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Palmeiras qualified to the Paulistão semi-finals like a breeze, beating Novorizontino 3-1 (away) and 3-0 (home). The team is evolving game by game, Eduardo Baptista clearly understanding the squad he has at hand and players feeling confident about their leader. And although it is still early, there are hints of something else, which we have not seen in a rather long time at Palmeiras: the drive to play well the full 90 minutes and transform a good performance into an excellent one. With Borja and Guerra adapting to their new team and country, Palmeiras look stronger than ever.

São Paulo FC are through, and so are Corinthians. Today Monday, Santos and Ponte Preta battle it out for the last spot. Next weekend sees the first leg of the semi-finals, but who takes on who will only be known after the final whistle tomorrow.

Not that Palmeiras waste any energy thinking about possible upcoming Paulistão opponents: focus is on Wednesday’s bout against Peñarol in the third round of the Libertadores Cup group stage. Jean has been recovering well after the foot injury and is likely to be found on the bench against the Uruguayans.

bieber_allianz_croppedEnd of March, the pitch at the Allianz Parque was completely removed. Three shows took place in the first week of April: two performances by Justin Bieber and one by Elton John. Then, last Friday, some 14.000 square meters of grass was taken from a farm in Tremembé and installed at the arena. The stadium manager promises that the pitch will be ready by Wednesday, thanks to machines imported from the United States and Europe, capable of cutting a thicker slice of grass: 4.5cm instead of 1cm. The thicker cut allows for not only grass and root, but also part of the rooted soil. In theory, three days should be enough to extend the grass rolls, the pitch being ready for play already on the fourth day.
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Compared to the conventional model, where the pitch needs 30-45 days to reach ideal conditions, this is a huge step forward, albeit expensive: each swap costs approximately R$ 300.000 (US$ 95.000), with the arena constructor foreseeing another four swaps during the year. Those Bieber shows are clearly very lucrative. Palmeiras and sponsors cannot complain either: there has been tremendous visibility and branding, as indicated by the picture featuring the Canadian megastar wearing our jersey. That said, Palmeiras forced out of their home grounds time after another is unacceptable and we need better harmonisation of schedules, combined with a permanent solution addressing pitch quality. On the latter, let’s see how far this thick cut technique takes us.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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On the 27 November, I had the privilege to be in São Paulo, and at the Allianz Parque, and on Avenida Paulista, enjoying every breath of Palmeiras’ 9th League title, with my wife by my side. The buzz surrounding the stadium; the Brazilian hymn, with lyrics exchanged for “my Palmeiras” from start to finish; Fernando Prass replacing Jaílson between the posts, moments before the final whistle; the euphoria on the streets as players and supporters celebrated. It’s all here: shaky, far from professional, but exactly how I experienced it.

I get the goosebumps every time. Hope you do to.
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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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Palmeiras’ gameplay excels in rapid transitions from defence to offense, but without suspended Gabriel Jesus and Róger Guedes, it did not work very well against Santos, although Dudu and Erik worked hard. None of them had a good night yesterday, in Dudu’s case partially explained by a rough challenge early in the game, the player visibly uncomfortable throughout the night, frequently massaging his hip.

The setup saw Barrios fairly isolated up front: he did what he could, but without teammates approaching, he renders little.

Nevertheless, Palmeiras got off to an excellent start, pressuring a nervous Santos and opening the scorecard at six minutes after a header by Colombian centre-back Yerry Mina: his first brace in his second game for Palmeiras. Palmeiras controlled the action until suffering a first blow as midfielder Moisés felt a sting from last week’s thigh injury and was taken off. Moisés is strong in both offence and defence, and no option on the bench could do both parts: Cleiton Xavier would be the offensive bet, while Arouca the more defensive (Thiago Santos also suspended; Matheus Sales, Jean and Tchê Tchê already on the pitch, Gabriel not called up for the game). This early in the game, and Palmeiras in control and in the lead, Cuca understandably opted for Arouca, even with the seasoned player only just out of the medical department.

The game levelled quickly, with few chances created in the first half. Just before halftime, the second blow: Mina carried off, in tears, with a muscle injury to his left thigh. Such a shame: the youngster had every expectation to be called up next week to join the Colombian Olympic squad and later this week we will learn the severity of his injury.

UPDATE: a muscular injury has been confirmed, Mina’s recovery time estimated at 6-8 weeks. Olympic aspirations unfortunately up in smoke.

The second half had Edu Dracena replacing Mina, Cuca with just the one substitution left and a team gradually losing control to Santos, who reached the equaliser through a deflected shot with ten minutes on the clock. Again, Cleiton Xavier could have been an option to regain control and creativity on the midfield, but Barrios was tired and Cuca opted for maintaining a reference attacker, swapping the Paraguayan for Leandro Pereira, who made his debut in his second spell at the club. Equally isolated, the substitution rendered little, except for a hail of criticism from the stands. No, Cuca did not experience one of his best nights either.
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Considering the troublesome context, the draw ended up being a rather good result for Palmeiras, the Verdão now sustaining a one-point lead to Corinthians.

There are 40.035 other reasons to celebrate: a new attendance record at the Allianz Parque. The expressive number also saw Palmeiras overtake Corinthians in the top of the average attendance ranking, with 31.854 against 31.011 for the skunks.

Now, focus is redirected toward Sunday’s difficult task. Palmeiras have not beaten Internacional at the Beira-Rio since 1997, but odds look better due to last week’s exit of coach Argel, this afternoon replaced with Paulo Roberto Falcão. This is the former defensive midfielder’s third spell as Inter coach and Falcão was reportedly not the club’s first choice (he has been unemployed since leaving Sport in April) but was offered the position after Abel Braga and Mano Menezes declined Inter’s offer. With Jesus, Guedes and Thiago Santos back in the squad, I believe we break that taboo on Sunday.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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wolvesA goalless draw yesterday against Oeste, and pressure is again on the rise. Coach Oliveira agrees that Palmeiras are not performing as expected. That’s rather obvious, but it’s still good that he acknowledges it, as acknowledging is the first step towards correcting. Not that we should be worried, not yet at least: in my book, Oliveira has plenty of credit. Nevertheless, the wolves have started moving about and this year, Oliveira has no excuse falling back on: the squad is basically last year’s with a few additions; he knows the players well; training conditions are top notch; salaries paid on time. He has to make it work.

Palmeiras’ focus now is on next Tuesday’s Libertadores debut, away, against River Plate of Uruguay. Hence, a mixed team is expected against Linense on Saturday. This will be the season’s first game at the Allianz Parque, and more than 15K tickets have been sold already. Midfielder Moisés is expected to make his debut, which is something to look forward to: he made a good impression participating in the pre-seasonal mini-tournament in Uruguay last month.

The Allianz Parque has been equipped with new grass. It’s actually the same sort of grass, but apparently with better roots and in a shape that permits easy swapping of patches, if needed. WTorre claims having invested R$ 1 million (US$ 250K) in getting the new pitch ready. Let’s hope this time it holds up – last year was a disgrace. We can’t have Palmeiras playing home games at other venues while the Allianz Parque grass recovers after a show.

Speaking of WTorre, our “partner” seems to be in trouble not only with Palmeiras, but also with all other partners and subcontractors in sight. Lagging payments, unexecuted services… There are plenty of lawsuits piling up against WTorre, all linked to the Allianz Parque and how it’s run.

Now Palmeiras’ official stores, part of the “Academia Store” franchising model, are doing very well, thank you very much. Currently with 23 establishments – all located in the state of São Paulo except for one unit, in the state of Paraná – the franchise recently celebrated three years of operations. Another 14 units are expected to open in 2016.

Anything Palmeiras was featured in two interviews recently, one in Portuguese and one in English. They turned out rather well, if you ask me. Below, the links, in case you’re interested.

Esporte Final (on the “Lance!” web portal) and BettingRunner.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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The Dudu novella has come to an end. Neither a two games’ suspension (like Corinthian’s Petrus received for a similar violation in late 2014), neither a 180-days ban like the Tribunal for Sports initially sentenced: Palmeiras recently reached an agreement with the Tribunal and a six-game ban was settled. Dudu, who had already served two games, was thus left out of yesterday’s game against Figueirense and will not see action in any of the upcoming three in the Brazilian championship: Fluminense (away), Grêmio (home) and  São Paulo (away). Dudu is however available for games in the Brazil Cup, as the ban only applies to the Brasileirão.

While Dudu is fit but unavailable, Cleiton Xavier is a different story: recovering from a thigh injury, he recently felt discomfort in one of his calves. No telling when he’ll be back on the pitch. Xavier, one of those expected to compensate for Valdivia’s exit, is unfortunately on his way to mimic the Chilean in less fortunate ways.

Fernando Prass is on another path. The most undisputed player in the starting eleven, our #1 recently made his way into the top 10 of keepers with most games in the Palmeiras jersey. Prass says he has basically accepted Palmeiras’ proposal for a renewal of his contract and if he keeps the pace up, he could perhaps give Gilmar a fight for seventh place. Below, the full list.

1) Leão: 618 games
2) Marcos: 532 games
3) Valdir de Morais: 481 games
4) Velloso: 455 games
5) Oberdan: 351 games
6) Sérgio: 334 games
7) Gilmar: 289 games
8) Primo: 175 games
9) Fernando Prass: 137 games (as of 13 September 2015)
10) Jurandyr: 133 games

As previously reported, the unparalleled Marcos, keeper with the second most appearances for Palmeiras, will see a bust uncovered in his honour at the Allianz Parque. The date has now been announced: 12 of December – considered by palmeirenses as the day of Saint Marcos. The list of players previously graced with a bust is restricted: Ademir da Guia, Waldemar Fiúme, Junqueira and Oberdan Catani.

Speaking of the Allianz Parque: Palmeiras’ next home game against Grêmio will not take place in our stadium, as on the same night, Saturday 19 September, there’s a Rod Stewart show on. The following Friday, Katy Perry gets the spotlights. Depending on the conditions of the pitch after the Perry gig, Palmeiras might be forced to play also the second leg of the Brazil Cup quarterfinals, against Internacional, at the Pacaembu.

There are five full days between Perry’s show and the game against Inter. Shouldn’t the technology used at the most modern arena in Latin America permit a full recovery of the grass in such a period of time? What say you, WTorre?  

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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It’s been a green week, with nothing but good news.

fellypeOffensive midfielder Fellype Gabriel finally pulled on the jersey, now legally a Palmeiras player and in condition to play for the club. Signed in May, the 29-year-old was awaiting legal matters to settle with his former club Al Sharjah, from the Emirates. Having trained with the Palmeiras squad for more than two months, Fellype hasn’t played a game in nearly a year due to a series of injuries sustained while at his former club; the most serious being one to his left knee. The carioca’s international career includes three seasons with Kashima Antlers of Japan. In Brazil, he has previously played for both Flamengo and Cruzeiro. Contract with Palmeiras running until end of 2017. Welcome and good luck, Fellype!

leandro_leavingAnother piece of excellent news: striker Leandro is leaving the squad, having been lent to Santos for the remainder of the season. Although considered very promising at first, the kid never took off at Palmeiras except for that short spell in the first months of 2013, which even rendered him an opportunity with the National squad. Leandro gets on palmeirenses’ nerves, his apparent lack of emotion and motivation possibly being the primary source of frustration. Come think of it, he rarely seemed happy at the club. Good for him he is moving on, good for Palmeiras. Hopefully, Santos can spark his return to good form, enabling Palmeiras to cash in if/when he transfers permanently to Santos or any other club.

Palmeiras have launched their official app. “What took them so long?” is a justified question. Nevertheless, now it’s here and it was worth the wait: the app is excellent. Available for iOS and Android (sorry, Portuguese only for now), it’s fast, sporting a great user interface and loaded with information. I like it a lot. And with more than 200.000 downloads in the first week – already occupying first position among Brazilian football club apps – it’s rather safe to assume you will like it too.

Speaking of breaking records: last Monday, Palmeiras made available the tickets for Sunday’s 11 o’clock game against Atlético Paranaense. By Wednesday, they were all gone. Every single one, and all sold through the internet, which is a first in Brazilian football. Congratulations, Palmeiras. And congratulations, palmeirenses, once again showing the why’s and how’s of Palmeiras being the team with the highest attendance average in this year’s Brazilian championship.

Two games from this the 16th round were played already on Wednesday, curiously enough both games involving the two contenders currently ahead of Palmeiras in the tables. Atlético Mineiro beat São Paulo 3-1, while Corinthians beat Vasco 3-0. Meaning Palmeiras must really bag the three points on Sunday.

When things go well, everybody wants a piece of the cake, and that applies even if you’re a Cake Boss. A couple of weeks back, against Santos, Buddy Valastro and family were at the Allianz Parque, for the first time enjoying a game of football in Brazil. No wonder the Italian-American celebrity chef chose a Palmeiras game, while in São Paulo to oversee the production of a Brazilian version of “Cake Boss”. Welcome to the family, Buddy!
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