In the world of sports, and exponentially so in football, the lack of guarantees is both exciting and horrifying. You can do most things wrong, and still be champion. Or do everything right, and reap absolutely nothing.
Palmeiras president Paulo Nobre had everything hanging by the thinnest of threads by the end of 2014, but relegation was avoided in the last round, allowing Palmeiras to regroup aggressively for the 2015 season – now with finances in order and sound management routines in place.
Nobre signed whiz-kid club football manager Alexandre Mattos from Cruzeiro, then midseason brought in same club’s 2013-2014 champion coach Marcelo Oliveira. A whopping 25 players arrived and 21 left ahead of and during the 2015 season: nothing short of a complete overhaul. It was necessary, but naturally brought difficulties – difficulties that, combined with a few, surgically unfortunate injuries, left Palmeiras oscillating violently throughout the season, finishing a modest 9th in the Brazilian championship.
While the extensive Brasileirão is unforgiving, the Brazil Cup is a different story: Palmeiras’ squad possessed sufficient quality and determination to overcome the obstacles, showing brilliance in short bursts against traditional teams – and particularly against local rivals – in addition to bagging the club’s third Brazil Cup title in a more than satisfying display against runner-up Santos.
A splendid result, the cup title. Possible only because Palmeiras did most things right in 2015. And also because stars and planets lined up in order for unlikely Andrei Girotto score the winner against Internacional in the quarter-finals; for Fernando Prass to shine against Fluminense in the semi-finals; for Santos forward Nilson to miss an open goal in the dying moments of the first leg of the finals, allowing palmeirenses all over the globe to confidently declare that that was Santos’ shot at the title, wasted right there. Hanging by the thinnest of threads on several occasions, it held together all the way to the spectacular finish, crowning Palmeiras’ year with a title and a ticket to next year’s Libertadores Cup.
It’s the title, and the spot in the continental tournament, which allows Nobre and Mattos to again aggressively regroup. Aggressively, not as in large quantities of signing: Palmeiras already have a solid base. Aggressively, as in being the club of choice for many players and having the means to make financially interesting offers to match. Mattos wants the squad defined preferably by 6 January, having already made interesting signings:
Erik: forward, 21 years old, elected Brazilian Revelation of the Year in 2014. Coveted by many teams, Palmeiras drew the longest straw, signing a five-year contract paying approximately US$ 3.25 million for 60% of the player’s federative rights; an amount allegedly corresponding to São Paulo FC’s total acquisition budget in 2016.
Régis: the 23-year-old offensive midfielder made quite a splash at Sport during 2015, attracting attention from a number of clubs – most notably Santos – but surprise-signed a one-year loan contract with Palmeiras, which includes an option to buy. Fulfilling a family dream by joining the Verdão, he claims, radiating like the sun.
Edu Dracena: experienced centre-back, 34 years old, having played for Guarani, Cruzeiro, Santos, Olympiacos, Fenerbahçe and, most lately, Corinthians. His CV includes six state championship titles, two Brazilian championship titles, two Brazil Cup titles, one Libertadores Cup title, one Recopa Sul-Americana title, one Turkish championship title and one Turkish Cup title. On a 2-year contract, he is expected to take a place in the starting eleven alongside Vítor Hugo
Moisés: multi-functional midfielder, 27-years-old, Croatian champion with Rijeka. Two-year contract, with an option to extend for an additional two years. Has previously played for América-MG, Sport, Boa Esporte and Portuguesa. Mattos knows this guy from his time at América Mineiro.
Vagner: 26-year-old keeper, defended Avaí in 2015. Has been on Palmeiras’ radar since 2014, when he became Paulista champion with Ituano, eliminating Palmeiras in the semi-finals and beating Santos in the finals. Vagner replaces Aranha as Prass’ shadow.
Roger Carvalho: the 29-year-old centre-back played for Botafogo in their 2015 second division spell. Experienced, Carvalho has previously defended Figueirense, São Paulo and Vitória, in addition to clubs in Italy and Portugal. One-year loan with buying option.
Rodrigo: defensive midfielder, 21, originated at Goiás. Two-year loan, with option to buy. Should be considered a value bet.
Most would agree: what is missing is a traditional #10, someone to conduct the midfield. The spot has been vacant ever since Valdivia left (frankly, it was mostly vacant even while he was part of the squad) and Palmeiras are all set with Jean of Fluminense, but things have cooled down a bit due to the carioca club’s inflexibility. I believe the transfer still has good chances to occur. If not, Palmeiras are working a plan B: Rithely, from Sport.
In addition, Palmeiras are negotiating the stay of centre-back Jackson and midfielder Rafael Marques, but price tags coming from Internacional and Chinese Henan Jianye are complicating factors. My feeling is we might see Rafa go but are able to hang on to Jackson.
Confirmed exits include midfielder Renato, centre-back Victor Ramos, keepers Aranha and Bruno, left-defender João Paulo, and defensive midfielder Andrei Girotto. Other lesser known player who see their contracts expire by midnight include Julen, Emerson, Edilson, Chico and Ramos. Mouche and Allione have requested transfers – the former likely heading for Mexico, the latter dreaming of a return to Argentina. Others unlikely to remain in the 2016 squad include Kelvin, João Pedro, Nathan, Amaral, Leandro Almeida, Fellype Gabriel and Alecsandro. Youngsters João Pedro and Nathan will most likely spend a year or two at other clubs, before a possible return to Palmeiras.
2015 was turbulent. But splendid. The Avanti supporter membership programme and the brand new Allianz Parque brought revenues never before seen at Palmeiras. Combined with Nobre’s sound financial management, no club is better prepared for 2016. The squad needs adjustments, but as we can see, Mattos is taking care of this in his ordinary fashion: silently and efficiently.
In my 2014 retrospect, I wrote: “What can we hope for in 2015? Three things: a) That Palmeiras, now with 90% of the year’s revenues available, make assembling the strongest possible squad a priority. b) That Paulo Nobre not only learns to listen more, but flatly keeps his hands off the football department, delegating as much as possible to the new CEO Alexandre Mattos. c) That palmeirenses turn the Allianz Parque into the cauldron it has the capacity to be, over and over again.”
With all hopes for 2015 turned into reality, we see that Palmeiras, in every aspect, enter 2016 in a leading role.
To all readers of Anything Palmeiras: thank you for your support and company throughout 2015.
HAPPY NEW YEAR! SCOPPIA CHE LA VITTORIA È NOSTRA!
/ Kristian Bengtson