Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

Coach Scolari took us through the emotions a few years back. Love and hate. Glory and shame. The unlikely combo comprised of the Brazil Cup trophy with a Brasileirão relegation.

It’s not quite the same this year. For good and for bad, Marcelo Oliveira has not the ability to stir the blood of palmeirenses like Scolari. And Palmeiras suffer no risk of relegation. Now, had the championship been another 5-6 rounds…

Today’s 0-2 against Coritiba was as depressing as ever, Palmeiras using nothing from the starting eleven except right-back Lucas, suspended from the last match in the Brazil Cup. Coritiba on the other hand threw in everything they had and through the three points  very close to secured their spot in the first division next year.  The 15.000 strong crowd at the Allianz Parque endured the rain and the poor football, showing loyalty beyond belief, collectively aware of the only thing that matters: the 90 minutes coming Wednesday against Santos.

Palmeiras need revert the 1-0 defeat from the first leg at the Vila Belmiro. And work around the biased refereeing. It’s curious the clear penalty on Barrios, denied by the referee, didn’t even make this otherwise excellent compilation below. But this is how it has always been and how it must always be in order for it to be Palmeiras, against all and everything. 

True, Palmeiras played badly against Santos. And true, the scorecard could have been much more in Santos’ favour at the blow of the final whistle. But it is what it is. And just like in 2012 – against all odds – Palmeiras on Wednesday lift the Brazil Cup trophy. For the third time in history.

Do not ask me to explain how. I do not even care how.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Just like cholesterol, there’s good and bad predictability. We want our rule of law to be predictable, as well as our bureaucrats. Our collective transport. Our investments.

We don’t want our Saturday nights to be that predictable, neither our love life. And we don’t want to be predictable when we face an opponent. Although we want to be predictably good.

Palmeiras are not predictable as in “easy to read”. But neither are Palmeiras predictably good. Actually, on the contrary: it has never been harder to predict which Palmeiras will come on the pitch. And we’re not talking names and positions, but performance: to some extent individually but in particular collectively.

After the humiliating 5-1 defeat against Chapecoense, Palmeiras had ten days exclusively for rest and training. Result: 0-1 at home against Ponte Preta. True, the team from Campinas are on a roll, with five victories in the last six rounds, but Palmeiras also played very poorly, showing no progress at all. Last Saturday against Avaí, coach Marcelo Oliveira’s response: a starting eleven with João Pedro, Leandro Almeida, and Argentine trio Allione, Mouche and Cristaldo. Almeida was just as horrible as always, but the rest shouldered the responsibility, leading Palmeiras to a no-thrills albeit very important 1-3 victory after goals by Gabriel Jesus, Cristaldo and Dudu. At the conclusion of the 31st round, with another seven to go, Palmeiras are in fifth with 48 points, very much alive in the battle for that fourth place and a Libertadores spot.

Now, the shorter route is also much more pleasant, as it entails a title: the Brazil Cup. Tomorrow, the first leg of the semi-final against Fluminense, at the Maracanã stadium. Palmeiras will… Who the hell knows? Gabriel Jesus says “with all respect for the opponent: we’re going for it”. Palmeiras have indeed played their absolute best against stiffer competition, against traditional teams. In this year’s edition of the Brazilian championship, Fluminense has only tasted defeat, Palmeiras winning 2-1 and 1-4. Would another victory be predictable?

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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The Brazilian Championship anno 2015 – one of the most exciting in many years – has been wrecked by the refereeing.

The statement above is not an opinion neither an accusation. It’s a fact. The many errors committed by referees round after round is having a direct impact on the championship and on the position of teams in the tables. Moreover, there is consensus that one team has benefitted more than any other from this sequence of errors: current leader Corinthians.

Perhaps it’s all about poor refereeing. Perhaps. Nevertheless, the only thing people talk about is the refereeing. And whether it’s “only” poor or if there is a hidden agenda.

In Brazil, it’s common knowledge that the road is slightly better paved for a few: Flamengo, Fluminense, Corinthians… The treatment these receive in the rulings of the Supreme Tribunal of Sports is just one of several indicators. The expressive investments Corinthians and Flamengo receive from the largest Brazilian TV network and the difference in airtime, another.

There are expressions in the context of Brazilian football – “a força da camisa”, “influência nos bastidores” – used without shame to point out the importance of working backstage in order to secure things go your way, or at least not against you. Including influencing the outcome of draws.

Of course you get suspicious. We live in a dishonest country – Atlético Mineiro coach Levir Culpi 

It’s hard to blame Levir Culpi. Especially when considering that Corinthians’ ambitious former president is part of the inner circle of the Brazilian Football Federation and also has political influence. Refresh your memory, if necessary, reading first about the Itaqueirão and then about the shameful (and luckily failed) attempt to cancel 90% of football club’s tax debts

Still, many are skeptical. Who would be coordinating this unlikely scheme, paying off the many referees and linesmen for it to come together? It’s easier to envision if you forget about the money. This is not match fixing for profit (not like in 2005, when that was actually the case and people ended up in jail). Think of it as a culture, where referees quickly learn that if they want to have a career, they better not get on certain team’s black list. Where a phone call from the head of the National Association for Referees on the night before an important game, wishing good luck, is like a shout through a megaphone.

So what is the sports journalists’ take on all this? They normally stay within three arguments: 1) the refereeing quality is bad, and has been for a while. 2) mistakes are committed all the time, but that evens out over time. 3) there could be foul play involved, but suggesting this without proof would be frivolous, and they have seen no proof. With that, they lean back and continue business as usual.

Seems like Brazilian sports journalists have collectively forgotten one of the fundamentally important pillars of good journalism: investigation. They are waiting for the police to arrest people, for the prosecutor’s office to press charges, for someone to invite them to a press conference and lay out evidence. If none of the above happens, they seem happy to conclude that everything is fine. 

I’m not saying there is foul play involved. I’m not saying there isn’t. I’m saying sports journalists have a goddamn obligation to initiate investigations of their own.

Investigation concluded, they could say “no, we found absolutely nothing”. Or they could say “yes, this championship is corrupt”. Either way, they would have done what is expected of serious journalists.

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Comes as no surprise to most of us that the highly regarded Brazilian Tribunal for Sports maintained its previous ruling, sentencing Palmeiras forward Dudu to a 180 days suspension for having pushed referee Guilherme Cereta after receiving the red card in the final of this year’s São Paulo championship against Santos.

Dudu’s behaviour was unacceptable, and I don’t consider the ruling absurd in itself. The absurdity lies is ignoring previous and recent trials where players have behaved in a similar fashion but received light sentences – the most obvious example being the three-game ban Petrus (Corinthians) received in September of 2014.
It’s not about defending the wrong, but defending equal treatment and predictability. Remember Barcos’ hand goal (more info here and here), disallowed after the judge indirectly used electronic aid to determine the outcome? How come Palmeiras always seem to be on the receiving end – be it when there are sudden calls to follow the law to the letter, or, as in the Barcos case, completely disregard the law?

Palmeiras have appealed and the Dudu case will now be brought before the Brazilian Superior Tribunal of Sports, the infamous STJD. Date yet to be set. Expect the worse.

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Dear Zlatan,

Allow me to call you by your first name, as we would in Sweden.

Before anything else, congratulations on your brilliant career. And thank you for flying Sweden’s colours so splendidly.

Zlatan, as soon as you pull on a club jersey, you win a league title. Seven clubs so far, league titles in the last six of them. Unbeatable timing, combined with skill and determination. I’d like to show you some new hunting grounds.

The Sociedade Esportiva Palmeiras – or just Palmeiras for short – is Brazil’s most successful football club, with more than 15 million passionate supporters. We’ve recently been through some rough times – including two relegations in the last decade – but the tide has finally changed: the squad is brand new and qualified; the club’s finances are in order; and our own stadium – the Allianz Parque, holding 43.000 spectators – was inaugurated only months ago and is Latin Americas most modern multipurpose arena.

Considering the above, no wonder Palmeiras’ supporter membership programme is the fastest growing in the world.

One of the few details missing to complete the picture is a one-of-a-kind forward. You would fit like a glove, Zlatan. Brazilians love a winner, a cocky and confident leader. You’d take not only Brazil by storm, but the whole of Latin America, as Palmeiras battle it out in future editions of the Copa Libertadores.

Now, don’t think it’ll be a walk in the park: the Brazilian league is one of the world’s toughest, with ten different clubs having lifted the trophy in the last two decades. The Libertadores Cup is also quite the nut to crack, sporting nine different champions in its last ten editions. Challenging.

Brazil, as a country, can also be challenging, even overwhelming at times. That would include the buzzing metropolis of São Paulo, which is an acquired taste. But then, in certain ways, so are you.

Language-wise you will be just fine: with your Italian and Spanish skills, you’ll pick up Portuguese in no time.

The Brazilian Championship kicks off this Saturday 9 May, Palmeiras receiving Atlético Mineiro at home. May I suggest you allow everything I have told you to linger somewhere in the back of your mind. Who knows, one day, you feel the urge to gravitate toward this part of the World. Personally, I can nothing but recommend it: I’ve been here for 18 years and counting.

By the way, has anyone told you green looks good on you?

Come rule the Americas with us.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

Kristian Bengtson, editor, Anything Palmeiras
* Illustration by Custódio Rosa

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Tonight against Ituano, in the last round of the group phase of the Paulistão, Valdivia is expected in the starting eleven.

Valdivia is a cracking midfielder, well above the rest in activity in Brazil. Problem is, as we all know, Valdivia’s activity frequency is well below the rest. This is the first time in four months he starts a game. He hasn’t bagged a brace in more than a year.

Beyond being a great player, Valdivia is charismatic, irreverent, cocky. The kind of player you love in your jersey and loath when in an opponent’s.
In all fairness, Valdivia has made the occasional sacrifice. Last year, he played the last three games injured. “Fundamentally important in saving Palmeiras from relegation” some argue, forgetting the many opportunities he blew to make a difference during the season, including a never explained mid-season trip to Disney after a failed transfer to an Arab team.

The way Valdivia sees it, he is a victim. A victim of unfortunate injuries. A victim of circumstances. Misunderstood and misread, Valdivia makes his point time after time – in interviews, on social media – letting us know through half-baked sentences and hints that we should be grateful for everything he has done for Palmeiras. When in fact, Valdivia has been doing nothing but his duty all these years. Correction: he has been doing less than his duty. Nevertheless, always receiving his hefty salary on time.

Valdivia undoubtedly brings very different qualities to the game when available. If he just stayed quiet, focusing on recovery, training and playing, the issue of renewing his contract would be nothing but a cost/benefit analysis. An additional factor would be his inclination or not to accept a contract with a heavy productivity component: much lower fixed salary but additional pay for performance.  

Thing is Valdivia doesn’t stay quiet. On the contrary. He constantly creates shockwaves, throwing his little grenades around, just as last weekend. In my opinion, his attitude tips the scale and is a deal breaker.

That being said, there is one strong argument for signing a new contract with the Chilean: reel him in so he can be sold as soon as a sucker shows up with the cash.

To be continued.

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Cut and paste from Thursday’s game post. “No reason for panic. Training, adjustments, time. We’re only at the very beginning of a long journey with these men.”

One thing is accepting this after suffering a loss to Ponte Preta, another completely after conceding the three points, at home, to arch rivals Corinthians. The stigma continues: in the last 14 clashes against any of the other three major São Paulo clubs, Palmeiras have won but one game: against SPFC in February last year. Painful.

Still, words that were valid after last Thursday’s defeat to Ponte are as valid today: Palmeiras have a squad, not yet a team. Yesterday, we saw a level game, with a fatality determining the outcome, as you can see from the match recap below.

We will have a few more weeks of up and downs before the squad meshes into a team. Mind you, two key players – Cleiton Xavier and Arouca – have not even debuted yet, and playmaker Valdivia is, as always, recovering from injury. Coach Oswaldo is getting to know his players and their characteristics. Newcomers will need space to prove their worth and get used to the patterns of their teammates. Others, like Maikon Leite, are short stacked: as a player returning to Palmeiras after some time abroad, he will either have to show considerable progress or expect infernal heat from (rightly so) impatient supporters. For Leite, time is running out, if it has not already.

— ooo —

The days anticipating the game, as well as the days now to follow, will be dominated by the once again obvious failure of Brazilian authorities to handle public security.

Three days before the derby, the public prosecutor’s office “recommended” the ban of Corinthians supporters at the Allianz Parque “due to security concerns”, threatening both Palmeiras and Corinthians with legal action if they disobeyed the recommendation. Corinthians threatened to withdraw from the match were their supporters not allowed to enter. The day before the game, the São Paulo Football Federation took a decision: the game would be played and with supporters from both teams.

Come match day, and the apparatus to separate the two organised supporter groups is considerable. Some minor incidents are reported. It could have stopped there, hadn’t it been for the trigger-happy, aggressive and malicious police force, randomly dispersing crowds of supporters – including families with children and retired persons, just hanging around or on their way to the stadium – using tear gas, shock grenades and rubber bullets. The policy clearly does not think derbies should be played at the Allianz Parque; the “right” amount of havoc reinforces this position.

Palmeiras must conduct a thorough investigation and take a firm stance, condemning the violence committed against the club’s most vital asset: its supporters. You want the Avanti supporter programme to grow? It will not, unless supporters feel they have someone looking after them, at least on their way to and inside the stadium. In this chaos called Brazil, that someone has to be the Sociedade Esportiva Palmeiras.

President Paulo Nobre, speak up!

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