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vitor-hugo-palmeirasPalmeiras supporters are likely to have seen the last of Vitor Hugo. Coach Cuca today confirmed the centre-defender is heading for Fiorentina, in return for € 8 million. Out of these, € 4.5 million go to Palmeiras, who in turn will pass on € 1.75 million to Crefisa – the amount corresponds to what the sponsor paid for the athlete in 2015. Thus, Palmeiras’ net revenue are € 2.75 million. The remaining € 3.5 million belong to Tombense, the other holder of the player’s economic rights.

The European transfer windows only opens in June, but Vitor Hugo is likely to be released from his obligations as of now. For Palmeiras, he played a total of 131 games, scoring 13 goals. Anything Palmeiras wishes the humble, charismatic, talented and hard-working 25-year-old the best of luck on his new endeavour. Avanti, Vitor Hugo!

As an immediate response to Vitor Hugo’s exit, Palmeiras are set to sign Juninho, a left-footed 22-year-old currently at Coritiba. The youngster is expected in São Paulo tomorrow Saturday to undergo medical and sign the contract, price tag locked at € 3 million. I have a good feeling about this one.

Speaking of Coritiba: the club from Paraná yesterday confirmed the signing of Alecsandro, beating Bahia for the contract. Palmeiras will continue to pay the forward’s salaries throughout the year in an arrangement reached to settle an unresolved balance linked to Raphael Veiga’s transfer to Palmeiras earlier this year. The experience 36-year-old leaves through the front door after 62 games for the Verdão.

Another forward expected to leave any day is Rafael Marques: seasoned, still hungry, but with oh so little space in Palmeiras’ numerous squad. Cruzeiro is a possible destination, with a player from “the Fox” likely to be involved in a swap.

Finally, a piece of news we nourished hopes not having to declare, but was confirmed tonight: the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) sentenced Felipe Melo to six games of suspension for throwing a punch while chased by numerous Peñarol players after the final whistle in Montevideo late April (recap here and here). The original three Uruguayan aggressors received five games each. The Peñarol player caught on tape knocking Willian down seconds before the final whistle goes unpunished. It is a disgrace, it is a scandal, it is CONMEBOL in a nutshell. Palmeiras have already challenged the sentence, seeking it reduced to the minimum three games of suspension. Good luck with that.

In weeks, CONMEBOL will also rule on the responsibility of each team for what happened in Uruguay. Nothing good can come out of this. At Anything Palmeiras, we stand our ground: should CONMEBOL slap a significant punishment on Palmeiras for being ambushed at the Campeón del Siglo, Palmeiras should walk out on the tournament altogether.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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The additional wide-angle video footage that have surfaced in the last couple of days shows that Palmeiras were the victim of an outright assault at the Campeón del Siglo stadium, Montevideo. It all starts seconds before the final whistle, Willian going down after receiving a punch to the face, from behind, inside the penalty box. At the final whistle, Felipe Melo raises his arms towards the sky in his characteristic “thank-you” prass_attackedgesture, while several Peñarol players approach him, starts tugging (Melo still with his arms raised, defensively) then initiate a chase. Meanwhile, keeper Fernando Prass (pictured) tries to defend himself from a series of kicks and punches from three Peñarol players. As the debacle unfolds, now generalised, we see invading Peñarol supporters participating and, I kid you not, Uruguayan press (there is video footage of a photographer hitting Felipe Melo with what seems to be his tripod).

Yesterday morning, Palmeiras lawyer Leonardo Holanda personally handed in documents and video evidence at the Conmebol headquarters in Asunción, Paraguay. Piece of cake, right. Think again.

Awaiting trial, Conmebol has preventively suspended four players for three games: Palmeiras’ Felipe Melo and Peñarol players Nández, Mier and Lucas Hernandez. For starters, none of these was responsible for knocking out Willian.

Worse, the official reports from the referee and the Conmebol delegate state that the ruckus started when Felipe Melo, facing the Peñarol bench, made a gesture towards the sky, provoking a reaction from Peñarol players before mutual punches were thrown. The reports imply that “had it not been for Melo…”

On the day, Peñarol’s president stated he had ordered the gates closed out of concern for security (for whom? certainly not for Palmeiras players and staff left isolated on the pitch to face the rage of the crowds). The other day, Conmebol claimed THEY ordered the gates closed.

The signals are extremely worrying. Seems Conmebol will spare little effort to, at least partially, blame Palmeiras for the events in Montevideo. Absurd? Yes, but not that surprising, considering the entity’s stance on previous occasions involving Brazilian clubs and any other Spanish-speaking neighbours.

Considering the above, it is even sadder to register the deafening silence from the Brazilian Football Confederation. Add to that the silence from other Brazilian clubs and the overall lack of support from Brazilian sports journalists.

Seldom has it come through more clearly: we are on our own.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Palmeiras’ spot in the quarterfinals of the Paulistão already secured, coach Baptista has been using remaining games in the group stage to test some ideas and give benchwarmers the opportunity. The alternative line-ups have not cooled down attendance: 21,5K against Mirassol at 8:30 pm on a Thursday and today, at 4 pm against Audax, a whopping 28K on the stands.

Against Mirassol, only two or three regular starting eleven players in the line-up. Same thing against Audax. One must tailor expectations accordingly. The team played surprisingly solid against the former, 2-0, goals by Rafael Marques and Felipe Melo (his first for Palmeiras). Today’s 2-2 against Audax was less satisfying (goals signed Róger Guedes and Willian), but again: only Tchê Tchê, Zé Roberto and Vitor Hugo are normally associate with the starting eleven. In addition, it is natural for players to relax a bit, as the objective – to reach the knockout phase – has already been achieved.
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Felipe Melo celebrates first goal in the Palmeiras jersey

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In any case, from the two games we learnt that Antonio Carlos is a good option in the centre lock and that Guedes is finding his form.

With today´s draw, Palmeiras sustain an undefeated home streak of 19 games, being 15 victories and 4 draws. Eight long months. Eduardo Baptista’s overall percentage is 69: in 15 games for Palmeiras, he computes 9 victories, 4 draws and 2 defeats.

Attendance
Back to the topic of attendance: already in 2016, Palmeiras were pulling ahead of other teams in Brazil. With a 32.471 average attendance in 2016, Palmeiras rank 56th in the world, Corinthians coming in at 74th with an 28.764 average. Internacional is the third Brazilian club on the top 100, at 96th, with an 25.422 average. Considering that Palmeiras also had the highest average ticket price in Brazil last year – R$ 60 (S$ 19) – one can easily imagine the long-term effects.

The aforementioned study was carried out by Brazilian newspaper Correio Braziliense and looked at 2.956 teams in 75 countries. In case you are curious, the top five teams are Borussia Dortmund (81.178), Barcelona (79.724), Manchester United (75.286), Bayern München (75.000) and Real Madrid (71.280).

Allianz Parque now family friendly
Against São Paulo FC, a novelty: Palmeiras debuted a new, designated “family area” at the Allianz Parque. Any adult buying a ticket for this area can bring a child, up to the age of six, without additional charge. Something of the sort has been a long-standing demand from supporters. Finally attended!

Players in the MD
In the medical department, unfortunately centre-back Thiago Martins has joined Moisés. The youngster ripped his knee ligaments during training the other week, and just like Moisés will need at least six month’s recovery time. The misfortune did however not stop Palmeiras from renewing the player’s contract, extending it another year, now running until the end of 2019. 

Two more player are in the medical department. Jean injured his foot against Santos, but a full recovery is expected in another week or so. Arouca had a second surgery to his left ankle yesterday and has being taken off the Paulistão list, with Hyoran replacing him. Should be interesting to watch.

Last game before the quarterfinals is Ponte Preta, away, upcoming Wednesday.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Eduardo Baptista picked his starting eleven well in line with what players have shown performance-wise in the last few rounds: Fernando Prass; Jean, Mina, Vítor Hugo and Zé Roberto; Felipe Melo; Keno, Michel Bastos, Dudu and Raphael Veiga; Willian.

In spite of Palmeiras’ on paper stronger squad on practically every position, and in spite of Corinthians playing the second half one man short due to a scandalous referee error, Palmeiras did not deliver. The first half was levelled but lacked in quality, with Corinthians applying pressure and hampering Palmeiras’ transitions.

In the second half, Baptista swapped Veiga and Melo – both booked early in the first half – for Guerra and Thiago Santos. Palmeiras took absolute control of the game, but ball possession did not translate into creating chances, the team lacking in pace and determination. With many balls being crossed, Baptista took Willian out, placing Alecsandro as a reference point inside the box, only to see the team give up on crossing. Punishment arrived with only minutes remaining on the clock, turning a sufferable draw into Palmeiras’ first defeat against Corinthians in years.
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No telling where this is going. Many criticize Baptista, but personally, I agree with most of his choices yesterday, both before and during the game. Perhaps, when Felipe Melo asked to come off (tired, and with a gigantic cut to the brow) Baptista could have gone more offensively by promoting Egídio on the right flank, displacing Zé Roberto to the centre. In any case, the absences of Tchê Tchê and Moisés were felt.

“Why Alecsandro and not Barrios?” some might question. Because Lucas Barrios left Palmeiras that same afternoon, his agreement terminated in mutual consent. The 32-year-old striker arrived in mid-2015 thanks to sponsor Crefisa, who also have been paying his salaries. With the signing of Willian and, especially, Borja (the latter also arriving through Crefisa) Barrios expressed his desire to move on. In total, the Paraguayan played 45 games for Palmeiras, scoring 14 goals. Until mid-2018, he will play for Grêmio of Porto Alegre.

In terms of player options, I see no reason to crack down on Baptista. And although tactical execution was not great, the main ingredient lacking yesterday was determination. True, It is “only” the Paulistão, and it is still early in the season, but a derby against Corinthians is NEVER “just another game”. In an attempt to take pressure off, Baptista downplayed the relative importance of the clássico in a way that possibly contaminated our players.

Some serious locker room talk before turning the page and work work work. Already on Saturday, Ferroviária await. Arouca and Tchê Tchê are in their final stages of recovery. Felipe Melo, with 13 fresh stitches, might be left out of this one. Same does not apply to Guerra, certainly dying for the opportunity to start erasing yesterday’s blunder from the collective memory.

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No other major Brazilian club has been more active on the 2016/2017 transfer market. Four players have already received coverage here, namely (in order of signing) Raphael Veiga, Hyoran, Keno and Alejandro Guerra, but two more players of rank – both midfielders – have been added to the squad: Michel Bastos and Felipe Melo.
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33-year-old Michel Bastos has been in Palmeiras’ sights for some time. The midfielder, who doubles on the right flank, played eight years in Europe (Lille, Lyon, Schalke 04, Roma) before returning to Brazil and São Paulo FC in 2014. With 10 caps to his CV, Bastos is very experienced, competitive, and in my opinion a very good signing. The agreement is for two years, extendable for one more year.
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Felipe Melo is also 33, has a solid international career (Fiorentina, Juventus, Galatasaray, Internazionale) and 22 caps with the national squad. 183 cm tall, the aggressive defensive midfielder immediately struck a chord with the bulk of Palmeiras’ supporters, and their enthusiasm captivated the player in return. “I got really impressed by the warmth of the supporters. Even before signing, they already had me feeling like a palmeirense. That makes all the difference”, Melo stated yesterday. The contract is valid for three seasons. Another very good signing, up there leveled with Guerra.

However, Palmeiras have not only signed players, but also defined routes for most of those expected to have limited opportunity in the 32-man squad envisioned by coach Eduardo Baptista:

Three players are heading to Chapecoense, the Santa Catarina club forced to undertake a complete restructuring after the tragic and criminal plane crash. Defensive midfielder Amaral, centre-back Nathan and right-back João Pedro are all on one-year loans. Chapecoense have repeatedly expressed their gratitude toward Palmeiras, saying the Verdão is one of the few clubs to have followed up initial words of solidarity with action.

Right-back Lucas, who spent most of 2016 at Cruzeiro together with Robinho, is today in Rio de Janeiro undergoing medical exams before signing his transfer to Fluminense. Offensive midfielder Robinho is expected to remain in Belo Horizonte, although the deal – which was to include the transfer of right-back Fabiano to Palmeiras – seems to have jammed somewhat.

Matheus Sales, another defensive midfielder, will do a year with Bahia, from Salvador. Also playmaker Cleiton Xavier is heading for the same city, but will play for Vitória, in a permanent deal, releasing him from his contract with Palmeiras. In compensation, Palmeiras will receive 18-year-old offensive midfielder/forward Yan on a one-year loan, with an option to buy. 

Defensive midfielder Gabriel will not remain at Palmeiras, his asking price for renewing considered too high by the management, Corinthians being the likely destination.

Forward Allione is reportedly close to Sport, from Recife.

While all of this is going down, palmeirenses near and far eagerly await but one announcement: who will be the club’s matador in 2017, the true #NINE? Speculations run wild, with heavy-hitters Miguel Borja (Atlético Nacional of Colombia) and Lucas Pratto (Atlético Mineiro) leading the polls. The former is favoured by most, but very expensive. Well, that is what we were told regarding Felipe Melo as well…

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Palmeiras have announced a fourth reinforcement for 2017, and this time a heavy-hitter: offensive midfielder Alejandro Guerra, of current Colombian Libertadores Cup champions Atlético Nacional.

Guerra was born in Caracas, Venezuela, and is 31 years old. El Lobito – the little wolf – stands 169 cm tall and was elected MVP at this year’s edition of the Libertadores Cup, being decisive in his 13 appearances, scoring 3 goals. In addition to his highly successful earlier years at Venezuelan club Caracas and, more recently, at Atlético Nacional, Guerra totals 60 caps for the Venezuelan squad, including 10 caps this year.
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Guerra arrives to fill a crucial spot in Palmeiras’ starting eleven: the absence of a playmaker has been topic of much discussion in the last years, ever since the departure of Valdivia. The irregular performances put out by the likes of Mendieta, Robinho and Cleiton Xavier had Palmeiras’ coaches look for creative solutions: Cuca occasionally used Zé Roberto, Jean and, in particular, Moisés as the link between defence and offense, making these players abandon their positions of origin. With Guerra in command of the offense, Zé will stay on the left flank, Jean on the right, while Moisés will do what he does best: compose that first line of defence, albeit with much offensive qualities added. On paper, a splendid setup.

The length of Guerra’s contract and numbers have not yet been disclosed: they will be known when the contract has been signed, after completion of medical exams.  

felipe-melo-inter-de-milaoReportedly, Palmeiras are also in advanced negotiations with defensive midfielder Felipe Melo, since 2015 a player at Internazionale, Italy. In the last eight years, the 33-year-old Brazilian have added major clubs like Fiorentina, Juventus and Galatasaray to his CV, in addition to 22 caps for the national squad. Melo is characterized by his energetic and very physical playing style, which sometimes renders him premature visits to the locker rooms. His possible arrival is praised by many, but no doubt his temper should be regarded as a concern.

Palmeiras are clearly looking for experienced players with a bit of an edge, players that do not buckle under pressure, players deemed fit for Libertadores. Alejandro Guerra is the first of these to arrive. Expect a small number of strategic signings – which should include a killer striker – ready to go straight into the starting eleven. In addition, Palmeiras will sign a few younger, promising players – as the three already announced – to provide Eduardo Baptista with options during the very long and exhausting campaign ahead.

Palmeiras’ current firepower is impressive, measured by Brazilian and South American standards. Best thing, it is all carefully calculated, sustainable, based on assets in the club’s savings account and realistic projections of revenues in the year to come. Palmeiras are not taking loans, nor picking up advance payments from broadcasting rights or anywhere else, nor being at fault with other financial obligations. Palmeirenses in the loop understand the shift in paradigm, and rejoice. Adversaries, not so much.

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