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With five rounds of the Brasileirão, Palmeiras have already filled half of last year’s quota of defeats. Hovering just above the relegation zone with four points – a full nine points behind the leader – some palmeirenses are already throwing the towel. Might seem absurd, considering only 13% of the championship has been played, but indeed a recovery must come strong and immediately should Palmeiras stand a chance. Not much hope in that direction though, rather on the contrary: Cuca is using the Brasileirão to try out formation and rotate the numerous squad, certainly with the chancellery of the club’s directors. The priority seems to be the Brazil Cup and the Libertadores Cup.

Under normal circumstances, nothing would justify abandoning the Brasileirão this early. Nevertheless, swapping Baptista for Cuca, combined with a full two-games-a-week schedule – including decisive games in both aforementioned cups – have created serious restrains on Cuca’s possibilities to train and shape the squad to his liking. Libertadores enters the knockout stage in a months’ time, so Cuca uses the Brasileirão as his laboratory.

Against Coritiba, Cuca again presented a mixed bag due to injuries, fatigue and national squad absentees. Only four regular starting-eleven players in the line-up: Prass, Tchê, Felipe Melo and Willian. Nevertheless Palmeiras came out flying, the first ten minutes looking very promising, with Keno again drawing most of the attention. The game however quickly levelled, with all he action concentrating to the midfield.

Early in the second half, Coritiba found the net and Palmeiras suddenly lost all confidence and initiative, the level dropping vertically both collectively and individually. Tchê Tchê has not played well for weeks, but yesterday was exceptionally bad even by his recent standards. Michel Bastos, Keno, Guedes… No shimmer of light anywhere. And Fernando Prass… Perhaps a few games on the bench would do him good, letting Jailson have a go between the posts.
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Cuca is not being eaten alive exactly because he is Cuca and has plenty of credit due to last year’s campaign. Most supporters feel confident he will get it right in the end, but for that to happen he must react, rattle the squad into position, find ways to extract quality from all those good to excellent players. He has a few weeks before things get really serious.

Players taking flak, Cuca taking flak. But not only these. Increasingly, Palmeiras football director Alexandro Mattos is feeling the heat. Elected four years in a row Brazil’s most successful football director will not guarantee you anything, especially not at Palmeiras: the seedy and influential consiglieri – kept low during the Paulo Nobre years – have reflourished with surprising vigour. Mattos’ success stings in the eyes of those who used to call the cards at Palmeiras at the beginning of the decade. With meritocracy being challenged, we are one step closer to the pre-Nobre abyss. Add to that the now constant leaking of inside information to the press and the dramatic increase of hang-arounds, and you perceive some fundamentally important things have changed.  

There is this Brazilian expression, “I was happy but didn’t know it”. Some of us knew. Some of us recognized the enormous effort and saw the bigger picture in what Nobre was implementing. Let us hope it did not stop there.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Shortly before last Friday’s training session, Palmeiras’ squad, trainers and technical staff paid a visit to the “Centre of Excellence” under construction at the club’s training grounds, the Football Academy. Close to conclusion, the Centre is where the squad will stay during the day(s) preceding Palmeiras’ games. Athletes will have a first-class structure at their disposal: private accommodation, auditorium for lectures, dining hall, games room and a mini-cinema. The facilities also include brand new medical and physiology departments with state-of-the-art instruments, a swimming pool for regenerative work, and a large gym.

Initially financed by Palmeiras’ sponsor Crefisa, the conclusion of the Centre is being paid for by president Paulo Nobre – a more than generous, personal gift from him to the club.

The official inauguration is expected towards the end of the month.
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It has been confirmed Cuca will not renew his contract with the club in 2017. That means also Cuca’s brother and assisting coach Cuquinha and Euders Pedro are bidding farewell by the end of the month.

Cuca’s decision comes as no surprise, although both Palmeiras and especially the clubs’ supporters were hoping for a different outcome after the successful 2016 campaign, culminating in club’s ninth Brasileirão title. Cuca is keeping a promise to his family of dedicating more time to his loved ones, at least throughout the first semester of 2017.

“It’s a difficult choice, but I had to make it. In fact, and as I have always said, it was not for me even to come (to Palmeiras) this year. I was going to dedicate myself entirely to my family in 2016, but I was convinced by Alexandre Mattos, by the president, by the project that was presented to me and, of course, by my love for Palmeiras. I’ve been a supporter since I was a kid, I’ve never hidden that from anyone, and last Sunday I ended up being champion twice: as a coach and as a supporter. I exit very happy and with the mission accomplished. I’m sure I’ll be back one day to continue my history at the club”, Cuca told Palmeiras’ official website.

Club president Paulo Nobre added: “Considering his technical capacity, identification with the club and the person he is, we would have loved to have him in 2017. But we understand his choice. Palmeiras will always be open to him.”

Director of football Alexandre Mattos certainly has been anticipating work on plans B, C, and D. Abel Braga and Roger Machado were early speculations, but in the last couple of days, both reached agreements with Fluminense and Atlético Mineiro respectively. Another, less likely, option would be giving assisting coach Alberto Valentim the opportunity, either permanently or on the premises that Cuca could come back to Palmeiras in the second semester. Some supporters are already getting nervous, claiming Palmeiras moved in too late and will now have to settle for leftovers. Personally, I think Mattos has everything under control.

Cuca’s last game for Palmeiras happens Sunday 11th against Vitória, at the Barradão stadium, Salvador. In 52 games for the club, he totals 28 wins, 11 draws and 11 losses. Cuca was also suspended in two games: a victory with Cuquinha and a defeat with Alberto Valentim.

Here at Anything Palmeiras, we wish Cuca all the best. It has been a tremendous pleasure following the work of this very competent, dedicated and charming professional. Cuca, enjoy your family to the maximum, then come back to Palmeiras for many more days of glory!

ABRAÇO AND THANK YOU!
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Playing before 40.986 spectators, a new attendance record at the Allianz Parque, Palmeiras were Palmeiras like throughout most of 2016: confident, in control, sufficiently efficient to secure the three points against Chapecoense and the 2016 Brazil championship title. The only goal was right-back Fabiano’s, and what a beautiful goal. His first for Palmeiras, one that will be remembered forever.

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Who contributed the most to this title, arriving after 22 long years of waiting?

Jailson, the 35-year-old who had never played a first division game in his life and stepped up in August, when Fernando Prass was injured in late July, to support an 18-games-streak of invincibility?

Dudu, the hotheaded forward who matured after receiving the captain’s armband to become the player with most assists in this year’s edition of the Brasileirão?

Tchê-Tchê, who last year seriously considered abandoning football for the lack of opportunities, today a given on the midfield on any Palmeiras starting eleven?

Moisés, “hidden away” in Croatia, ridiculed upon arriving, today considered the greatest surprise of the championship?

Gabriel Jesus, who’s splendid first half of the championship set the pace for the title race?

Jean, the experienced, polyvalent, hard-working leader?

Yerry Mina, who went straight into the starting eleven, scored, was injured, came back to score more and form a massive centre lock with Vítor Hugo?

Zé Roberto, the living myth, at 42 the heart and soul of the squad, always reminding us of the GIANT called Palmeiras?

Cuca, the prophet, the professional, the father, who knows how to create a family not through external enemies but common aspirations?

Alexandre Mattos, the director of football who contracted all the aforementioned pieces and then some?

Paulo Nobre, the club president who in four years took Palmeiras from rags to riches?

Palmeirenses near and far, tirelessly reinventing the art of supporting the team, standing ground against everything and everyone, including friendly fire?

None. All. That is what is so special about this campaign: it is a truly collective effort like seldom seen. And unbelievably well deserved.
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celebration.
I still need to come down. Pictures and videos of the magnificent celebration – all over São Paulo and all over the world – only in a day or two.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Apologies for the delay. I needed some time to process recent events. Cool down a bit, stay objective and constructive.

The good news are that Palmeiras keep on winning, undergoing a speedy transformation in the hands of coach Cuca. The collective is clicking and individually, a number of players have in a matter of weeks metamorphosed into their heyday versions. Egídio is perhaps the best example: one of the most criticised players in the squad has turned into one of the best as of late, excelling in passes, crosses, turnovers and possession. In similar fashion, both Alecsandro and Gabriel Jesus are enjoying their new positioning and taking full advantage. Jean is growing on his right flank, with merit displacing Lucas onto the bench. No one imagined Cuca so quickly grasping the situation, implementing solutions and reaping results.

This is all good and sufficient in the Paulistão, where Palmeiras only depended, and depend, on their own strength. Last Sunday’s 2-1 away win against Mogi Mirim – goals by Alecsandro and Lucas Barrios – kept Palmeiras at the top of the group with the prize being a spot in the quarter-finals, first leg this upcoming Monday against São Bernardo. In the other quarter-finals,  Corinthians beat Red Bull Brasil, Santos beat São Bento and São Paulo play Audax tomorrow Sunday.

In the Libertadores Cup, Palmeiras defeated  River Plate 4-0 in an excellent display of offensive aggressiveness and focus, with Egídio, Allione twice and Alecsandro getting on the scorecard. Home supporters recognized the effort and Cuca’s importance, giving the squad a standing ovation at the final whistle, even though Palmeiras at that very moment also said goodbye to the competition due to Rosario Central beating Nacional 0-2, finishing first in the group with Nacional second. This was Palmeiras’ 16th Libertadores Cup and the fourth time the team is eliminated before reaching the knockout phase (previously in 1973, 1974 and 1979).
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Palmeiras eliminated, and this early, is of course a failure. We have discussed the sequence of events leading up to this, all the way from mid-2015: the swap as Oswaldo de Oliveira started to collect a few bad results and Marcelo Oliveira became available; Oliveira’s failure to convince but in the end bagging the Brazil Cup title and securing his stay at Palmeiras; the wobbly first months of 2016, keeping Palmeiras’ directors in a constant  keep-or-dismiss dilemma but with no strong replacement coach at hand; and finally, Oliveira’s dismissal and Cuca making himself available a tad too late to salvage the Libertadores campaign.

“Palmeiras hung on too long to Marcelo Oliveira”. Yes, perhaps. But Palmeiras tried to break a Brazilian paradigm, and a heavily criticised one, of firing the coach as soon as a handful of bad results occur. Marcelo Oliveira is Brazil’s most successful coach in the last 3-4 years. At Palmeiras he was given time, a more than decent amount of time, but he failed to improve. Perhaps Nobre and Mattos could have put more pressure on him, and earlier, but in the end, these are mere details: I sustain that Palmeiras, on the whole, did the right thing and acted coherently. Unfortunately, doing the right thing is no guarantee for success.
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Palmeiras are two games from deciding the São Paulo Cup title. Then the Brazilian championship kicks off, and the Brazil Cup. Cuca needs to get plenty of things right if Palmeiras are to win any of these titles. But the squad is qualified enough, and Cuca is qualified enough. Judging by the last couple of weeks, Palmeiras have every possibility to be a main contender in 2016.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!
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*picture credits: Cesar Greco

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Cuca followed up his initial two defeats with another two: 1-2 at home against Red Bull last Thursday and yesterday’s disastrous 4-1 away against Água Santa. Just like Palmeiras, Água Santa recently swapped coach and had not tasted victory for quite a number of rounds. Similarities end there: the team from the municipality of Diadema made its professional football debut in 2012 and accumulated R$ 2 million in revenues in 2014 (centenarian Palmeiras accumulated R$ 244 million in that same year). A David vs. Goliath comparison isn’t quite enough.
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A few months back and Palmeiras were considered one of this season’s main contenders, having kept the bulk of the victorious 2015 squad and signed what was seen as strategic players for specific shortcomings – many of these players sought after by rivalling clubs. In addition, coach Marcelo Oliveira was given more time.

On top, you add state-of-the-art facilities, salaries paid on time, and a very strong supporter base. Palmeiras is a club who, in general terms, has made an effort to follow the recommended script, and in return is reaping the worst season start in 30 years.

Cuca has had little to no time to train, with games twice a week. In addition, he is a notorious slow starter: at Atlético Mineiro, he lost the first six games before turning the team around. Similar stories at Botafogo, Goiás and Fluminense. There is talk of divisions within the squad (isn’t there always?), that Cuca has identified the rotten apples and asked for their removal. There is talk of a list of reinforcements, signed Cuca. There is a lot of talk.

Complaints and accusations have increased exponentially, the squad, Alexandre Mattos and Paulo Nobre being primary targets. Most of it is both passionate and irrational, with little to no effort to separate intentions, activities carried out and outcome. I understand and share most of the rage, without for a second believing that any solution lies with the “it’s not going well, so off with their heads” loudmouths.

Never mind the loudmouths: the politically motivated are the dangerous ones. Those who take each bad performance on the pitch to criticise everything done in the last three years, in particular the fundamentally important fiscal adjustments. “Go on counting your money, you elitist financial brats with zero knowledge of football”. Palmeiras have suffered from instability on the pitch for decades. Firing away at one of the primary off-pitch achievements of recent times – financial stability and responsibility – seems insane. Insane, until you realise that certain individuals are ready to gamble with the survival of the very institution they claim to serve in order to fulfil personal aspirations.

Amidst this full-blown crisis, Cuca needs to focus on Rio Claro on Thursday then the derby against Corinthians on Sunday. After that, it’s off to the absolute do-or-die clash with Rosario Central, the Argentine time currently sustaining a streak of 22 home games undefeated. Nothing short of victory keeps Palmeiras alive for a spot in the Libertadores knockout phase.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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The pre-Libertadores tension is palpable, especially after last Sunday’s defeat in the Paulistão. We’ll keep it light, OK?

The other day, Palmeiras announced two new signings, both 17 years old forwards, for their U20 squad:

Bruno Camacho scored 29 goals for Grêmio Prudente in last year’s U17 São Paulo championship. 183 centimetres tall and with a good physique, the kid will be interesting to watch. Contract runs until the end of this year.

Matheus Iacovelli was top scorer in last year’s U17 Carioca championship, and runner up in the U17 Brazil Cup the same year, playing for Flamengo. His initial stay at Palmeiras is four months, the contract subject to renewal for an additional two year.

Two Palmeiras players have been called up to serve the Brazilian U20 National: keeper Daniel Fuzzatto and forward Kaue. On 12 March, they are expected at the Granja training facilities.
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Palmeiras president Nobre was one of three chosen to represent CONMEBOL at the FIFA elections in Zurich end of last week. This is not the first time Nobre takes on international duties parallel to his role at Palmeiras: in 2013, he headed the Brazilian delegation during a friendly against Italy.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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