by Erasmo München*
The standing ovation – a good 40 seconds long – offered to Cleiton Xavier in Allianz Parque on Saturday May 14, 2016 when he was substituted after scintillating performance in the convincing Palmeiras’ win against Atletico Paranaense may reveal more than simply homage to a player’s good day.
Cleiton’s history with the club bears some similarities with that of another player that left the club in August 2015: Valdivia. One of the most controversial subjects Palmeiras’ supporters faced between 2010 and 2015 was how to view the Chilean – was he a curse or a blessing? In any case, Saturday’s chapter has probably more to do with differences than similarities between the two players.
Chilean midfielder Valdivia – born in Venezuela due to his parents temporary living in that country – had had a prolific and successful stint with the club between 2006 and 2008, starring the win of the São Paulo championship of the latter year.
Since his departure in the second half of that year, there was a feeling among supporters he could have stayed longer and won more cups with the club. So, when in 2010 his return was announced, there was great optimism and also a sense of relief as the club was missing the type of talent that he possesses.
Well, history is known how he behaved and, how “often” he was fielded – around 42% of the games – the number of decisive matches he missed, how expensive each of his effective moves ended up being.
His escapade to Disney World right after the 2014 World Cup cost Palmeiras the possibility of recouping some of the costs in the form of a transfer fee to an UAE club. To many supporters that earned him the nickname “Valdisney”.
Then, came the quality and consistency shown playing for his country’s national team in Copa America 2015 that made people sigh “wow if we could have that playmaker at least 75% of the games, Palmeiras’ performance would be transformed”. All to be frustrated by his refusal of the attempts made by Palmeiras to renew his contract on a variable remuneration basis.
Due to all these practically never ending hiccups, to many Palmeiras’ supporters he was definitely a curse. A bad professional who was using the club as launching pad or something in that line. To many others though, he was a blessing: “mago Valdivia” (Valdivia, the magician) whose misdemeanors should be minimized in the name of a seemingly unjustifiable hope that, at any time, he could pull off tricks on the pitch that would give the team a win.
Without fueling the controversy again since he’s gone and, reliable sources guarantee, has ZERO chances of returning, let’s compare his case with that of his successor in bearing jersey number 10, Cleiton Xavier.
Cleiton’s current contract with Palmeiras started in January 2015 and it constitutes his second stint with the club, having worn our jersey between January 2009 and mid 2010 before leaving for Ukraine’s Metallist.
In his first contract he had not won any title and probably his most remarkable achievement was the qualifying goal scored against Chile’s Colo Colo in an away game – the last of the group phase – that took Palmeiras to the last 16 of Copa Libertadores in 2009.
The goal is still revered by 10 out of 10 Palmeiras’ supporter not only given its meaning, but the making of the goal itself: a 35 meter-long shot that ended up in the left upper corner of the goal, right where post and bar meet each other – in Brazilian “footballese” that spot is called the owl’s nest”. Absolutely spectacular. And Cleiton’s reaction, his running, shouting etc. in celebration is still seen as an example of a player’s expression of feelings for a club.
Unfortunately, Cleiton did not win any title: in 2009, we lost the Libertadores, lost the Paulista, lost the Brasileirão, came 2010, the team lost momentum, the trainer was sacked, other trainer came, one key player was “ejected” by the supporters (Diego Souza) and Cleiton’s first chapter ended up without much brilliance.
But as in Valdivia’s case, when he left, there was a feeling that had he stayed he could have done more.
Comes his come-back and – in the same line as Valdivia – expectations were high. Not only the memories of the first time were still positive, but Cleiton’s performance with Metallist right before the move back to Palmeiras were quite convincing: many goals and assists, a true “number 10” as we needed.
Unfortunately, Cleiton’s many injuries – the latest one being on January this year during preparations for the Copa Libertadores 2016 – deprived him of delivering on expectations and many were casting doubts over his real possibilities to ever be effective for the club. There were comparisons stating that in a “cost benefit” analysis his case was much worse than that of Valdivia.
Back to the standing ovation. I was in Allianz Parque and as decades old attendant of many Palmeiras’ games, I can attest that I can’t recall so much time being devoted to saluting a player like happened on Saturday. And something else, it was spontaneous.
Of course, I am not comparing Cleiton with Ademir, Evair, Marcos, Zinho, Alex and others at that level whose applause receiving record is “hard to match” to put it mildly. But those long seconds may have a meaning that we must interpret well for its repercussion on the club’s policy of signing players.
I believe that more than his performance, Cleiton was saluted for his commitment to paying back what the club had entrusted him with, in terms of cash and in terms of relying in his character.
Cleiton lived out his said and often times repeated love for Palmeiras: “it’s my heart’s club and I’ll very much honor the jersey, Mr. President” were his words in the presentation press conference, back in January 2015. During his injuries, he was never caught goofing off the treatment. In fact, in January 2016, again reliable sources in the club confirm that his latest injury was due to “over determination” to start the year strong to play the Copa Libertadores.
I believe the supporters followed all this, compared this with the behavior of the “former number 10” and expressed approval of Cleiton’s attitude and behavior.
Of course, there was also hope in that applause: hope that good times of us palmeirenses being permanently proud of our squadra’s performance are back; hope that we’ll have a number 10 that honors the traditions of Jair Rosa Pinto, Chinesinho, Ademir da Guia, Djalminha, Alex.
But, the signal is there: that is the kind of player we want. Yes, we want quality. But only if it comes with commitment, respect, a coherence between talk and deeds, professionalism, collective spirit and all these qualities that, at the end of the day, really make up a team.
My hope is that the club’s senior management will heed to the signal and be very careful when seeking new signings.
And I also hope that Palmeiras will be 2016 Brazilian champion!
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*Erasmo München is 57 years old, Brazilian, and the biological child of an Italian man and a Brazilian women. Early in life, Erasmo was adopted by a family of Italian descent: becoming a passionate palmeirense was definitely his destiny. Holding two university degrees (Economics and Administration), he works as project auditor for a Dutch humanitarian entity.
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