Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

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 —

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.
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.
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.

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.
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.
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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[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.

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

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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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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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