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Third defeat in a row, this time against the punching bag of the competition, Coritiba. Again, Palmeiras played badly, showing the same disabilities as against Atlético and Cruzeiro, only worse: Cleiton Xavier stirred my temper like Wesley did in 2014, and that says a lot.
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Coach Marcelo Oliveira needs to act fast, shake things up. Going from a winning streak to losing three games by the odd goal – two of them away – is not necessarily a disaster in itself. The worrying here is the team’s performance: the drop in quality and mood is expressive. What’s wrong?

Well, let’s start with what’s NOT wrong:

# the squad, with proven quality to play good to great football
# the coach, twice a champion with the considered modest squad of Cruzeiro

# the healthy competition for a spot in the starting eleven
# the crowd support, with the Allianz Parque selling out almost every game
# the excellent training facilities
# the salaries, paid out like clockwork (not a given in Brazil, you should know)
# the fairly horizontal payroll, keeping envy at bay

The streak of defeats started when Gabriel lost his knee against Atlético Paranaense. That game also marked the debut of centre-defender Leandro Almeida in the starting eleven, a position he kept against Cruzeiro and yesterday against Coritiba. These two facts are clues to the shaky defence as of late, although coach Oliveira has had plenty of time on his hands to find solutions.

Defence is far from the only problem: Palmeiras have lost the midfield, with Rafael Marques and Robinho being shadows of their former selves. Then there’s Cleiton Xavier, in a league of his own, trotting about, skittle away easy passes and corners, avoiding rougher challenges for the ball, missing a point-blank header…

Up front, our forwards feel the pressure and are clearly hesitating before concluding – the exception being Cristaldo and Dudu, the latter making plenty of errors but at least while being objective, never hiding.

It’s a Palmeiras thing, this volatility. As quickly as it comes, as quickly it can go away, but for that to happen the spell needs to be broken.

Coach Oliveira needs to get back to basics, get the defensive line in shape and accept the new order of things: opponents are not dreading Palmeiras as they did 3-4 rounds ago, and that requires a tweak of tactics. Alexandro Mattos and Co. need to get down and dirty, find out what’s eating away at our player’s confidence, swing things around. Yes, here are tactical issues to solve, but I sense more of a mental challenge. The squad is rather lost. Time for true leaders to step forward and show the way.

Against Flamengo on Sunday morning, scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Alberto Valentim led Palmeiras to a tight 2-1 victory against Fluminense in his first and only game as interim coach at Palmeiras post Oswaldo de Oliveira: yesterday, Marcelo Oliveira was presented as new coach, contract until end of 2016, and has already conducted two training sessions.

lucas_barriosToday, on facebook and twitter, Paraguayan national team striker Lucas Barrios (right), aged 30, announced he will fly Palmeiras’ colours as soon as the Copa das Américas finishes in July: great catch!

28-year-old Coritiba centre-back Leandro Almeida is expected to sign for Palmeiras any day now: the former captain of the team from Paraná has been on the Verdão’s wish list for some time, but Coritiba have refused to negotiate.

New coach, new striker, defender in the pipeline, everything is good except for the disgraceful state of the Allianz Parque pitch: WTorre and World Sports – the two responsible – released a joint statement on Monday, blaming the poor condition of the grass on the “excessive number of events”, without making any future predictions or commitments – pathetic.

From Sweden, with love.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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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.

— ooo —

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?

— ooo —

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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Small shockwaves rippled through parts of the Brazilian football world today as news arrived that Fenerbahçe coach Aykut Kocaman until further notice had removed midfielder Alex from the squad. Only hours later, Alex himself confirmed on twitter that his time at Fener had indeed come to a full stop:
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“Contract Revoked! Thank you all Turks for your affection during these 8 years. One more phase concluded. Thank you, everyone at Fenerbahçe” read the message posted in Portuguese. And in Turkish: “
I have ended my contract. It was the saddest signature of my life. Fenerbahçe has lost a player, but has won a supporter. Thanks for everything.” The lines signal the exit of one of the greatest Fenerbahçe idols of all times: club captain since 2007, Alex played a total of 325 games and scored 164 times for Fener, winning three National Championships, two Turkish Super Cups and one National Cup. He leaves the club only weeks after having received a statue in his honour.

Alex’s return to Brazilian football seems eminent. He’s previously and clearly stated that Coritiba is the club in his heart and where he intends to end his career. He’s also stated that other clubs where he has made an impact – i.e. Palmeiras and Cruzeiro – always will have his attention.

As soon as the news were out, Palmeiras’ manager of football César Sampaio sprung into action: “It’s an excellent player, I just learnt about the revoking of his contract”, he told journalists. “We know how he his bonded with Palmeiras. Without a doubt, an athlete like him doesn’t stay without a job for long. We must talk with the president, the vice-president, with Gilson Kleina to see how we proceed. I think he’s a player who would contribute greatly, independently of which players are in the squad”.

So, what are the real chances of having Alex once again wearing the Palmeiras jersey? There are two crucial factors:

1) How does Alex feel about his retirement? Well, if he’s considering only one or two more seasons in activity, he’ll sign with Coritiba and end his career there. Pronto. Now, if Alex pictures himself having a few more good years in him, he might seriously consider playing for another team before finishing off his career at Coxa.

2) How does Alex feel about playing in the Brazilian second division? Not great, one must assume. Still, the scenario must be taken into account, as both Coritiba and Palmeiras are today serious candidates for relegation. Personally, I can see Alex doing it as one last sacrifice for Coritiba, but I can’t really see him doing it for Palmeiras, even with the Libertadores Cup as a deal sweetener.

Now, speaking of sweeteners: in addition to the Libertadores Cup, Palmeiras will in 2013 inaugurate the New Arena. Also, the 2014 centennial’s just around the corner. Thus there are many a great moment to look forward to; who wouldn’t want to be part of that?

Conclusion: IF Alex is not considering an early retirement and IF Palmeiras escape relegation, I’d say we stand a more than decent chance of having Alex back in our ranks as of 2013. Provided our directors don’t screw things up, that is. Stay tuned.
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However desperate Palmeiras might be to contract playmaker options for Scolari to work with, there’s no way around the fact that no players of rank are available. The international transfer window is closed. Big names in the first division have already played seven games for their respective clubs, disqualifying them from playing for another club in this year’s edition of the Brazilian Championship. If you want to contract players, you’ll have to look further down in the system. Safe to assume, the obvious rising stars in the second division were scooped up already at the beginning of the season. What’s left is a gamble at best.

The media last week betted on Jaílton, bench-warming midfielder at Avaí, to be Palmeiras’ next signing. Seems the directors changed their mind (if they were ever considering Jaílton in the first place, that is) as president Arnaldo Tirone today announced a deal reached with 23-year-old midfielder Tiago Real, currently at Joinville but with federative rights belonging to Coritiba. Real has apparently been doing quite well and scored four times this season. Second division Joinville had no intention of giving him up but stands no choice as there’s a clause in Real’s contract allowing for an immediate release in case of an interesting offer. And what is an offer from Palmeiras if not interesting? The whole negotiation bears the mark of football manager César Sampaio.

Tiago Real is a gamble. A US$ 1.2 million bet for 50 per cent of his federative rights during the next four years. It’s likely the player will be presented at Palmeiras already on Wednesday. Welcome, Tiago. And good luck. You’re gonna need it. We’re all gonna need it.

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EDIT: as predicted, also the second youtube video was removed. Follow this link for the permanent upload made available through Santoro’s vimeo page.

This video – telling the story of Palmeiras’ road to victory in the 2012 edition of the Brazil Cup – is something out of the ordinary. So out of the ordinary that a previous version reached Scolari and he had it screened for the squad before the final game against Coritiba.

The work of art bears the signature of Gabriel Santoro: a palmeirense with a lot of talent and dedication. One more example of how each and every one of us can contribute to make Palmeiras bigger, better, stronger.

The few spoken lines are in Portuguese, but it doesn’t matter: the emotion is there to be felt 100 per cent regardless.

AVANTI PALESTRA!
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ps. if the videos goes down, as it has before, it’s because of Coritiba fans moving claims to have it banned (some copyright nonsense). No worries: sooner or later a permanent link will be available and so will the video. In the meantime, try this link (not as good quality). 

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