With five rounds of the Brasileirão, Palmeiras have already filled half of last year’s quota of defeats. Hovering just above the relegation zone with four points – a full nine points behind the leader – some palmeirenses are already throwing the towel. Might seem absurd, considering only 13% of the championship has been played, but indeed a recovery must come strong and immediately should Palmeiras stand a chance. Not much hope in that direction though, rather on the contrary: Cuca is using the Brasileirão to try out formation and rotate the numerous squad, certainly with the chancellery of the club’s directors. The priority seems to be the Brazil Cup and the Libertadores Cup.
Under normal circumstances, nothing would justify abandoning the Brasileirão this early. Nevertheless, swapping Baptista for Cuca, combined with a full two-games-a-week schedule – including decisive games in both aforementioned cups – have created serious restrains on Cuca’s possibilities to train and shape the squad to his liking. Libertadores enters the knockout stage in a months’ time, so Cuca uses the Brasileirão as his laboratory.
Against Coritiba, Cuca again presented a mixed bag due to injuries, fatigue and national squad absentees. Only four regular starting-eleven players in the line-up: Prass, Tchê, Felipe Melo and Willian. Nevertheless Palmeiras came out flying, the first ten minutes looking very promising, with Keno again drawing most of the attention. The game however quickly levelled, with all he action concentrating to the midfield.
Early in the second half, Coritiba found the net and Palmeiras suddenly lost all confidence and initiative, the level dropping vertically both collectively and individually. Tchê Tchê has not played well for weeks, but yesterday was exceptionally bad even by his recent standards. Michel Bastos, Keno, Guedes… No shimmer of light anywhere. And Fernando Prass… Perhaps a few games on the bench would do him good, letting Jailson have a go between the posts.
Cuca is not being eaten alive exactly because he is Cuca and has plenty of credit due to last year’s campaign. Most supporters feel confident he will get it right in the end, but for that to happen he must react, rattle the squad into position, find ways to extract quality from all those good to excellent players. He has a few weeks before things get really serious.
Players taking flak, Cuca taking flak. But not only these. Increasingly, Palmeiras football director Alexandro Mattos is feeling the heat. Elected four years in a row Brazil’s most successful football director will not guarantee you anything, especially not at Palmeiras: the seedy and influential consiglieri – kept low during the Paulo Nobre years – have reflourished with surprising vigour. Mattos’ success stings in the eyes of those who used to call the cards at Palmeiras at the beginning of the decade. With meritocracy being challenged, we are one step closer to the pre-Nobre abyss. Add to that the now constant leaking of inside information to the press and the dramatic increase of hang-arounds, and you perceive some fundamentally important things have changed.
There is this Brazilian expression, “I was happy but didn’t know it”. Some of us knew. Some of us recognized the enormous effort and saw the bigger picture in what Nobre was implementing. Let us hope it did not stop there.
Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!