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Yesterday’s Palmeiras vs Cruzeiro was a well-played and intense affair, nevertheless resulting in a goalless draw. I could and should elaborate a bit more on the game, the decision to play in Araraquara (the Allianz Parque not available for having received an Andrea Bocelli show the previous night) and the unusual lengths Palmeiras – or rather Paulo Nobre – is ready to go to have national squad members Gabriel Jesus and Mina present and in playing conditions. Could, should, but will not.

The single most important aspect of yesterday’s round happened during Fluminense vs Flamengo, where the runners-up were ahead on two occasions, before Fluminense scored the equaliser, an offside header, five minutes from stoppage time. The linesman raised his flag, but referee Sandro Meira Ricci overruled him, allowing the goal. A few minutes of discussion, as would be expected, then the entire Flamengo bench poured onto the pitch, affirming goalscorer Henrique had indeed been offside. After some ten minutes of this, the referee reversed his decision, disallowing the goal.
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More than one Flamengo player confirmed they learnt Henrique was offside from external sources, i.e. someone watching TV or listening to the radio passing the information on to the bench. Players brought this to the referee, who succumbed to the pressure. Nothing of this appears in the referee’s post-game report, released only this morning: “game stopped for 10 minutes as players from both teams protested against a referee decision relating to an offside situation” and then, a little further down, “nothing out of the ordinary to report”.

Referees acting upon external sources of information are in clear violation of FIFA regulations and of a magnitude that sets the stage for a rematch. Fluminense president Peter Siemsen says he will demand it, but he does not stand a chance. Just as Palmeiras in 2012, when Barcos’ “Hand of God” brace against Internacional was disallowed due to external interference, contributing to the Verdão’s relegation that year.

justice“Why do you defend an unjust goal? Henrique was clearly offside, and justice was made in the end”, some shallow minds argue, failing to see that “making justice” in that particular moment automatically implied in violating justice on every single previous occasion involving controversial refereeing in the championship.

The correct thing would be a rematch. As many clubs as possible should joint ranks with Fluminense (oh, the irony) to endorse that rules and regulations be followed. “Good luck”.

— ooo —

If yesterday’s results stand, Palmeiras are found at 61 points, Flamengo at 60 and Atlético Mineiro, who beat América Mineiro 3-0, at 56. With eight rounds to go. Buckle up, people.

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Last week, the Fundação Getúlio Vargas Chamber of Arbitration – set up to rule on a series of issues where Palmeiras and Allianz Parque constructor WTorre disagree – ruled in favour of Palmeiras on the most important topic: how many of the stadium’s 44.000 chairs WTorre is allowed to commercialise. It has always been Palmeiras’ understanding that the number was 10.000, but a poorly drafted agreement left room for alternative interpretations, WTorre claiming they had the right to all the chairs, which would effectively kill Palmeiras’ highly successful supporter membership programme “Avanti”. Not only did the FGV side with Palmeiras regarding the chairs, but also ordered WTorre conclude the works on the Allianz Parque. That means ensure the stadium complies with FIFA standards, finish construction on the panoramic restaurant, the museum, the trophy room… A massive victory, both financially and morally, setting the game board for years to come.

With a ruling finally in place, Palmeiras can go back at tweaking the club’s supporter programme, look into how to optimise stadium capacity, optimise pricing. Moreover, Palmeiras should consider how to deal with the overly large portals giving access to the pitch; these portals facilitate getting heavy/bulky stage equipment onto the pitch (think rock shows), but have a considerable impact on stadium capacity.

“Optimise stadium capacity, optimise pricing”. What is “optimise”? Many would argue it is a simple equation, where optimise means securing maximum revenue for the club. Others say optimising is the point where two curves meet: highest revenue with highest possible attendance – an acknowledgement of the importance of supporters to a team’s success. A third line would argue that additional factors, like social inclusion, must come into the equation: it is fine the club making less money, if that means contributing to a greater good. 

Are football clubs expected to take direct responsibility for improving social inclusion? In England, studies show they are indeed: when asked what they value about their club, English supporters do not stress their success on the field, nor the value of the club’s shares, or whether it was in profit or not, but their importance within their family, social and community life. Similar views were expressed almost uniformly by clubs’ chief executives, staff and local residents and businesses, everybody emphasising the social function of a football club. I would not think the result would be much different in Brazil.

Still, one should not forget that competition is in the heart of sports. And here is where the major barrier to football’s ability to be a force for good – in England, in Brazil, in any part of the world – becomes evident: the financial strains most clubs face, primarily due to the pressure of putting a competitive team out.

Must one chose between financial optimization/competiveness and social inclusion? Perhaps yes, in the realm of immediacy. However, we should look further.

I few weeks back I visited Vienna, and the Vienna Opera House. Opting for a ballet performance, I was not surprised to find tickets almost sold out, with the few remaining going at €160-180 apiece. Then a word, on a sign a bit further away, caught my attention. “Stehplatz”. Standing space. Something more and more common in sports arenas across Europe, and at one point also discussed as an option for the Allianz Parque. To my surprise, the Vienna Opera House seats more than 1.700 persons, but in addition has the capacity to cater for close to 600 standing spectators. Most of the stehplatz tickets are released only a couple of hours before the performance, on a first come first served basis. Ticket price? €4!

Here we have a prime establishment, which certainly could be making a lot more money by filling the space up with chairs, offering tickets at €4 apiece. Talk about social inclusion.
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Stehplatz rows in the foreground, Vienna Opera House

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The Vienna Opera House might be losing money in the ticket box, but they are also getting good PR through the people now able to attend something they otherwise never would. From tourists, crashing in at the last minutes, being amazed by the performance, sharing pictures on social media, contributing to the fame and hype. Social inclusion, the “doing good”, is likely to bring financial revenue to the Opera House in the long term.

I can easily see this applied to the Allianz Parque. The creation of a popular section – and why not through the Stehplatz concept, getting rid of those gaping holes through easy-to-assemble, removable standing grids – where the less fortunate, and tourists, or anyone really, can either buy in advance or cue up on the day to have the true Familia Palmeiras experience.

After all, if we are family, we must care for one another. Strengthening Palmeiras and the “Palmeiras brand” in the process.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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After beating Corinthians 2-0 at the Itaquera, Palmeiras went on to secure another three points against Coritiba at home. Naturally, Palmeiras remain in the lead, as has been the case in 18 out of the 27 rounds so far played. The 28th round got underway yesterday, and as Flamengo only drew with São Paulo, Palmeiras are guaranteed the top spot regardless of tomorrow Monday’s result against Santa Cruz, away. No games are being played in Brazil today, Sunday, due to the municipal elections.
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19 rounds in the lead. A strong and numerous squad, giving coach Cuca many options. Nevertheless, it seems as runner-up Flamengo is the team to beat. The press cannot get enough of the “smells like the seventh title” slogan Flamengo supporters recently adopted to describe the team’s campaign.

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Observer turned protagonist?

Press describing supporter’s enthusiasm is one thing. Having to put up with certain journalists’ biased opinions is something very different. The illness is spreading like wildfire in Brazilian sports coverage, where infotainment and controversy is the name of the game. It has reached a point where ESPN expert commentator Mauro Cezar Pereira, week after week, tells his audience why Palmeiras are limited and vulnerable – using statistics that he does not apply to other teams, and certainly not the one close to his heart – before last week actually placing a phone call (!) to the Palmeiras coach, laying out what kind of play he would expect from a team of Palmeiras’ calibre.

In addition we have the constant flood of rumours and negative headlines. “Cuca set for China in 2017”. “Rafael Marques and Cuca cause split in squad after locker room argument”. “Palmeiras seek to avoid 2009 campaign, when a championship title already in the bag turned to dust in the last 10 rounds”. “Palmeiras players don’t score with their left foot”. At least, there are some sports journalists openly questioning what the heck is going on, indicating a slight crack in the normally solid corporativism.   

The icing on the cake is called STJD – the Supreme Tribunal of Sports. As you already read here, Palmeiras were heavily punished after ultras clashed in an away game against Flamengo in Brasilia earlier this year: five home games with the North Sector empty and five away games without any ticket rights – the idea here clearly depriving the club of its most powerful ally, it’s supporters. What is the STJD’s ruling after Corinthians ultras fight with the police during the recent derby at the Itaquera? Just a small fine for our rivals.

A few weeks back, during Palmeiras vs. Flamengo at the Allianz Parque, the visiting club’s directors watched the game from a designated box. This setup has never before been the root of any problems, but this time insults flew between supporters below and the visitors, and apparently also some ice cubes. There are plenty of footage showing the visitors laughing and provoking the Palmeiras supporters. After the game, Flamengo filed a complaint with the STJD, seeking a punishment for Palmeiras due to “the clubs inability to provide safety and well-being”, or something along those lines. Do not be surprised if this farce generates another punishment. Palmeiras against all and everyone, as always.

— ooo —

The first leg of the Brazil Cup quarterfinals took place this week, with the following results:

Grêmio 2-1 Palmeiras
Atlético Mineiro 1-0 Juventude
Santos 2-1 Internacional
Corinthians 2-1 Cruzeiro

Due to the away goal, a penalty converted by Zé Roberto after Gabriel Jesus having been clipped inside the box, Palmeiras are very much alive in the competition. The second leg is scheduled for Wednesday 19 October.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Palmeiras came out victorious from the derby, beating Corinthians with the one brace from Cleiton Xavier. By decision of the local authorities, only home team supporters were allowed tickets and the attendance record was broken as almost 40.000 palmeirenses filled up the seats.

carryingYou remember the father, in Brasilia, who in tears carried his disabled son out of a pepper spray-filled Mané Garrincha stadium? In a joint effort by supporters and Palmeiras, he was quickly identified and Palmeiras invited his whole family to São Paulo to attend a training session, meet the players and later attend the derby at the Allianz Parque. No way of mistaking the joy on young Kaylon’s face. I strongly recommend the video below. Congratulations to everyone involved!
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What concerns the judicial aftermath of the Brasilia incident, it turned into a joke, as expected. Palmeiras have no relationship whatsoever with the organised supporter groups. It was Flamengo’s home game, Flamengo were responsible for security at the stadium. The Supreme Tribunal of Sports, the STJD, based in Rio de Janeiro, fined Flamengo R$ 50.000 and further penalised the club with one home game at least 100 kilometres from Rio de Janeiro (where all Flamengo’s home games currently are played anyway, due to the Maracanã being reserved for the Olympic Games). Palmeiras were fined R$ 80.000 and forced to play a home game before empty stands: considering the habitual massive turnout at the Allianz Parque, this equals a fine of R$ 1 million or more. I will not repeat my views on the STJD.

In the middle of the week, Palmeiras played Coritiba, away. Palmeiras dominated from start to finish and were comfortably leading 1-2 when some of “our” organised supporters decided to light flares as the game entered injury time. The referee stopped the game, according to standard procedure in Brazil, and the break lasted for a few minutes, which was enough for Coritiba to regain their posture for a last charge. Our players were not alert and Palmeiras suffered the equaliser. Extremely frustrating. Those two points could prove crucial. And, of course, Palmeiras are likely to face the STJD again.
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Ahead of yesterday’s home game against Santa Cruz, large banners were printed with appeals to supporters to behave. “Please don’t light flares, please don’t fight or destroy the stadium, please help Palmeiras identify wrongdoers”. Palmeiras put on another convincing performance, wearing the new white second uniform and beating Santa Cruz 3-1, this time without having to deal with friendly fire. Let us keep it this way: it is hard enough with just the competition and the disastrous refereeing.
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After nine rounds, Palmeiras stand at 19 points, awaiting the result from Internacional’s away game (Figueirense) later today to learn which of the two enter next week as leader. On Tuesday, América Mineiro await at the Allianz Parque, then Cruzeiro away on the Saturday: both these opponents are currently in the bottom four, so Palmeiras have a realistic chance of walking away with the six points.

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What a glorious sight, the Mané Garrincha stadium in Brasília yesterday. Long but mostly orderly cues outside, friendly and relaxed atmosphere inside. 55.000 supporters (yes, fifty five thousand) sat together, flamenguistas and palmeirenses, in surprisingly even numbers, watching a good game of football. 1-1 in halftime after two early goals, and everything was fine.

Then the usual suspects hijacked the scene, the few but furious. I do not know which side started it, and frankly, I do not care. What I do know is that all of us, orderly spectators, heard a few chock grenades go off on the superior level and then, within minutes, felt the sharpness of teargas invading the stands, provoking cough and sullen eyes. The gas reached all the way to the pitch, where the referee delayed kick-off by some 10 minutes in order to let the air clear, while police were busy keeping organised supporter groups from both teams at bay.

The teargas especially frightened the many children present and some parents opted for leaving. Among these, friends of mine from Sweden, who were there with their three kids. I feel sad for them, I feel ashamed. They were there because I had told them it would be a beautiful day, a beautiful game, and that they would be initiating their ritual of becoming palmeirenses. Rest assured they will think twice before returning to a Brazilian football match.

There are images of this father, in tears, carrying his disabled son away from the game, away from the stadium…

I feel sad. Ashamed. And very angry. Angry at selfish individuals who completely disregard others while in search for their own kicks, driven by a twisted logic of “love”, “devotion” and “defending their club”. Angry at authorities unable to arrest and put these criminals away. Angry at clubs who at best are passive, but more often than not nurture these vandals with tickets, transport and other treats in exchange for political support (not the case at Palmeiras, where president Paulo Nobre has taken an inflexible stance against organised supporter groups and will pay the price for as long as he live).

We have seen it all before. The troublemakers will be fine. The authorities will cry “this is an outrage” and solve [sic] the problem by prohibiting supporters of the visiting team to enter the stadiums. And the Brazilian Supreme Tribunal for Sports – the infamous STJD – will arbitrarily hand out punishments for the clubs involved. Never mind Palmeiras were the visiting team, never mind security at the Mané Garrincha were the responsibility of Flamengo and the police: just watch how Palmeiras will be stripped of their home games or their supporters, being forced to play before empty stands. You see, the STJD are not only arbitrary, but also biased.

Fabrício made his debut for Palmeiras as left-defender. Forward Luan made his re-entrance, for good or for worse. Gabriel Jesus was lethal and once again showed why it is only a matter of time before he is called up for the National squad. Cuca again showed he is not afraid to mix and match, try creative solutions and give every man a chance to prove his worth. Even with a dreadful referee doing his best to thwart it all, the victory saw Palmeiras jump one position in the tables and considerably close the gap to the top. All this and so much more, overshadowed by yesterday’s havoc.
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Meanwhile, Cuca and the men must refocus on Sunday’s derby against Corinthians. Following up the victories against Grêmio and Flamengo with another three points would definitely put Palmeiras in the driver’s seat in the race for the title.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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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.
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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.

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Thursday’s convincing victory was perfectly timed. Just as perfectly untimed as yesterday’s defeat to Ferroviária. A disastrous way to kick off a sequel of four home games, including two crucial Libertadores Cup bouts.

Ferroviária once more showed why they are the positive surprise of this year’s Paulistão: very tactically obedient, in offense but particularly in defence, the team led by only 33-year-old Portuguese coach Sérgio Vieira (who has been three months with Ferroviária) was exemplarily compacted on the pitch, leaving little space for Palmeiras on the midfield. Palmeiras on the other hand were spread all over the place, making possession and passing difficult, just like in recent games. Dudu, Gabriel Jesus, and Robinho: a few individual attempts and that was it. Ferroviária certainly deserved a draw, but in the end managed to sneak away with the three points. Well done.
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For Marcelo Oliveira, it’s back to square one. Difference is, no one seems to have any patience left. Yesterday, players were seen cursing each other on the pitch. Dudu commented, “Palmeiras are losing because Ferroviária are very well trained”. Morale is clearly deteriorating, frustration taking its place. And perhaps not only frustration.  

Palmeiras have reached a point where lines are increasingly blurred. Does coach Oliveira, who has been working the squad for close to nine months now, see where the problems lie? Is he coming up with solutions? Are these implemented at training (some say they are, other say they aren’t)? Does the squad assimilate the training? If yes, why are we seeing only modest to no improvement during games? Since arriving at Palmeiras, Marcelo Oliveira has brought home 51% of disputed points – hardly a record to be proud of.

In Brazil, a coach goes from enjoying the unrestricted confidence of a club’s directors to ostracism in a couple of weeks. Defeat against Rosario Central on Thursday, and rest assured Marcelo Oliveira walks the plank. The Brazilian “solution” to a lifelong problem of the analysis stopping at “this ain’t working very well”, with the “why’s that so?” never properly addressed. No wonder a study carried out in March of 2015 by Mexican journal El Economico found that, in a ranking of football clubs that most times had swapped coaches between 2002 and 2014, the first six positions were occupied by Brazilian clubs: Fluminense (41), Náutico (39), Flamengo (38), Vitória (37), Atlético Paranaense (35) and Sport (33). Palmeiras would be much further down on the list (I haven’t done the math), but still… And mind you, these numbers are almost a year old by now.

The Allianz Parque will be full on Thursday. Hopefully to cheer our men on from start to finish and the night ending with Palmeiras securing three points. No matter what, winning games is never questionable. At least not in my book.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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