Correa is in fact saying is “Corinthians opted for for not paying taxes in order to reap benefits on the pitch.”

What about Maurício Assumpção, president of Botafogo, openly admitting he opted for not paying taxes for eight months (!) awaiting the approval of a Bill of Law expected to benefit precisely those clubs who have failed to pay taxes? Botafogo’s tax debts amount to US$ 155 million. Mind you, in 2012, Scottish traditional club Ranges were relegated from first to fourth division due to their US$ 30 million in tax debts.
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Andrés Sanchez, Raul Correa, Maurício Assumpção… These men, and so many others, should be in jail. These clubs should be relegated. But none of that will happen, because in certain aspects, Brazil is a Mickey Mouse country.

Palmeirenses proudly boast their new arena – the Allianz Parque – is being built with nothing but private investments, with no public money or tax breaks. That sets us worlds apart from Corinthians. Paying all our taxes should also be setting us worlds apart. In addition to steadily be implementing sound and professional financial management routines and policies. Sounds like obvious steps to take for a football club with a couple of hundred million of yearly turnaround. Not obvious in Brazil. Not quite yet.

Countdown

ONE WEEK to the Centenary of the most glorious of all Brazilian football clubs.
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In mid-November of 2012, I used the expression “touches of cruelty” to describe a series of games where Palmeiras in unlikely ways lost important points which, in the end, determined the team’s relegation to the second division. The expression springs as easily to mind today, considering the goal Palmeiras conceded in the dying minutes against SPFC. But not only to SPFC, but also to Alan Kardec. The ultimate slap in the face. A reminder of the utterly disastrous intervention by Paulo Nobre during the failed process of renewing the striker’s contract a few months ago.

Watch the highlights below and you’ll perceive that Palmeiras – in contrast to the game against Atlético Mineiro the previous Sunday – this time played as equals and would have walked away with three points had it not been for the individual errors of keeper Fábio (both goals but especially the first), Leandro and Henrique (missed an open goal).
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The must anticipated re-debut of Valdivia was cut short as the playmaker was carried out from the pitch on a stretcher, covering his face, claiming headache, breathing difficulties and dizziness. The medical exam carried out after the game indicates a fracture to his nose, a fracture that he contracted during Wednesday’s training session upon colliding with Wesley, but that went unnoticed. It is a small fracture, no need for surgery. However, Valdivia will not be back against Sport on Wednesday, nor in any other game the coming weeks: today, in addition, a muscular injury on the back of Valdivia’s right thigh was detected. Un-f*cking-believable. And see how Wesley is able to make a negative impact, even absent?

On the positive side, Cristaldo made his debut, coming on in the second half to show both skill and personality.

— ooo —

The Nobre administration is experiencing a complete meltdown, with the tide working against Palmeiras on all levels. Stagnated at 14 points in the Brasileirão, direct contenders Botafogo, Flamengo and Vitória fared better in this round, pushing Palmeiras down into the relegation zone. Gareca, by most considered a competent and dedicated professional, will need another couple of weeks to shape this squad into a team, fully integrating the newcomers. Time he does not have: two crucial games coming up: Sport on Wednesday then Coritiba on Saturday. Well, every game is crucial as of now: there’s no fat left, if there ever were any.

Now, there’s more than the usual “breaking in of new players” going on, as the Argentines seem to be experiencing a bit of hostility from parts of the squad. This is not the time nor place to name the troublemakers  some of them are not that hard to detect if you have been paying attention to the squad and individual performances as of late – but one thing is certain: Paulo Nobre needs to get down there and sort things out, show who’s boss, before it spirals completely out of hand.

At least Gareca has the full backing of palmeirenses. Perhaps one of the very few things there’s consensus about: Gareca must remain, must be given time. The results are not primarily his fault, and there has been a bit of bad luck involved.

— ooo —

Today, we saw the draw in the Brazil Cup. Palmeiras take on Atlético Mineiro in the group of 16, the first leg taking place at the Pacaembu on 27 August, with the return game on 4 September. The other seven clashes are:

Grêmio vs. Santos
Botafogo vs. Ceará
Cruzeiro vs. Santa Rita-AL
Vasco vs. ABC
Coritiba vs. Flamengo
América-RN vs. Atlético-PR
Bragantino vs. Corinthians

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

signings.
There was an almost audible, collective sigh of relief when pending documents from Metalist finally arrived yesterday afternoon, permitting 25-year-old Argentine striker Jonatan Cristaldo to sign a four-year contract with Palmeiras only hours before closing of the International transfer window.

Cristaldo is expected to go straight into Palmeiras’ starting eleven, possibly already on Sunday against São Paulo FC. He’s the fourth Argentine arriving under Gareca; Tobio, Mouche and Allione being the other three. Tobio is a starting man in Gareca’s eleven, so is Allione.

Gareca’s list is short but rather sweet if compared to the complete list of players brought in during the 19 months of the current administration: a whopping 35 players – almost two per month. That’s 10 forwards, 8 offensive midfielders, 7 defensive midfielders, 7 centre-backs and 3 left/right backs. Out of the 35, no less than 15 – or 43% – have already left the squad.

There is something to be said about the “professionalism” in signing so many players. It costs. And especially if they aren’t starting eleven material. If we exclude the last four brought in under the influence of Gareca, who is a regular out of the 35? Lúcio and Marcelo Oliveira. With plenty of goodwill, we could possibly add Leandro and Henrique.

The signings reveal a lack of confidence and, more seriously, a lack of planning. Instead of careful and methodical analysis of what kind of quality player is needed for which position, Nobre/Brunoro go out and buy 3-4 generic options in the hope that one or two of them will prove a pleasant surprise. When none of them develops in the desired direction, improvisations take place, as with Marcelo Oliveira – frequently alternating between centre-back and defensive midfield.

It’s not a question of finances. More modest teams have had their squads defined for weeks, even months, and are showing considerable progress in harmonisation and tactical obedience. At Palmeiras, the coming and going of players, combined with the improvisations, has led to vulnerability – so much that Palmeiras have only mustered to bring home two out of the last 24 points in the Brasileirão. Palmeiras are still trying to form a coherent squad, targeting the second half of the Brazilian championship and the remainder of the Brazil Cup. This could prove too late.

Below, signings during Nobre’s first 19 months as president, with the * indicating a player who has already left the club.
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Right defenders (1)
Weldinho (Corinthians)

Centre defenders (7)
Vílson* (Grêmio)

Tiago Alves* (Mogi Mirim)
Thiago Martins (Mogi Mirim)
Lúcio (São Paulo)
Tobio (Vélez)
André Luís* (Nancy)
Victorino (Cruzeiro)

Left defenders (2)
William Matheus* (Goiás)

Paulo Henrique* (Santos)

Defensive midfielders (7)
Marcelo Oliveira (Cruzeiro)

Charles* (Cruzeiro)
Léo Gago* (Grêmio)
Eguren (Libertad)
França* (Hannover)
Josimar (Internacional)
Bruninho (Portuguesa)

Offensive midfielders (8)
Ronny* (Figueirense)

Rondinelly* (Grêmio)
Mendieta (Libertad)
Felipe Menezes (Benfica)
Marquinhos Gabriel* (Bahia)
Bruno César (Al Ahli)
Bernardo (Vasco)
Allione (Vélez)

Forwards (10)
Leandro (Grêmio)

Kléber* (Porto)
Serginho* (Oeste)
Ananias* (Cruzeiro)
Alan Kardec* (Benfica)
Rodolfo (Rio Claro)
Diogo (Portuguesa)
Henrique (Portuguesa)
Mouche (Kayserispor)
Jonatan Cristaldo (Metalist)

dark-tunnel.
Palmeiras lost fair and square to Atlético Mineiro, the scorecard reading 2-1 at fulltime. An open game, with both teams pursuing the three points. It would actually have been a pleasant game, had it not been for the festival of errors: some 100 passes didn’t find the right destination. Pleasant, had it not been for the eight straight game without victory in the Brasileirão. And the apparent low gears of Leandro, Wesley… The absurd limitations of Josimar, Menezes… You know the script.
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The Verdão are 1 point from the relegation zone after 14 rounds. Have not won a game in the Brazilian championship since the post World Cup retake. Obviously, Palmeiras haven’t got the best of squads, but it’s still, on paper, far from the worst. Many more humble squads are doing better. We need answers, and quickly, in order to avoid the disaster of all disasters in this year of the centenary.

The rumble is not only affecting players, but players have started creating their own. Something’s cooking involving Wesley, Leandro, Deola… Especially Wesley – considered a central piece and a good player – has been underperforming for quite some time. The locker room was apparently very tense after yesterday’s game. His contract is about to be renewed. Or is it? I seriously don’t know what to hope for, but based on my gut feeling, it might be best if he walked.

There’s also rumble on president Paulo Nobre’s doorstep. Literally. As these lines are being written. Palmeiras’ largest supporter group – the Mancha Alviverde – are positioned outside Nobre’s house. Two busloads and then some. A peaceful protest; at least that’s the order. But pressure is rising, no doubt.

In the meantime, mixed expectations in regard to Sunday’s derby against São Paulo. A victory is fundamentally important. Palmeiras should have Valdivia back in the starting eleven – or at least on the bench. If papers from Ukrainian side Metalist arrive tomorrow, Cristaldo will sign a four-year contract, make his debut in the second half and score the winning goal for Palmeiras.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

validvia-luismoura-aeJorge Valdiva left Palmeiras, said his goodbyes. Posed with Al Fujairah directors, receiving flowers and all. Allegedly sealed a deal. Then took 10 days off, travelling to Disney. At a press conference in São Paulo last Thursday, Valdivia explained he had no way of knowing the deal never went through, that “the dad of the sheik running the club wanted the money for hospitals and schools”. Thus, Valdivia aka Walt Divia (or Valdisney, your pick) is back at Palmeiras, says he’s happy to be so, never wanted to leave really. Reintegrated in the squad, training hard, he should make his new debut against São Paulo on Sunday 17 August.

However unlikely the story Valdivia (and Palmeiras too, for that matter) presents, there’s one thing more important at the moment: Palmeiras need Valdivia. Be it for a few games before he’s truly passed on to another club for a hefty sum, be it for staying the whole season and significantly raise the offensive quality of Palmeiras’ midfield. For now, it’s all about swallowing pride and doing the best of the situation, even if that means admitting the Master Trickster back. Palmeiras need to urgently climb positions in the Brasileirão tables. And will also need Valdivia for the remainder of the Brazil Cup, now that the team have advanced to the last 16 after eliminating Avaí from Florianópolis.

— ooo —

Things seem more straightforward with Jonathan Cristaldo. The 25-year-old Metalist attacker from Argentina arrived in São Paulo Friday early morning and passed his medical exams. Still awaiting some documents, he’s expected to sign and be formally announced on Monday. Expected. If not before, the Mickey Mouse transfer involving Valdivia teaches us never to celebrate before ink has been left drying on paper.

— ooo —

Gareca has been testing 17-year-old Gabriel Fernando from the youth academy. Rightly so: the kid has so far scored 21 goals in eight games in the São Paulo U17 championships. Training with the first team gives him the opportunity to get used to the different rhythm and pressure. I don’t believe Gareca will integrate the kid into the squad quite yet, but Gareca is known for giving promising players a shot at stardom. Stay tuned.

— ooo —

Tomorrow Palmeiras take on Atlético Mineiro – restructuring after the exit of Ronaldinho Gaúcho. With Diogo back after a muscular injury and Allione giving offensive direction on the midfield, Palmeiras are going after the three points in this difficult away game.

— ooo —

Pal51In the midst of all uncertainties, one thing we palmeirenses have always known is that Palmeiras are the first World Club Champions. Those who witnessed the feat in 1951 knows it. And you don’t have to dig far for proof, just check out newspapers from the era.

The Rio Cup of 1951 – a tournament where the best teams on the planet had been summoned to participate in what can only be described as the first International Interclub Championship – included Nacional – the base of Uruguay’s 1950 World Champion National Team; Juventus (Italy), Olympique de Nice (French champions) the Red Star (Yugoslav champions) and Sporting (Portuguese champions). Brazil was represented by Palmeiras and Vasco da Gama (Rio de Janeiro). The final was played in two turns and Palmeiras got the better of Juventus. The title was at the time greatly commemorated all over Brazil, as Palmeiras lifted the trophy of the first International Interclub Championship.

Finally, also FIFA seems ready to make the formal recognition. In an fresh interview for the newspaper “Estado de São Paulo”, FIFA president Joseph Blatter confirmed that Palmeiras would shortly be receiving a certification. Blatters’s statement annoyed FIFA press officers present during the interview, possibly because he shouldn’t be spilling the beans. No harm done, Mr. Blatter: we knew a recognition would come sooner or later.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

downwardgraph3.
Palmeiras are in dire straits, financially speaking. The Tirone administration repeated the modus operandi of previous administrations and left the current one with some 70% of revenues already allocated, effectively crippling the most basic of functionality. Making things worse: if it’s one thing Paulo Nobre has not delivered, it’s increased revenues. Yesterday, after 18 months as president, he finally sacked Marcelo Giannubilo, head of Palmeiras’ marketing division. Results have been pathetic, to
say the least: an expressive increase in the Avanti membership programme (however with numerous complains concerning logistics, policies, customer support, etc.) and the smash hit “TV Palmeiras”. That is all. No wait, there were also several expensive commemorative jerseys launched and advertisement printed on take-away pizza boxes.

Palmeiras CEO José Carlos Brunoro is taking the reins at Marketing, but rather symbolically: the hands-on is expected to be carried out be those already integrating the department, especially Luis Fronterotta and Paulo Henrique Zago. Good luck to the lads: in a few months they are expected (or are they?) to achieve what hasn’t been achieved in the previous 18 months.

So, Palmeiras are out of cash. In fact, so badly that president Nobre has lent his good name as guarantee, enabling Palmeiras to take up loans with more attractive interest rates. New loans that today amount to a staggering US$ 47 million. Some see this as the Club being hostage to the president. On the other hand, these new loans mature much later than other loans, providing Palmeiras with the possibility to refinance debts and relieve the pressure. Palmeiras are at least honouring commitments with staff and players, something many other clubs do not.

debtsIn fact, many Brazilian clubs have large, private debts. Most of them also sustain large public debts, i.e. tax debts. In this requisite, Palmeiras are actually not doing too badly, at least not comparatively: both Flamengo and Botafogo have tax debts more than five times those of Palmeiras (see table to your right, in millions of Brazilian reais: divide by 2.25 for US$). You might wonder how a club is allowed to function when owing the Government some US$ 170 million. Welcome to Brazil.

Independent football writer/journalist James Young recently put up an interesting piece on debts within Brazilian club football and the recent attempts by cartolas – the presidents of the clubs – to address the problem through the lobbying for passing of new laws and regulations. With Young’s approval, below you find substantial extracts from his article, available in full at The Botafogo Star.

— ooo —

“Last Friday, caps in hands, the chairmen of 12 of Brazil’s biggest football clubs travelled to the national capital Brasilia to meet with president Dilma Rousseff. The reason for the trip was to discuss the proposed Law of Sporting Financial Responsibility, which aims to restructure teams’ massive public debts over a 25 year period, while not unreasonably requiring them to comply with their financial obligations, such as paying players’ wages on time. In the murky world of Brazilian football, such obligations are often seen as optional.

“If the law isn’t passed, some clubs won’t make it to the end of the year,” said Brazilian football minister Toninho Nascimento at the meeting, while Botafogo president Mauricio Assumpção claimed that the club’s financial crisis had made him consider withdrawing Fogão from the Brasileirão national championship.

(…) Botafogo are perhaps the most visible example of the financial mayhem that swirls around Brazilian clubs. At Sunday’s clássico against Flamengo at the Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, players took the field carrying a banner that said “We’re only here because we’re professionals, and for you, the fans” before listing the money that they were currently owed by the club – five months of image rights payments, three months’ wages and FGTS (an unemployment/retirement fund).

(…) The reason behind the financial crisis that affects Brazilian football is fairly simple. Clubs spend more than they earn. A lot more. While football makes an odd business model – the end goal is almost always to accumulate trophies, rather than profit – the Brazilian game takes this to extremes. Fans are feverishly impatient and clubs are run by presidents (usually local politicians of one stripe or another) elected on short mandates, meaning the aim is to garner as much glory in as little time as possible. Long term planning, financial or otherwise, is rarely a priority.

In short, Brazilian clubs spend like big European teams but are run more like amateur outfits, often with income levels to match. According to the Folha de São Paulo newspaper, a whopping 32% of the income of Brazilian football’s top 20 clubs comes from domestic TV broadcast rights. But the TV deal was negotiated on a club by club basis – in 2016 the country’s two biggest teams, Flamengo and Corinthians, will earn £45 million each, while outfits such as Botafogo, Grêmio and Cruzeiro will make just £16 million. With a few honourable exceptions, merchandising operations are antiquated (there could hardly be a more timely example of this than the recent inability to close a licensing deal with EA Sports, meaning the names of Brazilian clubs will not be included in FIFA 2015), and money from overseas TV deals is miniscule.

Ticket sales bring in just 10% – the average Serie A crowd was a paltry 14,000 last year. This is due to a number of factors, such as a nonsensical, crowded fixture calendar which tires players and wearies fans, high ticket prices, blanket TV coverage and inconvenient kick-off times, a fear of torcida organizada violence, rickety public transport systems, and a fickle fan culture where supporters will only turn up for big occasions, or if their team is doing well. Brazilian clubs offer sócio (members) packages rather than season tickets, as membership can always be cancelled midway through the season if the team is doing badly, whereas season tickets cannot – and few Brazilian fans are going to sign up to a scheme that means they have to pay out hard earned cash irrespective of whether their team is winning or losing.

(…) If there is any cause for optimism, it is that at least now the problem can no longer be ignored. Just as the 7-1 humbling of the national team at the hands of Germany in the World Cup semi-final called attention to Brazilian football’s on-field inadequacies, so the actions of players at Botafogo and other clubs – most notably in the form of the Bom Senso FC (“Common Sense FC”) player movement, which emerged last year demanding better working conditions for Brazil’s footballers – are bringing the financial chaos in the local game to light, and not before time.”

— ooo —

Backstage, the battle is fierce. The Bom Senso FC movement mentioned by Young is also actively lobbying the Government, but actually in opposition against the Bill – as it now stands – proposed by the cartolas. BSFC argues that the proposal lacks both control mechanisms and, more importantly, diversified means for gradually putting pressure on clubs. BSFC predicts – and I would say rightly so – that the one and only punishment foreseen in the Bill, relegation, rarely or never would be put to use. After all, who would dare relegating Flamengo or Corinthians? BSFC says the law therefore is in need of additional items, and have presented these in a separate document.

Last but not least, major stakeholder Globo has started to move. Brazil’s dominating TV network is directly or indirectly responsible for much of what is wrong with football in this country – from the insanely late kick-off times on weekdays to the explicit divide et impera tactics used to negotiate abovementioned transmission rights. Globo has steadily been losing audience due to the deteriorating quality of the spectacle, both on and off the pitch. The Network is reacting by inviting a selection of cartolas to discuss the future of Brazilian football – from the training of athletes and catering of youth academies to the annual calendar, professional management and financial aspects. The first meeting is scheduled for 29 August.

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