Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

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!

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.

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.

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.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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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.

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.
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!

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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.

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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Santos’ coach Dorival Junior was pleased after Saturday’s classic against Palmeiras at the Allianz Parque. “This was the team’s best performance this year, no doubt” he declared, adding that only Palmeiras keeper Prass had stood between Santos and the three points.

Fernando Prass did indeed have a splendid night, but the game wasn’t all that that Dorival saw, neither was Santos particularly superior: both teams created chances, as Marcelo Oliveira again tried something new, this time with Matheus Sales starting instead of Arouca. Using three more defence-oriented midfielders, as also against River Plate, might be an interesting option. Highlights below.

Dorival has been at Santos since July 2015. His current squad is at large the same that lost the Brazil Cup final to Palmeiras. So far in 2016, Santos have played 5 games, computing 2 wins and 3 draws – 60% of possible points won.

In the last five years, Dorival has bagged one title: the Rio Grande do Sul state championship (the Gauchão), with Internacional.

Marcelo Oliveira has been at Palmeiras roughly the same time as Dorival at Santos, arriving in June of last year. He also works a similar squad as last year, although now with more options: six new players have arrived and most of these can enter a starting eleven. So far in 2016, Palmeiras compute six games, being 1 victory, 4 draws and 1 defeat: 39%.

In the last five years, Marcelo has won 3 state titles (the 2011-2012 Paranaense Championships with Coritiba and the 2014 Mineiro Championship with Cruzeiro) and 3 national titles (the 2013-2014 Brazilian Championships with Cruzeiro and the 2015 Brazil Cup with Palmeiras).

Palmeiras have played 4 games in the last 10 days. I repeat: 4 games in 10 days. The ignorant would say “well, that’s plenty of opportunities to get things right”. I refuse to comment.

Palmeiras have a good squad. In addition to Brazil’s currently most merited coach (might want to throw Tite in there as well). Naturally, expectations are high and Palmeiras are not meeting them. Not yet. I believe everything will suddenly fall into place, and in a manner that will surprise us all. Patience.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Palmeiras, together with financial institute Crefisa and the Faculdade das Américas (FAM) today announced they are renewing their partnership for one more year. This was expected. After all, the owner of Crefisa and FAM, José Roberto Lamacchia, and his wife/director/president Leila Pereira have never hidden they are palmeirenses, dreaming of seeing Palmeiras a champion with their brand logos on the uniform. That dream came true a little more than a month ago, with the 2015 Brazil Cup title.

While the renewal was expected, the numbers were not. Palmeiras are landing nothing short of the largest uniform sponsorship in the history of Brazilian football. Crefisa and FAM are, together, scooping up every available space on the garments, pushing out Prevent Senior and TIM in the process: R$ 58 million for the jersey and R$ 8 million for shorts and socks, totalling R$ 66 million (US$ 16 million).
Absolutely brilliant, of course. But looking at the pictures, I keep wondering if it hadn’t been wiser of Crefisa/FAM to reign supreme not by covering up every single square centimetre of fabric they are entitled to, but rather on the contrary, by keeping the jersey uniquely clean.

The current layout guarantees the logos are exposed at whatever angle, close cropped or far. Maximisation, in the most rudimentary understanding of the concept. But sometimes, or rather often, less is more. And as humans, we are prone to take in what pleases the eye. This is no less true for sports jerseys, where supporters will treasure brand logos that become one with the jersey and that harmonises in style, colour and positioning. Logos that becomes part of the identity of the team for a certain era, of certain trophies and glories.

Certainly studies have been made, expensive consulting firms have given advice. Nevertheless, my gut feeling – and I know I’m not the only one – is for Crefisa/FAM to reconsider their “occupy every space” approach for a clean and stylish look. A look that will please the eye of the beholder. Evoke positive feelings among the millions of Palmeiras supporters who acknowledgedly go out and buy heaps of jerseys. Now THAT is visibility, merchandising, money well spent.

Speaking of money: supporters of rival clubs are everywhere on social media, questioning Palmeiras’ signings and where “all that money” is coming from. The math is simple: R$ 66 million for the uniform, R$ 19 million from Adidas, R$ 45 million from the Avanti supporter programme (2015 figures), R$ 50 million from ticketing (idem), R$ 137 million in TV rights. That’s R$ 317 million (USD 77 million) right there.

Palmeiras have been doing the right thing – financially speaking – ever since Paulo Nobre assumed control in 2013. After years of hardship, Palmeiras are today one fat, happy pig. Albeit a bit patched.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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In the world of sports, and exponentially so in football, the lack of guarantees is both exciting and horrifying. You can do most things wrong, and still be champion. Or do everything right, and reap absolutely nothing.

Palmeiras president Paulo Nobre had everything hanging by the thinnest of threads by the end of 2014, but relegation was avoided in the last round, allowing Palmeiras to regroup aggressively for the 2015 season – now with finances in order and sound management routines in place.

Nobre signed whiz-kid club football manager Alexandre Mattos from Cruzeiro, then midseason brought in same club’s 2013-2014 champion coach Marcelo Oliveira. A whopping 25 players arrived and 21 left ahead of and during the 2015 season: nothing short of a complete overhaul. It was necessary, but naturally brought difficulties – difficulties that, combined with a few, surgically unfortunate injuries, left Palmeiras oscillating violently throughout the season, finishing a modest 9th in the Brazilian championship.

While the extensive Brasileirão is unforgiving, the Brazil Cup is a different story: Palmeiras’ squad possessed sufficient quality and determination to overcome the obstacles, showing brilliance in short bursts against traditional teams – and particularly against local rivals – in addition to bagging the club’s third Brazil Cup title in a more than satisfying display against runner-up Santos.
A splendid result, the cup title. Possible only because Palmeiras did most things right in 2015. And also because stars and planets lined up in order for unlikely Andrei Girotto score the winner against Internacional in the quarter-finals; for Fernando Prass to shine against Fluminense in the semi-finals; for Santos forward Nilson to miss an open goal in the dying moments of the first leg of the finals, allowing palmeirenses all over the globe to confidently declare that that was Santos’ shot at the title, wasted right there. Hanging by the thinnest of threads on several occasions, it held together all the way to the spectacular finish, crowning Palmeiras’ year with a title and a ticket to next year’s Libertadores Cup.

It’s the title, and the spot in the continental tournament, which allows Nobre and Mattos to again aggressively regroup. Aggressively, not as in large quantities of signing: Palmeiras already have a solid base. Aggressively, as in being the club of choice for many players and having the means to make financially interesting offers to match. Mattos wants the squad defined preferably by 6 January, having already made interesting signings:

Erik: forward, 21 years old, elected Brazilian Revelation of the Year in 2014. Coveted by many teams, Palmeiras drew the longest straw, signing a five-year contract paying approximately US$ 3.25 million for 60% of the player’s federative rights; an amount allegedly corresponding to São Paulo FC’s total acquisition budget in 2016.

Régis: the 23-year-old offensive midfielder made quite a splash at Sport during 2015, attracting attention from a number of clubs – most notably Santos – but surprise-signed a one-year loan contract with Palmeiras, which includes an option to buy. Fulfilling a family dream by joining the Verdão, he claims, radiating like the sun.

Edu Dracena: experienced centre-back, 34 years old, having played for Guarani, Cruzeiro, Santos, Olympiacos, Fenerbahçe and, most lately, Corinthians. His CV includes six state championship titles, two Brazilian championship titles, two Brazil Cup titles, one Libertadores Cup title, one Recopa Sul-Americana title, one Turkish championship title and one Turkish Cup title. On a 2-year contract, he is expected to take a place in the starting eleven alongside Vítor Hugo

Moisés: multi-functional midfielder, 27-years-old, Croatian champion with Rijeka. Two-year contract, with an option to extend for an additional two years. Has previously played for América-MG, Sport, Boa Esporte and Portuguesa. Mattos knows this guy from his time at América Mineiro.

Vagner: 26-year-old keeper, defended Avaí in 2015. Has been on Palmeiras’ radar since 2014, when he became Paulista champion with Ituano, eliminating Palmeiras in the semi-finals and beating Santos in the finals. Vagner replaces Aranha as Prass’ shadow.

Roger Carvalho: the 29-year-old centre-back played for Botafogo in their 2015 second division spell. Experienced, Carvalho has previously defended Figueirense, São Paulo and Vitória, in addition to clubs in Italy and Portugal. One-year loan with buying option.

Rodrigo: defensive midfielder, 21, originated at Goiás. Two-year loan, with option to buy. Should be considered a value bet.

Most would agree: what is missing is a traditional #10, someone to conduct the midfield. The spot has been vacant ever since Valdivia left (frankly, it was mostly vacant even while he was part of the squad) and Palmeiras are all set with Jean of Fluminense, but things have cooled down a bit due to the carioca club’s inflexibility. I believe the transfer still has good chances to occur. If not, Palmeiras are working a plan B: Rithely, from Sport.

In addition, Palmeiras are negotiating the stay of centre-back Jackson and midfielder Rafael Marques, but price tags coming from Internacional and Chinese Henan Jianye are complicating factors. My feeling is we might see Rafa go but are able to hang on to Jackson.

Confirmed exits include midfielder Renato, centre-back Victor Ramos, keepers Aranha and Bruno, left-defender João Paulo, and defensive midfielder Andrei Girotto. Other lesser known player who see their contracts expire by midnight include Julen, Emerson, Edilson, Chico and Ramos. Mouche and Allione have requested transfers – the former likely heading for Mexico, the latter dreaming of a return to Argentina. Others unlikely to remain in the 2016 squad include Kelvin, João Pedro, Nathan, Amaral, Leandro Almeida, Fellype Gabriel and Alecsandro. Youngsters João Pedro and Nathan will most likely spend a year or two at other clubs, before a possible return to Palmeiras.
2015 was turbulent. But splendid. The Avanti supporter membership programme and the brand new Allianz Parque brought revenues never before seen at Palmeiras. Combined with Nobre’s sound financial management, no club is better prepared for 2016. The squad needs adjustments, but as we can see, Mattos is taking care of this in his ordinary fashion: silently and efficiently.

In my 2014 retrospect, I wrote: “What can we hope for in 2015? Three things: a) That Palmeiras, now with 90% of the year’s revenues available, make assembling the strongest possible squad a priority. b) That Paulo Nobre not only learns to listen more, but flatly keeps his hands off the football department, delegating as much as possible to the new CEO Alexandre Mattos. c) That palmeirenses turn the Allianz Parque into the cauldron it has the capacity to be, over and over again.”

With all hopes for 2015 turned into reality, we see that Palmeiras, in every aspect, enter 2016 in a leading role.

To all readers of Anything Palmeiras: thank you for your support and company throughout 2015.


/ Kristian Bengtson

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