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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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alankardec_entrevista_marcelohazan9.
Editorial – the Alan Kardec screw-up

Next to Valdivia and Prass, Alan Kardec is considered the spinal core of the Palmeiras squad. Or rather, was: Kardec is expected to sign with São Paulo FC later this week for a whopping US$155.000 a month. Today, Palmeiras president Paulo Nobre held a press conference, confirming that our archenemy had swept the bride from the altar.

How come one of the most popular and important players in the squad, apparently devoted to Palmeiras and with a clearly expressed desire to renew his contract, jumped the fence? The answer is spelled Paulo Nobre.

No secret Nobre is all about sound, financial austerity: he inherited Palmeiras with already 75% of the 2013 revenues compromised and has made it a priority during his two-year mandate to remedy the Club’s more than precarious financial and administrative condition. All new player contracts and renovations during the Nobre administration have been carefully conducted with the aim of not overshooting budget. No different with Kardec.

The information I have is that Palmeiras were initially offering Kardec some US$75.000 a month in addition to extra revenues based on productivity and achieved goals. This is certainly lower than Kardec, his dad and a second agent involved in the negotiations were expecting. During several weeks, the parts were slowly moving closer, but the negotiations were indeed dragging out, just as they did with those involving Kleina and Leandro.

About a month ago, an agreement was finally reached between Kardec, the agents and Palmeiras’ director of football José Carlos Brunoro: a five-year contract at US$98.000 a month plus the variable revenues. The agreement was brought before Nobre for ratification, but Nobre said no. He wanted to shave off another US$9.000 a month, which would amount to a little more than half a million dollars for the whole extension of the contract. That is quite a lot of money, at least for you and me. However, it’s peanuts considering the larger picture, and peanuts considering Palmeiras’ payroll.

Nobre’s veto turned a done deal into an open affair, infuriating Kardec senior: the players’ father went to the press complaining about the difficult negotiation and said he would now consider other options. That was enough for SPFC to move in on Kardec senior and the agent, offering them double signing bonuses in addition to raising the salary offer to Kardec the player from US$98.000 to US$155.000. Kardec senior didn’t think twice and gave the director his word: my son is signing with SPFC.

As the tables turned, Paulo Nobre must have started sweating bullets. He faced two options: a) cover SPFC’s offer, completely overshooting his budget and destabilising the carefully crafted and implemented scheme with salary based on productivity, or b) let Kardec go, lose face, severely scratch Palmeiras’ image, weaken the squad and infuriate supporters.

Is Kardec worth US$155.000 a month? Most sports journalists would flat out state that he is not. But at this point, the decision was no longer a technical one, but also very much emotional. I believe Paulo Nobre was prepared to go out of his way to reel Kardec back in. Not that if would make any difference: when finally able to speak to the player – who had been sheltered for days by his father and agent – Kardec junior told Nobre that his father had reached a verbal agreement with São Paulo FC and the only way he now could sign with Palmeiras would be if he fired his own father. Curtains down.

nobreAt today’s press conference, Nobre highlighted SPFC’s “unethical behaviour”. Our president needs a reality check. Not only is he a fool if he didn’t see it coming, as he brought it upon himself. It’s difficult to understand how Nobre could veto a reached agreement involving one of the most important players in the squad because of a US$9.000 monthly difference, not foreseeing the ultimate consequences of his, yes, gamble.

Making things worse, it’s not only about Kardec. Palmeiras is a house of cards. The squad was different against Fluminense last Saturday – nervous, introvert, lost – and Palmeiras were beaten fair and square by the one goal at the Pacaembu. Some 12.000 supporters were present: very low numbers considering a home debut return to the first division. Criticism against the Nobre administration on social media has been massive these last few days. There are supporters cancelling their Avanti memberships (which is simply beyond me). Opposition candidates are breathing fresh air. The whole affair could eventually tip the scale in disfavour of Nobre’s re-election (if he opts for running, that is).

In my mind, I believe Palmeiras would (still) be worse off without Nobre in the drivers’ seat. But that all comes down to an ability to not only recognise one’s mistakes but also learn from them. With Nobre’s press conference fresh in my mind, I wonder: is he recognising his mistake? Will he learn from it? Will time tell?

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shotdown.
There’s a lot to be said. Palmeiras’ obligation last Sunday was to dominate Ituano just like Bragantino were dominated three days before, reinforcing the tremendous gap between the two teams in terms of tradition, supporter base, national and international projection and, not least, payroll. True that Ituano sported and still sport the best defence so far in the tournament, with only 10 goals suffered in, now, 17 games, but that’s a mere detail: Palmeiras, playing at second home Pacaembu and before a 31.000 head strong crowd had nothing but an obligation to fulfil: beat Ituano to face Santos in the Paulistão finals.

It’s in the nature of obligations to occasionally turn into nightmares. And looking closely, Palmeiras’ undeniable superiority started to deteriorate already against Bragantino, with the referee, as so often, turning a blind eye to the over-physical gameplay commonly adopted by less technical teams. Especially Valdivia was targeted, his right ankle so swollen after the game against Bragantino, Palmeiras’ medic vetoed him from the starting eleven against Ituano. And Ituano followed the script laid out days before: Alan Kardec received a challenge from behind and went down, the Ituano aggressor not even seeing the yellow. Two offensive key players out against the best defence of the championship. Not good.

In addition, Kleina’s choices for the starting eleven and bench were questionable. Tiago Alves was dislocated from his position as centre-back to the right, leaving everyone wondering why Bruninho wasn’t even on the bench. With Kardec’s exit, Vinícius came on, proving once again he adds nothing to the squad. Wesley looked like he was enjoying a walk in the park, while Leandro repeated his lousy performance of previous games.

Palmeiras were nevertheless clearly superior, were in possession of the ball for most of the time and created several opportunities. As time went by, with the ref allowing for the over-physical style to prevail, our players started to show both frustration and nervousness, looking for quick solutions and missing simple passes. Ituano on the other hand maintained their posture, firmly executing the gameplan set out in the first minute: dragging out the status quo all the way to a penalty shootout. Fate wanted differently and reworded Ituano with the one goal close to the final whistle, formally dictating Kleina’s 100th game for Palmeiras a tragedy.

Previous years, the defeat would throw Palmeiras heads first into a bottomless pit. As Gian Oddi at ESPN insightfully wrote a few days back: for those inside the club who feed on the frustration and passion of many, the worse Palmeiras perform, the better for their sordid political ambitions. If crashing out of the Paulistão jeopardises the continuation of the silent and ungrateful revolution currently taking place at Palmeiras, Oddi argues that throwing away the chances to the Paulistão title would be the last of the club’s problems. He’s absolutely right.

All this while remembering that Corinthians didn’t even make it to the knockout phase and that São Paulo FC were kicked out already in the quarter-finals by mighty [sic] Penapolense (who were beating Santos in the other semi-finals with 30 minutes to the final whistle). There’s room for many in the rocky boat.

Page turned. Palmeiras now have an eminent task ahead: eliminate Vilhena from the Brazil Cup this coming Wednesday. A draw is enough, as Palmeiras won the away game 0-1.

After that, all efforts should be put into releasing Alan Kardec from his contract with Benfica. And either sign a new contract with Wesley or sell him. The debts from his purchase during the previous administration is reportedly what’s holding back the signing of a Master sponsor (which would be the governmental bank “Caixa Econômica Federal“, or just “Caixa” for short).

In parallel, time for some soul-searching. Maintaining Kleina is crucial; we needn’t be shown once more that hotshot coaches fail as everybody else have failed at Palmeiras recently. Kleina and the directors need to re-evaluate the squad, dismiss a few players and find options on the market for key positions, especially a top forward and a right-back. It’s all about hard work, entering the Brazilian Championship in mid April in the right mindset.

We’ll be fine. Accidents happen. Although they have been happening more frequently than we would wish at Palmeiras.

Short on the game against Vilhena: Palmeiras have no less than eight players in the medical department: Wendel, França, Fernando Prass, Valdivia, Alan Kardec, Bruno César and Juninho. Possibly also Wesley. Thus, Palmeiras tomorrow will look very different. Not that Vilhena should stand a fighting chance. But hey, what was that again on the topic of “obligations”?

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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CAMPEONATO PAULISTA 2014: SANTOS FC X PALMEIRAS.
Conrado Cacace of the Verdazzo, currently one of the most influential voices in the universe of opinion-making palmeirenses, attended yesterday’s game at the Vila Belmiro. Half an hour after the final whistle, Palmeiras supporters were allowed to leave the stadium. While making his way out, checking his smartphone for information on other game results, Conrado received a hard blow to his face and hit the ground before receiving several kicks. He managed to get to the bus waiting outside, his phone stolen, and upon returning to São Paulo underwent medical exams. With multiple fractures to his face, he’s scheduled for surgery today (Monday).

Outspoken, uncompromising, always backing his positions with compelling arguments. A strong personality that sometimes annoys even those agreeing with his views. “He had it coming”, some argues.

He had it coming, only if we accept violence as a legitimate form of argumentation. Without the shadow of a doubt, Conrado was cowardly assaulted by someone coming from “our” ranks, someone calling himself a palmeirense, someone who disagrees with the editorial line of the Verdazzo. Fists and kicks were chosen as a means to punish him, and to silence him. Stealing his phone was just a bonus.

The right to expression is fundamental, at any and every level of society. The use of violence to combat ideas is nothing short of fascism. As such, it must be condemned without hesitation, without fear, and without personal preferences in regard to the identity of the victim and his views.

Reflect on that before uttering another “he had it coming”: that kind of mentality is, directly or indirectly, the breeding ground for what happened to Conrado. And could happen to you next.

Conrado, I wish you a speedy recovery, both physical and mental. Hope to see you back in the saddle as soon as possible: your work has never been more important.

— ooo —

Difficult to analyse yesterday’s clash against Santos. True enough, Palmeiras did not seem quite awake, allowing Santos not one but two goals before half time. On the other hand, Palmeiras would likely have reached the draw had the game continues for another ten minutes. And personally, I liked Bruninhos debut. Game highlights below.
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I’d say Palmeiras have more to give. And possibly Kleina opted for not revealing all his cards, especially as yesterday’s result actually means Palmeiras have a theoretically easier path to the finals, avoiding SPFC in the semi. In any case, the Paulistão truly starts now, in the knockout phase: Thursday night we welcome Bragantino, with the one game determining who face Ituano or Botafogo/SP in the semi-finals.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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MV.
The always relevant Verdazzo published an important piece last Wednesday, exposing the perils Palmeiras supporters might face on their way to, during and after the away game against Santos at Vila Belmiro this coming Sunday.

Summing up the situation: after the 2013 incident at the airport in Buenos Aires, Palmeiras president Paulo Nobre cut all ties with the Mancha Verde supporter group. Not that it had any effect on the presence of the Mancha at stadiums (and not that it was intended to have any effect): home games were never a problem due to the large amount of tickets available, and for away games the MV normally secured the amount they needed by different methods – some of them acceptable and others not so much. That’s the way it is and has been for quite some time.

Well, times they are a changing. After the ruckus during distribution of tickets to the Corinthians vs. Palmeiras clash a few weeks back – where queues outside and inside the club got completely out of hand – the Palmeiras administration has taken an innovating step further in the strengthening of the Avanti membership programme: provide tickets to important away games based on Avanti member’s rating. It’s fairly simple: records are kept on Avanti member’s stadium visits and compiled into a ranking. Against Santos, 700 tickets have been made available for the visiting team. Palmeiras have bought them all and sent an e-mail to the 700 highest-ranking Avanti members, offering them a ticket each at a fixed price. Unsold tickets are advertised a second time to the next set of people on the ranking. Any unsold tickets after he second round will then be made available on a first-come-first-serve basis, Avanti member or not.

The initiative is worth all the praise, as it effectively rewards those who work the turnstile the most. At least, as long as these are Avanti members. And there’s absolutely no reason they shouldn’t be. Be they Mancha Verde or not.

Now, going back to the Verdazzo text, there’s a genuine and legitimate concern for the safety of those 700 palmeirenses heading for the Vila Belmiro. For the first time in ages, there’s no telling how or even if the Mancha Verde will be present. That will have implications on how much chanting and support the relatively small Palmeiras section will be able to convey to our players. Equally or more important: it will have implications on how much protection will be available for our supporters. The Verdazzo convincingly argues that, unless preventive police work is flawlessly executed, the risk of a disaster is overwhelming, as Santos supporters are likely to take advantage of the situation. “It will be the ultimate test to whether Paulo Nobre was right in maintaining an inflexible approach [toward the Mancha Verde]”, Cacace concludes.

But that last sentence is where this space and the Verdazzo will differ. Perhaps in part because I’m not much familiar with the stands, having been to few home games and even fewer away game. In the eyes of some, that alone might be enough to disqualify my opinion entirely. On the other hand, the distance might be what allows me to maintain my focus on principle, even under pressing circumstances like these.

Nobre cut ties with all organized supporter groups based on the principle that physical aggression is incompatible with the society we want to live in and the club’s philosophy. How cynical would it not be if he initiated a rapprochement with the Mancha Verde because Palmeiras, in a sense, need their services as storm troopers, need their protection?

S.E. Palmeiras must do what it can to cater for the supporters’ basic needs, but protection is not one of those: that’s for the authorities and the police to handle. Certainly, Palmeiras should be in constant dialogue with authorities, with the police, and cooperate as much as possible with the aim to increase security for everyone involved. However, at the end of the day, the buck stops with the authorities, with the police.

To lay blame on Nobre for what eventually might go wrong in Santos on Sunday is illogical and inconsistent.

UPDATE: Less than an hour after the publication of this text, three people trashed the Avanti ticket booth in an act of dissatisfaction  for “only” be allowed one ticket each: they wanted 90 tickets out of the total 700 and presented the money. When denied the extended purchase, they attacked the vendor and destroyed equipment and furniture.

Palmeiras responded by suspending the selling of remaining tickets. Full cooperation with the police is expected in a joint effort to identify the perpetrators and bring charges against them. President Nobre issued a firm statement in the afternoon, making clear that the club’s policy remains firm, that Avanti will be the mechanism through which supporters preferably will get their tickets, and that Palmeiras will not bend under pressure.

At this point, there are no information on whether the perpetrators would be members of any of the organised supporter groups.

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Palmeiras 2014

divination.
2013 ends with open ends a plenty. Squad undefined, master sponsor undefined, Allianz Parque inauguration undefined. The Nobre administration has broken new ground in several areas, but palestrinos enter 2014 with more question marks than ever. Rumours are Nobre has chosen Monday 6 January for a batch of announcements. Rumours.

A few new players have been signed, but not yet announced. Some have left or are packing their bags: Vilson, André Luiz, Márcio Araújo, Ronny Amaro, Rondinelly, Ananias, Fernandinho, Bruno and Leo Gago are all considered goners. Some players are returning from loans, most notably Patrick Vieira, João Denoni and Luiz Gustavo. Considering that Palmeiras U20 reached the finals in the Copa do Brasil less than two weeks ago (lost to Internacional), while the U17 won an international tournament, there is room for optimism on the horizon.

Silence is, supposedly, golden. But not all silence. The Nobre administration has not been able to strike a balance between the level of secrecy needed for optimal performance and the openness needed to please supporters near and far: the most blatant example being the Hernán Barcos transfer to Grêmio at the beginning of the season – a deal badly executed and very poorly disclosed to the public.

Early in 2013, hopes were high as winds of change carried promises. Months went by. And the year certainly ends in an anticlimax.

2014 is spelled centenary. Palmeiras, make us proud.

Happy New Year.

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torcedorlusachoradramalho.
Last round of the Brazilian Championship 2013. Portuguesa vs. Grêmio, a game without any relevance in terms of ascension, relegation, access to the Libertadores Cup or the Copa Sulamericana. Nothing.

32 minutes into the second half, Portuguesa commit what can only be regarded as a silly blunder: suspended player Héverton comes on for the paulista team.

Minutes ago, Portuguesa were punished by the Superior Tribunal of Sports for the infringement, and to the letter: Portuguesa lost the one point from the goalless draw against Grêmio and an additional three points. With that, Portuguesa drop four positions in the tables, finishing in the relegation zone. And saving Fluminense from second division play in 2014.

Did Portuguesa commit an infringement? Certainly. Is the punishment proportional to the crime? Certainly not. Not that any of the judges involved in the Rio de Janeiro-based STJD would agree to that.

And Fluminense? Based on historical merit and curious circumstances, the carioca club cements its position as Brazil’s most loathed.

While this blogger wonders how on earth he could be so naive as to entitle the previous post “Brasileirão 2013 – final statements”.

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