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by Erasmo München*

The standing ovation – a good 40 seconds long – offered to Cleiton Xavier in Allianz Parque on Saturday May 14, 2016 when he was substituted after scintillating performance in the convincing Palmeiras’ win against Atletico Paranaense may reveal more than simply homage to a player’s good day.

valdasCleiton’s history with the club bears some similarities with that of another player that left the club in August 2015: Valdivia. One of the most controversial subjects Palmeiras’ supporters faced between 2010 and 2015 was how to view the Chilean – was he a curse or a blessing? In any case, Saturday’s chapter has probably more to do with differences than similarities between the two players.

Chilean midfielder Valdivia – born in Venezuela due to his parents temporary living in that country – had had a prolific and successful stint with the club between 2006 and 2008, starring the win of the São Paulo championship of the latter year.

Since his departure in the second half of that year, there was a feeling among supporters he could have stayed longer and won more cups with the club. So, when in 2010 his return was announced, there was great optimism and also a sense of relief as the club was missing the type of talent that he possesses.

Well, history is known how he behaved and, how “often” he was fielded – around 42% of the games – the number of decisive matches he missed, how expensive each of his effective moves ended up being.
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His escapade to Disney World right after the 2014 World Cup cost Palmeiras the possibility of recouping some of the costs in the form of a transfer fee to an UAE club. To many supporters that earned him the nickname “Valdisney”.

Then, came the quality and consistency shown playing for his country’s national team in Copa America 2015 that made people sigh “wow if we could have that playmaker at least 75% of the games, Palmeiras’ performance would be transformed”. All to be frustrated by his refusal of the attempts made by Palmeiras to renew his contract on a variable remuneration basis.

Due to all these practically never ending hiccups, to many Palmeiras’ supporters he was definitely a curse. A bad professional who was using the club as launching pad or something in that line. To many others though, he was a blessing: “mago Valdivia” (Valdivia, the magician) whose misdemeanors should be minimized in the name of a seemingly unjustifiable hope that, at any time, he could pull off tricks on the pitch that would give the team a win.

Without fueling the controversy again since he’s gone and, reliable sources guarantee, has ZERO chances of returning, let’s compare his case with that of his successor in bearing jersey number 10, Cleiton Xavier.

Cleiton’s current contract with Palmeiras started in January 2015 and it constitutes his second stint with the club, having worn our jersey between January 2009 and mid 2010 before leaving for Ukraine’s Metallist.

In his first contract he had not won any title and probably his most remarkable achievement was the qualifying goal scored against Chile’s Colo Colo in an away game – the last of the group phase – that took Palmeiras to the last 16 of Copa Libertadores in 2009.

The goal is still revered by 10 out of 10 Palmeiras’ supporter not only given its meaning, but the making of the goal itself: a 35 meter-long shot that ended up in the left upper corner of the goal, right where post and bar meet each other – in Brazilian “footballese” that spot is called the owl’s nest”. Absolutely spectacular. And Cleiton’s reaction, his running, shouting etc. in celebration is still seen as an example of a player’s expression of feelings for a club.
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Unfortunately, Cleiton did not win any title: in 2009, we lost the Libertadores, lost the Paulista, lost the Brasileirão, came 2010, the team lost momentum, the trainer was sacked, other trainer came, one key player was “ejected” by the supporters (Diego Souza) and Cleiton’s first chapter ended up without much brilliance. 

But as in Valdivia’s case, when he left, there was a feeling that had he stayed he could have done more.

Comes his come-back and – in the same line as Valdivia – expectations were high. Not only the memories of the first time were still positive, but Cleiton’s performance with Metallist right before the move back to Palmeiras were quite convincing: many goals and assists, a true “number 10” as we needed.

Unfortunately, Cleiton’s many injuries – the latest one being on January this year during preparations for the Copa Libertadores 2016 – deprived him of delivering on expectations and many were casting doubts over his real possibilities to ever be effective for the club. There were comparisons stating that in a “cost benefit” analysis his case was much worse than that of Valdivia.

cx_atlBack to the standing ovation. I was in Allianz Parque and as decades old attendant of many Palmeiras’ games, I can attest that I can’t recall so much time being devoted to saluting a player like happened on Saturday. And something else, it was spontaneous.

Of course, I am not comparing Cleiton with Ademir, Evair, Marcos, Zinho, Alex and others at that level whose applause receiving record is “hard to match” to put it mildly. But those long seconds may have a meaning that we must interpret well for its repercussion on the club’s policy of signing players.

I believe that more than his performance, Cleiton was saluted for his commitment to paying back what the club had entrusted him with, in terms of cash and in terms of relying in his character.

Cleiton lived out his said and often times repeated love for Palmeiras: “it’s my heart’s club and I’ll very much honor the jersey, Mr. President” were his words in the presentation press conference, back in January 2015. During his injuries, he was never caught goofing off the treatment. In fact, in January 2016, again reliable sources in the club confirm that his latest injury was due to “over determination” to start the year strong to play the Copa Libertadores.

I believe the supporters followed all this, compared this with the behavior of the “former number 10” and expressed approval of Cleiton’s attitude and behavior.

Of course, there was also hope in that applause: hope that good times of us palmeirenses being permanently proud of our squadra’s performance are back; hope that we’ll have a number 10 that honors the traditions of Jair Rosa Pinto, Chinesinho, Ademir da Guia, Djalminha, Alex.
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But, the signal is there: that is the kind of player we want. Yes, we want quality. But only if it comes with commitment, respect, a coherence between talk and deeds, professionalism, collective spirit and all these qualities that, at the end of the day, really make up a team.

My hope is that the club’s senior management will heed to the signal and be very careful when seeking new signings.

And I also hope that Palmeiras will be 2016 Brazilian champion!

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*Erasmo München is 57 years old, Brazilian, and the biological child of an Italian man and a Brazilian women. Early in life, Erasmo was adopted by a family of Italian descent: becoming a passionate palmeirense was definitely his destiny. Holding two university degrees (Economics and Administration), he works as project auditor for a Dutch humanitarian entity.

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When Cuca claimed Palmeiras would bag the title this year, many a palmeirense cringed. Then, sports journalists started expressing the view that the Verdão were indeed a major contender. With the squad training hard and key players staying out of the medical department, even the most skeptic supporter started to believe the hype.
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“We stand together, heading for the title”

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In recent times, we have seen expectations grow then being crushed before a large and incredulous home crowd. Would Saturday’s debut in the Brasileirão prove to be more of the same, or would Palmeiras actually deliver, delighting the 33.000 supporters at the Allianz Parque?

What we saw was Palmeiras’ best championship debut in 20 years. The 19 days Cuca has had at his disposal shone through as Palmeiras came on stronger, faster, more technical and tactical than in a long time. Ball possession at 61%, over 500 passes, the players radiating confidence and determination, every one of them knowing their tasks and executing them well. 4-0 against the Paraná state champions Atlético Paranaense. No one could have asked for a better start. Highlights below.
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In an afternoon marked by collective strength, a few players nevertheless stood out. Cleiton Xavier is back with a vengeance, dominating the midfield like a true playmaker. Tchê Tchê alternated between defensive midfield, offensive midfield and right-winger, constantly swapping positions with Jean: the kid has been at Palmeiras less than a week and is just killing it. Barrios is not scoring (yet) but plays a fundamentally important role, keeping the defenders busy and opening up spaces for Gabriel Jesus and Róger Guedes, Palmeiras’ mortal strikers. In the second half, Alecsandro, Rafael Marques and Moisés came on: tough luck for anyone wanting to see Dudu, Arouca, Gabriel, Allione, Thiago Santos, Cristaldo, Zé Roberto, Erik… Not even mentioning Mina, who only arrives in June.

A special nod goes to Barrios who asked the Paraguayan national coach not to call him up for the Copa America competition, outright expressing his desire to remain at Palmeiras in order to obtain a sequence of games and acquire rhythm. That’s commitment. As also displayed by Alecsandro, giving the referee a nasty look as he blew the final whistle 20 seconds before stoppage time, adding no injury time to the clock: Palmeiras were 4-0, but Alecsandro wanted more.

This squad, under Cuca´s command, has huge potential. It’s for everyone to see. Even those visually impaired.

Saturday, a group of 21 blind persons, each with an accompanying assistant, got a special treat: first, a guided tour of the Allianz Parque, then, seats right behind one of the goals, enjoying a specialized, live descriptive transmission through headphones during the game. The video below is in Portuguese, but I assure you that you will find that completely irrelevant. Congratulations Palmeiras and everyone involved: fingers crossed this beautifully moving experience can grow into something more than a one-off event!
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Palmeiras now enjoy another week of rest and training before heading to neighbouring city of Campinas and Saturday’s game against Ponte Preta.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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After a goalless draw against Nacional in the Antel Cup final, a penalty shootout left the Uruguayan side with the trophy. The Palmeiras squad return home in a positive spirit: no conceded goal in three games and newly arrived players showing quality, especially Edu Dracena, Erik, Moisés and Régis.

Preparations for the 2016 São Paulo Cup are at full speed. As in the previous edition of the competition, 20 teams from the state participate, equally divided into four groups, A-D. Palmeiras are to be found in group B, together with Ituano, Novorizontino, Ponte Preta and São Bernardo. The freakish regulation also remains, with teams playing 15 rounds only against teams NOT in their group, with the top two from each group advancing to the quarterfinals. Palmeiras debut is on Sunday, away, against Botafogo/SP.

Centre-back Edu Dracena, a given in Sunday’s starting eleven alongside Vítor Hugo, will not make the cut: he suffered a muscle injury to one of his calves last week with an expected three weeks to recover (hopefully, in time for the Libertadores Cup debut). Cleiton Xavier is another, also suffering from a problem in one of his calves, but his injury is more serious, with at least 6 weeks to recover. In addition, we have defensive midfielder Rodrigo with a badly twisted ankle, expected back in roughly three weeks’ time but he has recovered quickly and is training well.

A few players have left or are on the verge of leaving. Pablo Mouche has signed a six-months contract with Argentine club Lanús, although he makes no secret of his inner wish: a return to Boca Juniors. I personally doubt Mouche will be returning to Palmeiras, which is fine. Then, there is Jonathan Cristaldo, apparently on his way to Russian club Rubin Kazan. The offer seems generous enough, although that does not matter much from a Palmeiras viewpoint: it is club president Nobre holding part of the economic rights to the player, not the club. In any case, it is a bit of a shame seeing Cristaldo go: he is very charismatic and has bonded tightly with Palmeiras and the supporters. However, selling him makes perfect sense from a technical/tactical point of view, so that’s that. Last and least, right-back Weldinho will play for second-division Brasil de Pelotas this season. As his contract with Palmeiras expires at the end of the year, this is another player gone for good.
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Today 28 January, the international transfer window opened, remaining so until 20 April. Although little has been commented backstage, much less officially, one can safely assume Alexandre Mattos has scanned the market for options in at least two positions: a centre-forward/striker (think immediate substitute for Lucas Barrios) and a centre-back ready to give Dracena/Hugo a fight for their spots. With a weakened local currency, Mattos must be both creative and convincing to reel in what he needs from the international market. Time will tell.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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We witnessed a horrendous first half from Palmeiras, completely lacking offensive impetus: only minutes before halftime, a first shot at goal. Palmeiras went into the dressing room losing 1-0, Jackson having failed at clearing a corner, leaving it to Jean to stuff the net. Had it not been for Fluminense’s obvious weaknesses, it could have gotten very ugly.

Coach Oliveira promoted Rafael Marques on Egídio in halftime, Zé Roberto as usual being dislocated to the left flank. Palmeiras improved significantly, but it looked like curtains as Cícero, on a rare venture into Palmeiras territory, expertly folded his knees as Fernando Prass slid towards him, the referee confirming the penalty.

Fred stepped up to the spot. Had he made it 2-0, I guess Enderson Moreira would still be coaching Fluminense – as it happens, 40 minutes after he final whistle he received the boot, the carioca team now looking for their fourth coach this season.

With renewed hope, Palmeiras went for it. Oliveira swapped Arouca for Allione and Alecsandro for Barrios, and in a matter of minutes Palmeiras equalized through the latter. Less than ten minutes later, Gabriel Jesus stole the ball from a Fluminense defender and blasted it passed Cavalieri. Fluminense fell to pieces. On stoppage time, Barrios bagged another two braces.
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barrios8The day before yesterday, Barrios rejoiced as he announced he had come to an agreement with Cleiton Xavier to swap numbers: Barrios has always preferred the 8, and Xavier agreed to let it go, taking the 10 instead. Immediate results: last time a foreigner scored a hattrick for Palmeiras was in 1969 – Argentine centre-forward Luis Artime, against Botafogo-SP.

It has been eight long years since Palmeiras last beat Fluminense in Rio de Janeiro.

Palmeiras, Flamengo and SPFC all have 41 points, our rivals however with one game less played. Depending on today’s results, Palmeiras are a draw from the G4. Not that we can afford thinking about anything but victories: that last spot in the G4 is within the reach of many, and particularly Flamengo and Santos are looking increasingly strong in form.

Coach Oliveira needs to take a darn good look at his starting eleven and how the men are prepared. You cannot even compare Palmeiras’ first 45 minutes to the last 30, the difference is absurd. Oliveira must promote change, both to the line-up as well as psychologically speaking.

Let’s see which Palmeiras come on against Grêmio on Saturday.

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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As predicted, Sunday’s away game against Atlético Mineiro proved a hard nut. Palmeiras got the early goal, Andrei Girotto bagging his first for Palmeiras putting his forehead to a perfectly timed cross by Lucas. As we’ve seen before, the goal stopped Palmeiras dead in the tracks and Atlético dominated the rest of the first half completely, going into halftime with a 2-1 lead after two goals by Lucas Pratto.

Marcelo Oliveira promoted change already at halftime and again with ten minutes on the clock: Egídio (again terrible) gave way to Robinho, who did a good job in the middle while Zé Roberto took over the left flank. In another offensive move, Gabriel Jesus replaced Girotto. Palmeiras gradually increased ball possession and pressure, which culminated as Barrios replaced Alecssandro. Unfortunately, and in spite of many chances, Palmeiras were unable to equalise.
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Palmeiras are parked fifth in the tables, now twelve points behind Corinthians and eight behind Atlético. Grêmio are six points ahead, Fluminense two. Some palmeirenses are chucking in the towel, forgetting the title and refocusing on the Libertadores spot (awarded to top four teams). Too early, in my opinion: Palmeiras have every possibility to win upcoming games against Joinville and Goiás, before receiving Corinthians at the Allianz Parque. Nine points won, and anything can happen.

Lucas Barrios seems to understand this. Yesterday, we learnt that he asked Paraguay national coach Ramón Díaz not to call him up for a friendly against Chile in two weeks’ time. Barrios explained he preferred fine-tuning at Palmeiras and be available for the derby, and his request was duly granted by Mr. Díaz. Now that’s how you make an impact.

Leandro Pereira seems to be feeling all this and possibly preparing a move. The current top scorer has not had many opportunities with Marcelo Oliveira as of late and a deal seems close with Belgian club Brugge. Palmeiras hold 50% of the 23-year-old, the parcel purchased for R$ 5 million. If the deal goes through, Palmeiras might make a small profit, something like R$ 1 million. The transfer window closes on 31 August.

Thiago-Santos-Palmeiras-Foto-Divulgacao_LANIMA20150825_0051_52Defensive midfielder Thiago Santos is the 25th athlete to join Palmeiras this season. The idea is for Thiago to suppress the impact of Gabriel’s absence (out for the remainder of the season due to a knee injury). Sporting good numbers playing for América Mineiro in the second division, Thiago is welcomed by former club companions Vitor Hugo and Andrei Girotto. Also worth mentioning: the 25-year-old was brought in with the help of main sponsor Crefisa, who paid the fine to yank him from América and will also pay his salaries. In other words, same procedure as with Barrios. Thiago’s contract ends December 2018.

Speaking of injuries: Cleiton Xavier has come down with a muscular problem and is expected back in playing condition no earlier than late September. Arouca is recovering, but will not face Cruzeiro tomorrow, hopefully being available against Joinville on Sunday.

Palmeiras have released pictures of the new third jersey for 2015: a silvery/gray piece with something resembling a watermark on the chest, displaying an image of the 1915 Savoia Trophy – the first trophy won by Palmeiras/Palestra Italia, beating Sport Club Savoia 2-0 in the team’s first game ever.
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The official launch of the jersey is scheduled for this upcoming Thursday, the day after…

PALMEIRAS 101th BIRTHDAY! Yes, tomorrow Wednesday 26 August marks the first year of Palmeiras’ second centenary!

And what a birthday, with a decisive away game against Cruzeiro for a spot in the quarterfinals in the Brazil Cup. A draw and Palmeiras are through to the next phase.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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After suffering three defeats in a row (Atlético Paranaense, Cruzeiro and Coritiba), Palmeiras last Sunday beat Flamengo 4-2 halfway through the Brazilian championship, then yesterday proceeded with a 2-1 victory against Cruzeiro in the first leg of the Copa do Brazil group of 16. Losing streak broken, Palmeiras back on track and all blue skies? Not quite.

Previously analyzing recent defeats, the most disturbing factor was the expressive drop in quality and overall mood. Although victories against Flamengo and Cruzeiro certainly have changed the mood to the better, technical issues largely remain the same: Palmeiras of today are characterised by inferior ball possession, bad passing, confused defensive positioning and inattentiveness. Against Flamengo, fluke and questionable refereeing limited initial damage, allowing Palmeiras to recover and dominate the last 25 minutes of the game. Yesterday, Palmeiras were saved by individual brilliance displayed in short bursts. In both games, Palmeiras initiated the second half in a zombie state, conceding goals before acting under pressure and turning things around. Highlights below (starting with yesterday’s game against Cruzeiro).
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In a previous post, I wrote that Cleiton Xavier was stirring my temper like Wesley in 2014. Against Flamengo, the crucial (and lucky) equalizer was Xavier’s feat and against Cruzeiro, he opened up the scorecard following a terrific setup by Egídio and Barrios. Go figure.

Yesterday, Arouca left the pitch already in the first half, feeling the back of his thigh. If injury confirmed, both central pieces of Palmeiras’ midfield defence are out (Gabriel for the remainder of the season, mind you). In Brazil, the importance of having multiple quality options on the bench cannot be underestimated. Coach Oliveira will have to find a way.

Upcoming Sunday, Palmeiras travel to face Atlético Mineiro. The team from Belo Horizonte, until recently top dog, come from two defeats in the Brazileirão and yesterday drew with Figueirense in the Brazil Cup. Thus, both teams have been underperforming as of late, although more pressure will be on Atlético due to home advantage and more recent defeats. Let’s see if Palmeiras are able to explore this advantage.

Overall, the Brasileirão anno 2015 is an exciting and open affair: teams have been oscillating a plenty and will continue to do so, especially as fatigue and injuries increasingly become important factors. Again: a numerous squad of decent overall quality is fundamentally important and in this aspect, Palmeiras seem to be reasonably well prepared for the remainder of the season. Even currently trailing nine points behind Corinthians, the title should be our goal.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

ps. Did I mention that Monday was Valdivia’s last day as a Palmeiras player? Hallelujah.

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