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Enzo na Allianz.
– Palmeiras are finished.

– No-one respects us.

– Thinking small, acting small, our DNA is raped.

– The damage done is irreversible.

The last two years the few lines above at large reflect the sentiment of a considerable part of Palmeiras supporters. Especially, but not exclusively, those who claim not giving a rat’s ass about administration and finances, only wanting a strong team on the pitch and trophies in the cabinet.  

Palmeirenses go through hell more often than we care to count, the common denominator being one dreadful administration after the other. The last few years have seen Belluzzo’s reckless optimism, Tirone’s muppet show and Nobre’s pig-headed Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde personality.

Nothing lasts forever. Empires crumble, civilizations disappear, species are extinct. Institutions, idem. We can never treat Palmeiras as eternal if we truly want her to survive the test of time. Nothing comes for free or can be taken for granted. We need directors who understand the responsibility and are ready to respond, personally, for whatever happens to the institution.

While we must always remember ourselves that even a centenary club like Palmeiras can implode (vide recent developments at traditional club Portuguesa), we must never dismiss our greatness, our history and our continuous ability to enchant. Take another look at the picture opening this post. Take a good look at five-year-old Enzo de Martino. Now tell me that Palmeiras are finished and the damage is irreversible.

The other day, Palmeiras’ supporter programme Avanti reached 50.000 members. With the eminent opening of the Allianz Parque, a further surge is expected.

With last Sunday’s important 1-0 away victory against Bahia, the feeling of relief is evident, the threat of relegation almost vanished. Palmeiras should be able to give Atlético some heat this coming Saturday, not least due to the mineiros’ tough game tomorrow against Flamengo in the Brazil Cup (while Palmeiras spend the week resting and training).

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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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.

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Ricardo Gareca
“We may be criticised for decisions, but never for omission” Palmeiras president Paulo Nobre said when justifying the dismissal of medium-to-long term coach Ricardo Gareca. The renowned Argentine professional did not last three months at the Verdão, the club resorting back to the classical, Brazilian modus operandi described in a recent post: fire the coach.

True, Gareca wasn’t delivering. Or rather: Palmeiras, under Gareca, were not delivering. Gareca is partially to blame, as he was constantly testing players and line-ups (13 games, 13 starting elevens) and wouldn’t forgo his philosophy of always playing offensively, even when his limited squad was facing stronger adversaries.

That being said, Gareca’s failure must at large be attributed to Paulo Nobre, once again poorly making the bed we’re now all forced to sleep in. He kept Kleina much too long, taking Gareca on board – and players he requested – when most other teams in the Brasileirão were already tuned. He brought in a foreigner – who naturally would need more time to adapt – when there was little time available. He envisioned a medium-to-long term project – with the squad already partially cracking up due to the disastrous Kardec affair and growing influence from a few, spoiled fruit – when firm and urgent action was needed both from him and the new coach to arrive. In short: Gareca might possibly have been the right choice for Palmeiras, but he definitely arrived at the wrong time.

Palmeirenses kept the faith in a turnaround, including yours truly. Gareca enjoyed massive support – and respect – from the stands, all the way to his dismissal and beyond. Truly remarkable for a coach who delivered so little, at least in terms of points.

Anything Palmeiras wishes Ricardo Gareca the best of luck.

— ooo —

Dorival Júnior
wpid-dorival.jpgThis morning, Palmeiras announced their new coach: Dorival Júnior. Dorival is a former Palmeiras player, having pulled on the jersey 157 times for the club between 1989 and 1992. He also happens to be the nephew of legendary Palmeiras midfielder Dudu.

Dorival was runner-up as Kleina’s replacement earlier this year. As a coach, his previous clubs include Cruzeiro, Santos, Atlético Mineiro, Internacional and Flamengo. Palmeiras’ new coach has but one important national title on his curriculum: the Brazil Cup of 2010, with Santos.

wpid-dorival_int.pngDorival’s 2013 record of accomplishment does not still any nerves: he left Vasco da Gama in the relegation zone and worked the same magic with Fluminense (although he couldn’t really be blamed as he only took Fluminense on for the last five rounds, winning three games and drawing one).

So far, in 2014, 52-year-old Dorival has been, well, taking it rather easy. Studying football. Including apparently spending some time at Chelsea F.C. Hope he’s relaxed, confident and ready for what’s to come at Palmeiras.

— ooo —

Wesley
The midfielder is free to sing a pre-contract. Although denied by the player and his staff, rumour has it that’s what he’s done. With SPFC. Can’t say I’m bothered. Especially not as Wesley isn’t cheap and has been underperforming, on and off the pitch, for some time. If fruit can be performative, that is.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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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.

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Ricardo Gareca is not the Grand Master of football coaches, nor is he a revolutionary. Still, he’s undoubtedly bringing some new thinking intothe Brazilian context – at least if judged by his first six weeks at Palmeiras.

palmeiras-gareca-apito-640x480-Cesar-Greco-FotoarenaThose who have been following training sessions assert that Gareca is very detailed in his instructions and that he has 4-5 tactical variations for each situation. In the words of Raul Bianchi, a well-known radio personality of the Web Radio Verdão and Mondo Palmeiras independent media, describing training sessions: “When coach Kleina talked, players smiled. When Scolari talked, players pretended to listen. When Gareca talks, players do as told.”

In an earlier post I’ve mentioned Gareca’s predisposition for allowing the young and promising gather experience at top level – even if that means coming in 20 minutes from the end with Palmeiras losing at home. It’s early to assert, but Gareca seems to bother little with pressure. We hear a lot in Brazil that one cannot expose young players to difficult situations, as this will mark them, take away their self-esteem, and possibly even destroy their careers. Gareca seems to think differently: give the kids a chance and they will rise to the occasion – if not immediately, in due time. Or not. That’s all there is to it.
.menezes.
Against Avaí, Gareca swapped no less than eight of the players that were on and lost against Cruzeiro. Not because they performed badly, but because he wanted key player fit for Sunday’s derby. True, the derby is very important, but it’s hard to imagine a Brazilian coach, having lost his first two games, send a mixed bag to an important away game: the fear of losing a third straight – and the pressure to follow – would have him assembling his strongest side both in the Brazil Cup and in the derby to follow, allowing him to claim he did what was possible. In stark contrast, Gareca expresses not only confidence in his squad and in his work, but also shows he’s not worried about external pressure or about losing his head. Part of that must certainly also be credited the Nobre administration, who are discretely working on Gareca’s wish list of reinforcements and backing Gareca up in whatever way is needed for him to feel strong. At least yesterday, it went well, with Palmeiras beating Avaí 2-0, both goals by Felipe Menezes. Highlights below.
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After the game, Gareca participated in the press conference, then a) went to the airport with the squad. b) went to the hotel. c) went out for a good meal and some drinks to celebrate. d) headed back to the Ressacada stadium to conduct a one-hour training session with all players not in the starting eleven against Avaí – including those coming on during the course of the game. Congratulations to those of you who picked option “d”. Actually, congratulations to Palmeiras and all of us for having found such a dedicated coach.

Dedicated, yes. But also unusual. Gareca commanded a training session minutes after having won the game. And gave the squad a day off after having lost to Cruzeiro.

The return game against Avaí takes place on 6 August, at the Pacamebu. Before that, two games in the Brasileirão: Bahia on 3 August and Corinthians this coming Sunday. There’s also the game against Fiorentina/ITA on 30 July for the EuroAmerican Cup, when Palmeiras will show off their new (and last) centenary kit. More on that later.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Dreams of a sixth World Cup title for Brazil were dashed yesterday as a completely dominant Germany humiliated the men in yellow. 7-1 is not only Brazil’s worst defeat ever, but also the second worst in the history of World Cups, only trumped by Sweden’s 8-0 against Cuba in the quarterfinals of 1938.

Muller opened up the scorecard for Germany in the tenth minute, then Miroslav Klose drilled home, becoming World Cup top scorer of all times with his 16 braces. What then followed at the Mineirão stadium was an utter disgrace: Brazil’s defence suffered a complete meltdown, allowing the German side another three goals in six minutes, making the score 5-0 with 28 minutes on the clock. We saw Germany cruise through the remainder of the game, adding two additional braces in the second half, before Oscar defined the end result in the dying minutes.
.klose.
There are explanations to the seemingly inexplicable. Emotional aspects come into the mix, the pressure on the squad, expectations. The collective blow of losing Neymar and the whole “play for him” sentimentalism that followed. Motivation and emotion, the us-against-the-world, defined as the “Família Scolari” approach – has worked on previous occasions. This time, it backfired.

Now, would yesterday have played out much differently with Neymar and Thiago Silva on the pitch? Not likely.

Brazil lost because of hubris, believing it could take Germany on as equals.

The German squad has been carefully crafted for years, with players moulded to fit like pieces in a machine. In comparison, the Brazilian “little canary” is young and unexperienced as a group. Unexperienced, chiefly because of the many different players that have been tested and discarded in the last few years.

Scolari’s relaxed attitude to training hasn’t helped: Brazil played Chile on a Friday, the players only going back to train on the Tuesday.

However, tactical errors must be considered the primary reason for yesterday’s disaster. As during earlier games, Brazil’s lack of a midfield was obvious. Against Chile and Colombia, Brazil suffered but pulled through. Against Germany, not strengthening the midfield equalled suicide. Penetrating Brazil’s defence with ease, it looked like the Germans were on a training session.

Who’s to blame? Primarily coach Scolari.

But we need to look further.
.floored.
Brazilian football has stagnated. Internally, externally. On and off the pitch. And this while maintaining an absurdly arrogant attitude. It’s time for Brazilian football to rethink itself, to reframe glories and values from the past into a modern context, a globalized perspective, humbly learning from others and implementing profound changes. At club level, in regard to legislation, financial transparency, the Federation, relationship with sponsors (in particular Rede Globo), match hours… The list could go on and on.

Change must also happen at player level, but not through “implementing”: something is lacking in terms of maturity and responsibility on an individual level. Something has been lost (or were never present) behind all the hairdos, gang style signs, instagraming, silly dance moves and everything else taking the focus away from football. Watching Brazilian TV these last few weeks, you wouldn’t believe the number of commercials featuring Scolari and Brazilian key players. Neither would you believe the easy access selected Brazilian entertainment TV has had to players and staff throughout the tournament.

Brazil needs to man up. Learn when it’s time for fun and when it’s not. Give and demand respect. In so many aspects; football being only one of them.

Brazil takes on either the Netherlands or Argentina in Saturday’s bronze match in Brasilia. In case of an all-out South America clash, FIFA has already signalled it will suspend the selling of alcoholic beverage at the Mané Garrincha stadium. Wisely so, if you ask me.

The World Cup, as a tournament, is a success. The path leading up to it has been a tragedy of wasted money and opportunities. As for the legacy? For Brazil? Let me get back to you on that one.

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eyeonbrazil.
[It’s not the destination, but the journey that counts. Now, what if it’s been a really bad journey?]

Expectations and excitement has been building up for some time, as the number of canary-yellow jerseys take to the streets in greater numbers by the day. Flags everywhere, pavements chalked up in creative green, yellow and blue designs, peoples smiling in anticipation of the sixth World Cup title destined for the country where football is considered part of the DNA.

That was four years ago.

In 2014, World Cup in Brazil can be resumed as one, resigned, collective sigh. Yes, resigned, because Brazil has had SEVEN years to prepare for what was supposed to be the party of parties, the event of events, the celebration of celebrations. Of Brazil showcasing all its social, civic and economic progress, its joyeux de vivre, its welcoming ways and, of course, superior football. Well, Brazil is certainly a favourite to lift the trophy, so there might be glimpses of superiority on the pitch. Forget the rest.

At the moment of writing, kickoff is less than two days away. Preparations for hosting the 2014 World Cup has been Brazil in a nutshell: a striking incapability to plan, to execute, to conduct with transparency. Considerably less than half of promised infrastructure improvements have been concluded. Some probably never will be – which is far worse than all those aborted before any physical labour begun – as it’s literarily money down the drain. However which way you look at it, costs have soared, and corruption is taking its toll. Behold the Mané Garrincha stadium in the capital of the country, originally budgeted at around 800 million reais (US$ 350 million), but today almost hitting the 2 billion (US$ 900 million) mark. Or the Itaqueirão stadium, where the opening game will be held, situated in one of the poorer outskirts of the city of São Paulo. The amount of public money poured into these and other stadiums around Brazil… A stark contrast to the “World Cup of Private Investments” enthusiastically proclaimed by President Dilma Rousseff a few years back.

True enough, the relationship Brazilians nourish to football has gone rather sour over the last decade or so. How could it not? With access to information increasing by the day, especially the young are increasingly turning their backs on the corrupt and inefficient Brazilian Football Federation, the poorly run football clubs, the badly kept stadiums, the overpriced tickets, the insane hours imposed by leading broadcaster Globo, the arbitrary rulings of the Superior Tribunal of Sports… Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the questionable quality of Brazilian football itself. So, yes: football in Brazil is not what it used to be – not on club level, not on National Squad level. Still, that’s only part of the explanation, and a minor part. You see, Brazil is, still, a football nation.

Thing is, not only World Cup preparations but the whole of Brazil has gone awry. The economy has entered into a general stalemate, suffering under notoriously heavy bureaucracy, lack of fiscal reforms and a desperate need for investments in infrastructure. Tens of millions have been lifted out of extreme poverty due to social welfare programs and grants, while also the lower middle class has been growing considerably in numbers. Making up the lion’s part of Brazilian society, these people struggle immensely to make ends meet, and increasingly so as inflation is again moving up the scales, bringing back ghosts past.

The economy certainly is a matter of outmost concern, as is the poor educational system and the even worse public health care. Add the record-breaking 50.000+ homicides in 2013, and the 60.000+ deaths in traffic accidents – the latest fatality being Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari’s nephew only a few hours ago…

Elections are due this fall, but when you examine the candidates, there’s little hope in sight.

Brazilians are tired. Frustrated. Angry. They would love to celebrate the World Cup, but many lack the energy. And even larger numbers seem torn between mixed feelings. To what extent can I enjoy the World Cup without giving the government my stamp of approval? By having fun, am I being a fool, pathetically duped into submission?

Others voice a different opinion. “OK, there has been issues, but now all that must be set aside: it’s our duty to do the best World Cup humanly possible, the country’s image is at stake.”

Perhaps we’ll have a World Cup without major incidents. Brazil showing the world “they can do it”. Backslapping all around. And then refocus: after all, we have presidential elections coming up, then the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Perhaps we’ll have protests, and protests escalating into what we saw in mid 2013, with – literally – millions of people taking to the streets, jeopardising the entire World Cup. Protests that would show governments and FIFA that PEOPLE is a force to reckon with.

In a broader perspective, I have a feeling the second image of Brazil would be so much more enriching for the country, and for the world.

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ps. I’d really welcome your thoughts on this post; feel more than free to leave your comments.

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