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Seems we’ve gotten our Palmeiras back. After a few bleak performances and oscillations, yesterday’s game against Internacional confirmed what we saw in the second half against Fluminense and again against Grêmio: good, offensive football. This time, with the additional bonus of having Dudu, on fire, back in the starting eleven (his six-game ban does not apply to the Brazil Cup). The vivacity and virility that was lost have been found.

Palmeiras have not beaten Internacional at the Beira-Rio stadium since 1997. Unfortunately the taboo remains. Still, there’s something different to it when Colorado coach Argel celebrates a home draw with the words “we played Brazil’s currently best team”. Yesterday, the victory was only details away – like Barrios’ badly executed penalty or Jesus Gabriel’s double-wood finish. The Inter keeper, Alisson, was spectacular. No wonder Brazil national coach Dunga has locked his sights on him.
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The result forces Internacional to score at the Allianz Parque next Wednesday, when the second leg is played: a goalless draw and Palmeiras are through to the semifinals.

But before anything else, it’s back in São Paulo and the Morumbi, where SPFC await on Sunday afternoon for the 28th round of the Brazilian championship. There’s a neat little taboo involved in Sunday’s derby as well: not since 2002 have Palmeiras beaten SPFC at the Morumbi stadium. Last time it happened, a certain Alex scored a certain goal…
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If image does not appear, click the square.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Last Saturday, on 28 March, Palmeiras paid homage to one of club’s biggest idols in recent times: Alexsandro de Souza. Alex for short. A game was played at the Allianz Parque between the “Friends of Alex” squad against the “Palmeiras Libertadores 1999” squad. So much history bundled together it makes you breathless.
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Alex was instrumental in securing the Brazil Cup and the Mercosur Cup in 1998, and the Libertadores Cup in 1999.

Alex was instrumental in turning this recently arrived Swede into a palmeirense.  

At Palmeiras, Alex played a total of 241 games, scoring 78 times and giving 56 assists.

Certainly other players from the last two decades were as big or bigger playing for Palmeiras, but there is something special with this playmaker, respected on and of the pitch like few others, and very well known also outside of Brazil due to his magnificent years at Turkish Fenerbahçe.  

No wonder there were many Turkish fans present at the Allianz Parque last Saturday. One of Alex’s most feverish followers is Harun Aydogan. Leaving the rest of the space for him and his own words. Enjoy.

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Hello,

This is Harun Aydogan, from Turkey. I am 22 years old and a university student in my country. I went to Brazil, as you guys know, because of Alex. He was our Captain for eight years. And he was the best ever seen in my country. He has a perfect personality: even after our team Fenerbahçe’s backward president Aziz Yıldırım kick him out of the club, he didn’t say a bad thing. And he never changes, Alex is such a kind person. We love Alex. We love our Captain. He deserves the best. I am so happy because I was able to meet him in Brazil and even, for the first time, see and talk to him, face to face. It made me so excited. I am totally sure that he one day is going to be the coach of Fenerbahçe!
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This is me with my captain, my idol, and our future coach Capitão Alex de Souza! Nós te amamos!

This is me with my captain, my idol, and our future coach Capitão Alex de Souza! Nós te amamos!

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As for Palmeiras and their fans, thank you so much! Especially the guys from Mancha Verde! They are exactly ultras, who really connect with the team 100% heart. By the way, I would love the watch a game with them and sing a song for Palmeiras and for Alex also! Thank you for everything, Brazilian people: you are so friendly, just like Turkish people! Thank you guys, I felt like home! I hope I can return to Brazil and watch a game at the Allianz Parque!

Obrigadão, Capitão Alex!
Obrigadão, Palmeiras!
Obrigadão, Mancha Verde!
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This is me some two years ago, back in Turkey, with my Palmeiras jersey! Look I made a heart for you guys! :))

This is me some two years ago, back in Turkey, with my Palmeiras jersey! Look I made a heart for you guys! :))

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mad hatter2.
It’s called a “chapéu” in Brazil, a “hat”: the art of flicking the ball over an opponent’s head in a manner that normally looks – and certainly feels – rather humiliating for the latter. Mention the chapéu to any Palmeiras supporter and he will most likely recollect Alex de Souza’s little masterpiece against SPFC in 2002 (below).
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Now, a chapéu can also be performed off the pitch, in any circumstance in life, denominating a surprising turn of events with an unexpected victory or achievement. Sunday morning, Palmeiras were the protagonist behind one of the most impacting chapéus in recent times, officially announcing the signing of forward Dudu.

Dudu_dynamoEduardo Perira Rodrigues – known as Dudu – is a 23-year-old forward who started his career at Cruzeiro before, still a teenager, transferring to Ukrainian side Dynamo Kiev. He has played two caps for Brazil, in addition to seven caps at U20 level. Last season he was back in Brazil, on loan to Grêmio, and everybody expected him to transfer to either SPFC or Corinthians this season, as both clubs radiated their optimism in closing the deal – Corinthians even semi-officially advertising him and including him on the list of players bound for the USA for a number of pre-season friendly games.

São Paulo FC or Corinthians, Corinthians of São Paulo FC? While the two battled it out, Palmeiras’ football manager Alexandro Mattos made a few calls and rapidly closed the deal. For 100% of Dudu’s federative and economic rights, Palmeiras will pay Dynamo approximately US$ 7 million in two instalments. The player’s salaries will match Valdivia’s: some US$ 130 per month.

Dudu is a quality player. Very fast, he likes to burst down the left flank, steal the ball, set up counter-attacks. Technically and tactically, for Palmeiras, is he worth the US$ 7 million and the high salary? Time will tell. One thing’s for sure: in terms of recovering the self esteem of palmeirenses, Dudu came cheap. The chapéu, actually the DOUBLE chapéu that Palmeiras pulled off, was a surgical operation bearing all the characteristics of Mattos: quick, convincing, efficient. Believe me when I say Palmeiras supporters were smiling from ear to ear all Sunday afternoon.

But Mattos is not resting on the trigger: today Palmeiras announced two more players, the tenth and eleventh, respectively:

Rafael_marquesRafael Marques: to be honest, there are only moderate expectations in regard to the arrival of the 31-year-old centre-forward, but as he comes on a loan until the end of the year, no harm done. It was actually coach Oswaldo who requested him, them both recently having worked together at Botafogo. Starting his career at Campinas, Rafael has been around quite a bit, playing predominantly at smaller clubs in the state of São Paulo, with a brief session in-between at Palmeiras in 2004. He later transferred to Turkey, where he played for two different clubs, before playing three seasons for Japanese Omiya Ardija. After that he had his 2012-2013 Botafogo spell, before another international transfer, this time to Chinese Henan Jianye. Enough?

robinhoRobinho: the so far most dragged out negotiations were finally concluded today as Coritiba accepted Palmeiras fourth offer, receiving the equivalent of US$ 900.000 for 50% of the 27-year-old playmaker’s economic rights. In addition to the money, Palmeiras lend Coritiba midfielder Mazinho (one year loan, salaries paid by Palmeiras) and two other players of Coritiba’s choice (out of a restricted list, of course, and these two also on loan with salaries paid by Palmeiras).

Robinho had a very good 2014 at Coritiba. He is well known for his precise passes, and comes with recommendations from master chapeleiro Alex de Souza himself (they played together at Coritiba): “here he played well, my friend. good player, helped out a lot here in the last years”, Alex messaged me on twitter. In the end, Robinho’s desire to play for Palmeiras was a determining factor in the negotiations.
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Fool if you think it’s over. Paulo Nobre has indicated there’s room for additional signing, and Mattos is on it. Already tomorrow, Palmeiras are expected to announce the signing of forward Jonathan Cafu, from Ponte Preta. Palmeiras are purchasing 25% of the 23-year-old’s economic rights, and rumours have it the contract has a duration of three years.

Negotiations are also well advanced with centre-back Victor Ramos, former Vitória and Vasco da Gama, currently at Mexican Monterrey.

aroucaIn addition, expectations are VERY high for a positive disclosure with 28-year-old defensive midfielder Arouca. Palmeiras and the player are in agreement and were conducting negotiations with Santos, but Santos started making tough demands, before suddenly announcing Arouca would either remain at Santos or transfer to a foreign club. Arouca finally had enough and last Friday filed a lawsuit against Santos, demanding a release from his contract due to a breach in regard to salaries: Santos owe Arouca and many other players in the squad three months of salaries – by law, enough for them to be released from their contracts. And in cases like these, the Brazilian justice system works fast and “always” in favour of the employee. Arouca should be free to sign a new contract by the end of the week. Great signing, if everything goes according to plan.

Finishing things off, a short note on forward Leandro, our number 38, who was out during the last month of the previous season due to pains in his left foot. During the pre-season, pains quickly returned and the solution was surgery. He should be leaving the hospital tomorrow but can only be expected back on the pitch within 2-3 months. Anything Palmeiras wishes Leandro a speedy recovery.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Yesterday the 2013 edition of the Brasileirão ended. Cruzeiro Esporte Clube, founded in the city of Belo Horizonte in 1921 as “Palestra Italia”, were crowned champions with 76 points – 11 points ahead of runners up Grêmio – compiling 23 victories, 7 draws and 8 defeats. Congratulations to Cruzeiro for a job well done throughout the season.

Third and fourth places were occupied by Atlético Paranaense and Botafogo respectively. The teams making up the quartet have not all guaranteed their spot in next year’s Libertadores Cup: in case Ponte Preta beat Argentine Lanus in the upcoming second leg of the South America Cup final (first leg at home 1-1), Ponte Preta grab a spot in next years’ Libertadores at the expense of Botafogo’s. Expect many a botafoguense, not least a certain Clarence Seedorf, turn hardcore argentines overnight.

2013-tabela_finalThe relegated four are Náutico, Ponte Preta (yes, the same), Vasco da Gama and Fluminense. Thus, two out of four major Rio de Janeiro clubs will play in the second division next year, with Fluminense being the first club in the history of Brazilian football to be relegated the year after becoming national champions. In 2014, the state of Santa Catarina will have more clubs in the first division than Rio de Janeiro: Criciúma, Chapecoense and Figueirese. A disastrous year for carioca football? Well, let’s not forget Flamengo’s Brazil Cup title. A likely 2014 scenario would thus be two traditional cariocas in the second division, with other two competing in the Libertadores Cup.

Sunday’s Atlético Paranaense vs. Vasco da Gama was interrupted for more than an hour as supporters of both teams clashed violently in the stands. Disgraceful scenes unfolded, while helicopters landed on the pitch to pick up injured for transportation to hospital. As always, what followed were calls for more police, more control inside and outside of stadiums, the banning of organised supporters, heavy fines for the clubs, having clubs play behind locked gates, the list goes on and on. In the end, the solution is there and is strikingly simple: apply the law. How? By identifying the perpetrators – and God knows there’s plenty of footage to facilitate the task – taking them to court and locking them up. Stop treating crimes committed inside and around Brazilian football stadiums as something special. Just apply the law.

With the end of the season, the transfer market goes berserk. As earlier mentioned, this year Palmeiras seem to be very actively scanning a broad range of possibilities both inside and outside of Brazil. And with the clearly not-so-good relationship between Coritiba midfielder Alex and club president Vilson de Andrade, there might be room for just a little bit of expectations.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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11 December 2012. Young and old, men, women and children: some 39.000 of them, all with their eyes fixed upon one man as he walks up onto the grass of the Pacaembu stadium. Applauses and cheers for one of the most respected players in the history of Brazilian football – Marcos Roberto Silveira Reis – the one and only “São Marcos”, or Marcos for short.

This is a farewell. This is a tribute. This is in commemoration of a tremendous athlete and a singular man. Tonight, the stellar Palmeiras squad of 1999 plays the Brazilian National squad of the 2002 World Cup: two squads where Marcos was the uncontested keeper. They have all gatherer to play in his honour. And palmeirenses from all over Brazil have made a pilgrimage to be here, at this moment.

IMG_1420The atmosphere is that of serenity, pride, a fair bit of melancholy but also of celebration. As the spectators slowly fill up the Pacaembu hours before kickoff – briefly stopping outside to admire the green floodlights and tributes to “the Saint” and the immortal #12 displayed on the facade of the stadium – they joyfully make use of balloons and mosaics while singing practically nonstop.

Each player is greeted by the crowds upon entering the pitch: the canarinhos of 2002 with specially invited guest consist of  Dida, Velloso, Cafu, Roberto Carlos, Júnior, Roque Júnior, Edmílson, Antônio Carlos, Belletti, IMG_1433Zé Roberto, Rivaldo, Djalminha, Juninho Paulista, Ricardinho, Denílson, Luizão, Ronaldo and Edílson, and are led by coach Luiz Felipe Scolari; then the Palmeiras squad of 1999 – also including a few guest stars, with São Marcos, Sérgio, Neném, Rubens Júnior, Tiago Silva, Cléber, Rivarola, Agnaldo Liz, Tonhão, César Sampaio, Dudu, Galeano, Pedrinho, Amaral, Alex, Ademir da Guia, Evair, Oséas, Paulo Nunes, Euller, Asprilla and Edmundo, under the command of César Maluco. Be present to watch these gentlemen play live is one heck of a rush!

Kickoff. The National Team have more possession and test Marcos with a few shots. 17 minutes into the game, Edmundo is fouled inside the penalty area. Marcos, who hasn’t scored a goal in his entire career, refuses to take it but the pressure from the stands are deafening and when the players cross the entire pitch to come and fetch him, he succumbs. As the ball hits the back of the net the roar knows no limit.

IMG_1428The game progresses in similar fashion, with Palmeiras mostly counterattacking – Alex showing great form on the midfield. And every time Marcos touches the ball, the crowd goes wild. Early in second half, Marcos give way to Sergio between the posts, as the former change gear and now turns into a forward, without much luck though: Marcos hardly touches the ball while the 2002 squad reduces after a header by Edílson and then equalises through Luizão.

When the clock strikes midnight – and the date changes to 12.12.12 – the centre headlights at the stadium go off. With Kleine’s guitar version of the Palmeiras hymn in the background, Marcos takes hold of the microphone and delivers his farewell speech, thanking everyone who have been there for him throughout his career. He finishes with the words
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Of you Palmeiras supporters I ask but one thing: never forget me. Because I will never forget you.

before jumping on a trolley that takes him on a lap of honour. This must be the best sending off of all times.
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Now, there’s no such thing as a perfect script… In Sweden we have this expression: “ränderna går aldrig ur“, a reference to the stripes of a zebra that are not only in the fur but actually mark the skin of the animal as well. No matter what you do, a zebra is a zebra. Or, if you prefer, a skunk is a skunk. And it apparently takes a gambá to try to humiliate Marcos at his own party by opting for a mid-pitch shot while our keeper – with his back to all other players – is returning to the goal after converting the penalty (Ronaldo). It takes a gambá to steal the ball from 71-year-old Palmeiras legend Ademir “the Divine” da Guia as everybody else is enjoying the sequence of passes designed with the intention of showing off the grand old master’s touch (Edílson).

Nothing of this matters in the end. The farewell was a splendid display of palestrinidade, of love and respect for a team and the man who made it his home for more than 20 years.

We salute you, São Marcos!
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Monday evening and I’m participating in the commemorations of the Turkish national day – a popular event among diplomats as the Turks are known for their hospitality and for serving good food in generous amounts in a beautiful setting. The military orchestra have just executed the Brazilian national anthem and the first notes of the Turkish anthem are filling the large Embassy reception area while I glance over to the Turkish ambassador on the opposite side. And directly to his left… Wait a minute. Who’s that, standing next to the ambassador? Could it really be?

As soon as the anthem finishes I move closer, getting the confirmation I seek as the man flashes an easily recognisable grin before edging toward an inner room followed by a camera crew. Alex, the former Fenerbahçe star, just back in Brazil after eight very good years in Turkey. Alex, who signed a two-year contract with Coritiba two weeks ago, frustrating cruzeirenses and palmeirenses alike.    

While Alex’s getting ready for an interview with the guys from SporTV, I introduce myself and we shake hands. I watch the interview, and then hang around while he does a second one, this time for Marcos Paulo Lima from the local newspaper Correio Braziliense. I try keeping one ear on the interview while maintaining a conversation with very pleasant Acaz Fellegger, Alex’s press adviser. The reporter touches upon the topic of Palmeiras and again, Alex confirms just how hard it is to play for Palmeiras and how much of the political struggles and the complicated management trickles down all the way and into the locker rooms, negatively influencing the squad. “If only half of what I read and hear about Palmeiras is true…” he says, highlighting an important factor that no doubt influenced his decision when looking into options upon returning to Brazil.

A little later, I have a few exclusive moments with Alex. We talk about his departure from Turkey and Turkish football. Although rather contained, Alex makes no secret of the fact that the sudden break and return to Brazil has been anything but easy – for him and for his family.

I proceed to congratulate him on his decision to return to his home town and sign with Coritiba. Still, I need to ask: you sure these are your last two years as a professional? The answer comes quickly: if I stay healthy and without injuries, who knows I might keep playing for a bit longer? Again, it becomes clear that his return to Coritiba at this time was not set in stone and that Palmeiras – had the club been able to offer stability and professionalism – possibly could have signed him, if only for a season.

With my wife and Acaz joining in on the conversation, the pleasant evening progresses as people every now and then approach Alex and ask for a picture. He attends every request promptly and always with a smile. When it’s time to leave, I wish him good luck in his continued career – except for when playing against Palmeiras – and he laughs. The ambassador comes by, there’s a last round of hearty handshakes and that’s that.

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In my mind, three things stand out from this encounter with Alex:

1) The man is hugely popular and much respected in Turkey. I mean, he’s flown in from Curitiba to the national day commemorations at the Embassy? I’ve never seen anything like that in my 14 years of diplomatic service in the Capital.

2) Alex is every bit as considerate and generous as I’d come to imagine from our previous but virtual contacts.

3) We could have had him. We could have had him.
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…at the hands of our directors! As soon as the game against Millonarios was over, president Tirone, vice-president Frizzo and legal director Piraci de Oliveira gave conflicting statements regarding Palmeiras’ next “home” game against Botafogo: one confirmed while another denied the game had been transferred from Saturday to Sunday. One claimed it would take place in Presidente Prudente, while another confirmed it in Araraquara. It took a day before the final verdict: Sunday, Araraquara.

Barcos – the bright shining star in Palmeiras’ squad – recently has been rewarded with opportunities to pull on the Argentine national jersey: something likely to happen again as the superclassico between Brazil and Argentina has been rescheduled for the 21 November at the Bombonera stadium in Buenos Aires. Barcos is a serious, hard-working professional, dedicated to his career and to Palmeiras. President Tirone should have thought twice before hinting that Palmeiras might contact the Argentine Football Federation requesting that Barcos stays in Brazil for the remainder of the Brasileirão. When a player is having his break of a lifetime, his shot at stardom, you can’t do that. And Barcos promptly let the word out that he wouldn’t consider giving up his chance of playing for Argentina. Hopefully, no major damage done. But again Palmeiras generating their own little tornados.  

More from president Tirone: yesterday it was announced that Rodrigo Geammal is the new manager of marketing at Palmeiras: for how long and at what price has not been revealed. I know nothing about Geammal and his skills, but apparently he’s been in the sports’ marketing business for approximately ten years. That Palmeiras needs professionals in the area is a well-known fact, but that doesn’t make the timing of the closure of the deal any less awkward. Tirone has a little more than two months left of his mandate as president.

Thursday was crowned by vice-president Frizzo’s absence from the São Paulo Football Federation’s meeting held to define the regulations for next year’s edition of the State Championships. 20 chairs with 19 representatives from competing teams. And then the one, empty seat. Frizzo, called up by a journalist, first seemed puzzled then asked if the meeting was already over. He proceeded with claiming it wasn’t that important, then recalled he hadn’t seen the invitation but believed the meeting was in fact scheduled for this week.

Can you believe all this took place in less than 48 hours?

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Last week Alex, the former Fenerbahçe star with glorious periods at Palmeiras and Cruzeiro, announced that he will sign a two-year contract with Coritiba – the club of his heart that raised him as a professional and to which he had promised to return to end his career. I believe there was little Palmeiras (or any other club for that matter) could have done to have him change his mind, perhaps tempting him into signing a one-year contract before ending his splendid career at Coritiba. But one cannot help but wonder how things could have played out if Palmeiras were in the top half of the tables and had good directors. Heck, not even good but average would suffice. Perhaps even lower than average… Anything but today’s.

Anyway: no doubt Alex made the right choice. He also kept his word, which is something rarely seen these days – particularly in the world of football and big money. It will be joyful to watch him up close again, although in the “wrong” jersey. Good luck, Alex!

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