Cuca followed up his initial two defeats with another two: 1-2 at home against Red Bull last Thursday and yesterday’s disastrous 4-1 away against Água Santa. Just like Palmeiras, Água Santa recently swapped coach and had not tasted victory for quite a number of rounds. Similarities end there: the team from the municipality of Diadema made its professional football debut in 2012 and accumulated R$ 2 million in revenues in 2014 (centenarian Palmeiras accumulated R$ 244 million in that same year). A David vs. Goliath comparison isn’t quite enough.
A few months back and Palmeiras were considered one of this season’s main contenders, having kept the bulk of the victorious 2015 squad and signed what was seen as strategic players for specific shortcomings – many of these players sought after by rivalling clubs. In addition, coach Marcelo Oliveira was given more time.
On top, you add state-of-the-art facilities, salaries paid on time, and a very strong supporter base. Palmeiras is a club who, in general terms, has made an effort to follow the recommended script, and in return is reaping the worst season start in 30 years.
Cuca has had little to no time to train, with games twice a week. In addition, he is a notorious slow starter: at Atlético Mineiro, he lost the first six games before turning the team around. Similar stories at Botafogo, Goiás and Fluminense. There is talk of divisions within the squad (isn’t there always?), that Cuca has identified the rotten apples and asked for their removal. There is talk of a list of reinforcements, signed Cuca. There is a lot of talk.
Complaints and accusations have increased exponentially, the squad, Alexandre Mattos and Paulo Nobre being primary targets. Most of it is both passionate and irrational, with little to no effort to separate intentions, activities carried out and outcome. I understand and share most of the rage, without for a second believing that any solution lies with the “it’s not going well, so off with their heads” loudmouths.
Never mind the loudmouths: the politically motivated are the dangerous ones. Those who take each bad performance on the pitch to criticise everything done in the last three years, in particular the fundamentally important fiscal adjustments. “Go on counting your money, you elitist financial brats with zero knowledge of football”. Palmeiras have suffered from instability on the pitch for decades. Firing away at one of the primary off-pitch achievements of recent times – financial stability and responsibility – seems insane. Insane, until you realise that certain individuals are ready to gamble with the survival of the very institution they claim to serve in order to fulfil personal aspirations.
Amidst this full-blown crisis, Cuca needs to focus on Rio Claro on Thursday then the derby against Corinthians on Sunday. After that, it’s off to the absolute do-or-die clash with Rosario Central, the Argentine time currently sustaining a streak of 22 home games undefeated. Nothing short of victory keeps Palmeiras alive for a spot in the Libertadores knockout phase.
Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!