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Posts Tagged ‘relegation’

Although not formally announced, Palmeiras have a new coach in Eduardo Baptista, who last Friday announced he is leaving Ponte Preta one year short of fulfilling his contract. The decision immediately triggered Alberto Valentim’s exit from Palmeiras: our assisting coach had been nourishing hopes he would replace Cuca, but is instead taking the reins at Red Bull Brasil. Anything Palmeiras wishes Valentim the best of luck in his career, foreseeing his return to Palmeiras after acquiring more experience as head coach.

So who is Eduardo Baptista? The 46 years old Campinas-born was a physical trainer for 15 years before picking up coaching, following in the footsteps of his father, Nelsinho Baptista. Eduardo initiated at Sport in 2014, followed by a short stint at Fluminense before joining Ponte Preta in April of 2016, being the prime responsible for the club’s solid campaign.
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Baptista is sober-minded, studious and seeks to apply modern concepts. His teams are normally tactically well-defined and obedient, characterised by strong marking and quick reversal from defence to offense: possibly decisive factors to Palmeiras’ decision to give the comparatively inexperienced coach a shot.

Expect Eduardo Baptista to be announced shortly after the end of the championship.

— ooo —

Due to the Chapecoense tragedy, the CBF postponed all football games by a week. The Brazil Cup final between Grêmio and Atlético Mineiro will be played this Wednesday, while the Brazilian championship final round takes place on Sunday. As Palmeiras are already champions and many players had booked tickets to travel with their families, the club granted several of them their vacations as of this week. Neither Cuca has been confirmed for the final game against Vitória. Most likely, Palmeiras will be made up of a mixed bag from the bench and youth divisions. Serves Vitória just about right, the Bahia team needing but a draw to mathematically escape relegation.

Either Sport or Internacional are likely to join América Mineiro, Santa Cruz and Figueirense in the second division next year. No doubt a large majority of Brazilians nourish the expectation of seeing the gaúcho team go down: Inter directors and players have caused outrage in the last few days, directly and indirectly suggesting the last round of the championship be cancelled due to the plane crash, opening up the possibility of declaring an “incomplete championship” in 2016 and, who knows, a 2017 edition of the Brasileirão with 24 teams… Absolutely disgusting.

I know where my sympathies lie on Sunday.

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When there is little to win but much to lose, think twice. Think thrice. Then discard the line of action you were contemplating.

With the team fighting against relegation – and only two home games remaining this season – going through with the inauguration of the Allianz Parque was a highly questionable decision. Sure, the opening was a celebration supporters had been looking forward to for the last four years and a bit. The over the top ticket prices, combined with a sold-out venue, brought in close to US$ 2.5 million to the club. And a victory against Sport would have effectively lifted Palmeiras out of harm’s way with three remaining rounds of the Brasileirão.

Well yes, Palmeiras could have won. Could have. Felipe Menezes’ header in the middle of the first half was a turning point, a lost opportunity that, in my opinion, ended up sealing Palmeiras’ fate. Sport played tight, retracted, knowing that Palmeiras would create few opportunities – as always when Valdivia is absent – and become more and more anxious as time progressed. Menezes blew his opportunity. Former Palmeiras striker Ananias did not. In the end, 0-2 was a fair result.

Palmeiras are a weak team. Weaker still under pressure. The task of a mandatory victory – in order to escape relegation and not ruin the celebration of a 39.000 strong crowd – proved overwhelming. Unsurprisingly.

On one side of the balance, revenues and initial euphoria. On the other, despair, tears and rage. The night was unforgettable. But not in the way it should have been.

It’s not about foreseeing the future, but about weighting cost vs. benefit, risk vs. payout. The prospect of opening the Arena under current circumstances was surrounded by uncertainties and split decisions anyway you look at it. I defended postponing the whole thing to 2015. Too late now.

With elections at Palmeiras only nine days away, certainly the decision to go through with the inauguration was influenced by the current administration’s desire to be associated with a grand celebration. The totality of damage done by the backfired plan goes well beyond lost pride, goes beyond the risk of relegation. It threatens the core of some important structural change that Palmeiras are undergoing and that, in my opinion, are crucial in order to elevate Palmeiras from the modus operandi seen at Corinthians, Flamengo, Botafogo and a majority of Brazilian clubs. Mr. Hyde’s disastrous management of football has come to overshadow Dr. Jekyll’s good work in terms of implementing sound financial management at Palmeiras: a positive balance sheet by the end of the month has become a subject of mockery and a symbol of “those who care nothing about football”.

Today, we are all hanging our heads in shame. Nevertheless, I believe Palmeiras will find strength somehow and remain in the first division, if not by merit, by incapability of other teams to capitalize on our fragility.

Also, within 2-3 years, I truly believe we’ll be experiencing change. Palmeiras have the most important ingredients: a solid history, a strong identity, a passionate and large supporter base, a stadium to call our own, and a growing range of national and, in particular, international partners. Maintaining and improving sound administrational and financial practices, combined with increasing revenues, should allow for the hiring of great professionals and the steady forming of a new squad, a new team. Palmeiras’ president for the coming two years – whoever that might be – will have all the tools available and no excuses.

Turning our attention back to the immediate needs: on Sunday Palmeiras face direct contender for relegation Coritiba, at the Couto Pereira stadium – needless to say, a crucial game. I will be at the stadium. The Mané Garrincha, in Brasilia, trying to enjoy Paul McCartney. Talk about timing.

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Taking off from James Young’s article featured in a recent post, I will contextualize the immediacy of Brazilian football directors and fans, based on an exchange of tweets I had earlier today.

I’ve been sustaining the argument that you cannot spend money you do not have. You cannot risk the life of an institution that has been around for a hundred years, buying expensive players in the belief trophies and additional revenues will come and take care of the deficit. That would be irresponsible. Unjustifiable.

The ferocity of the argumentation from my twitter “opponent” took me somewhat by surprise. Yes, I know he’s a fervent palmeirense, but he’s also a recognised historian, and specialised in, would you guess, Palmeiras. I thought he, if any, would seal for the longevity and stability of the institution.

Instead, he let me know he is a supporter first and foremost and what matters to him is seeing Palmeiras strong on the pitch. Football first. “Inverting the pyramid is suicide”, he claimed. He concluded that it was a matter of ambition: either you invest aggressively in order to win, or you invest nothing and fight against relegation. For this particular man, “fiscal responsibility” is a swearword. He’s not alone. Far from it.

I imagine this to be the exact reasoning behind the massive debts most Brazilian clubs sustain. In fact, club directors don’t even make an effort to hide it. In the words of Corinthians’ chief financial director, Raul Correa: “We decided on a policy to set things straight. First, we invested in football. That left us with no money to pay taxes. Then, when we were in a better shape, we started paying. Today we pay regularly. But there’s this residual to pay.” By “residual”, Correa is referring to a US$ 77 million trifle. Now, what Correa is in fact saying is “Corinthians opted for for not paying taxes in order to reap benefits on the pitch.”

What about Maurício Assumpção, president of Botafogo, openly admitting he opted for not paying taxes for eight months (!) awaiting the approval of a Bill of Law expected to benefit precisely those clubs who have failed to pay taxes? Botafogo’s tax debts amount to US$ 155 million. Mind you, in 2012, Scottish traditional club Ranges were relegated from first to fourth division due to their US$ 30 million in tax debts.
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Andrés Sanchez, Raul Correa, Maurício Assumpção… These men, and so many others, should be in jail. These clubs should be relegated. But none of that will happen, because in certain aspects, Brazil is a Mickey Mouse country.

Palmeirenses proudly boast their new arena – the Allianz Parque – is being built with nothing but private investments, with no public money or tax breaks. That sets us worlds apart from Corinthians. Paying all our taxes should also be setting us worlds apart. In addition to steadily be implementing sound and professional financial management routines and policies. Sounds like obvious steps to take for a football club with a couple of hundred million of yearly turnaround. Not obvious in Brazil. Not quite yet.

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Last round of the Brazilian Championship 2013. Portuguesa vs. Grêmio, a game without any relevance in terms of ascension, relegation, access to the Libertadores Cup or the Copa Sulamericana. Nothing.

32 minutes into the second half, Portuguesa commit what can only be regarded as a silly blunder: suspended player Héverton comes on for the paulista team.

Minutes ago, Portuguesa were punished by the Superior Tribunal of Sports for the infringement, and to the letter: Portuguesa lost the one point from the goalless draw against Grêmio and an additional three points. With that, Portuguesa drop four positions in the tables, finishing in the relegation zone. And saving Fluminense from second division play in 2014.

Did Portuguesa commit an infringement? Certainly. Is the punishment proportional to the crime? Certainly not. Not that any of the judges involved in the Rio de Janeiro-based STJD would agree to that.

And Fluminense? Based on historical merit and curious circumstances, the carioca club cements its position as Brazil’s most loathed.

While this blogger wonders how on earth he could be so naive as to entitle the previous post “Brasileirão 2013 – final statements”.

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Exactly a decade after the painful relegation of 2002, we’re at it again. This time it hurts less, possibly because we’ve gotten used to the ultimate price of our archaic club structure and saw it coming from miles away. Still, relegation is undeniably a crisis that rocks the club and the Palmeiras brand in many ways – operationally, financially, emotionally – in addition to marking millions of supporters.

Recent events don’t keep president Tirone from repeatedly asserting that “we’re on the right track”, as yesterday night when faced with the fact of relegation. Although with tears in his eyes, he concluded that “the club today is calmer, the bookkeeping in order and that everything necessary has been done correctly”. Tirone sees no shadow over him or his directors.

One can easily imagine a dozen suitable activities for a president of a football club the size of Palmeiras indulge in the day after relegation: greeting players upon their return to São Paulo; set up meetings with directors, staff and associates; participate in press conferences; launch new campaigns and action plans; contact partners and sponsors; you name it.

President Tirone chose a different approach. He took a day off on the beach of Leblon, Rio de Janeiro. Now that’s what I call crisis management. No, wait, my bad: there is no crisis, right Tirone? Right.
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Of course you remember last Sunday’s game against Fluminense. You remember the script. Guess what: the same guy must have landed a larger contract than we thought, because he certainly wrote today’s script as well – or is there any other plausible explanation for Palmeiras opening up the scorecard with just-as-unlikely-hero-as-Betinho forward Vinícius, then having Maikon Leite blow the chance of his lifetime, then with only minutes remaining have former Palmeiras player Vagner Love see his shot deflected off man-of-the-match Correa and find the net behind a beaten Bruno?

And what about the three yellow cards distributed, surgically removing Barcos, Márcio Araújo and abovementioned Correa for next week’s game against Atlético Goianense? Not that it might matter at all: in less than an hour we’ll know if Portuguesa managed a point against Grêmio and mathematically pushed Palmeiras down to the second division.

Palmeiras were the better team today, even with the pressure of a ton on everyone’s shoulders. The result, a blueprint of this whole season of the Brasileirão.
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President Tirone gave an interview yesterday. Questioned about what he could have done differently, he answered “I have responsibility. Guilt? I don’t feel any guilt. You might feel guilt when you’ve done something very wrong. What would be very wrong? If I hadn’t paid the salaries. The players have a private life, they depend on their salaries. That could influence performance on the pitch. We reinforced the squad. What must the president do? Visit, support, administer the club with honesty and competence, pay the bills and give attention to the club. That’s what I’ve done.” And he concludes, once again: “I think we got unlucky”.

Mr Tirone, I wish you were right. If it was only bad luck that had brought you to preside Palmeiras, things would change to the better as soon as your mandate expires end of December. But no: Palmeiras have been infested by incompetent directors for decades, e reflexion of our incompetent conseglieri, the archaic statutes, the lack of commitment, the vanity of the few. We pay the price, once again.

We pay the price.

— ooo —

EDIT: With Bahia beating Ponte Preta 1-0 and Portuguesa drawing two all with Grêmio, Palmeiras are formally and officially relegated together with Atlético Goianense, Figueirense and another team yet to be defined only in the finals rounds. Next year we can look forward to clashes with the likes of Boa Esporte, ABC and ASA.

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Touches of cruelty. Sadism, even. Palmeiras vs. Fluminense was a good game, practically on equal terms, and little reflected that one side are desperately struggling against relegation while the other are the protagonists of the best campaign in the history of Brazilian national championships.

Both teams altered between great and less great moments in the first half, but Fluminense got a grip on things in the final 10 minutes and I remember muttering to myself “ride it out into halftime, just ride it out”. They didn’t. A difficult save from Bruno bounced back to a solitary Fred who netted after the ball having touched both Román and Bruno on the way in: a quite unlucky last sequence of the first half.

The jinx remained with us into the second half: at eight minutes Fred crossed the ball and an intercepting Maurício Ramos deflected it into his own goal.

Quick replies from Barcos and Patrick Vieira – first from a corner and then from a perfectly curved free-kick taken by Correa to the advancing midfielder – and within 15 minutes the scorecard was even. Palmeirenses all over the world started believing , and it nearly happened twice with Maurício Ramos: a header just over the crossbar and a point-blank shot with former Palmeiras keeper Diego Cavalieri operating a miracle.

Then, it fell apart. Kleina had already made his three substitutions as Patrick Vieira strained his left ankle, Correa started to feel muscle cramps and João Denoni dislocated his shoulder. Fluminense wouldn’t miss out on the opportunity and Fred (who else?) closed the scorecard at 42 minutes to become Brazilian National Champions 2012 with three rounds to go. Impressive. But also rather sad (both for Palmeiras and for the sensation of celebration in a virtually empty stadium – see picture at the head of this post).
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Palmeiras’ road to salvation consists of three mandatory victories: Flamengo (away), Atlético Goianense (home), Santos (away). In addition, Palmeiras need to pass at least two out of three teams ahead in the tables: Portuguesa (playing Grêmio at home, Internacional away and Ponte Preta at home); Bahia (playing Ponte Preta at home, Náutico at home and Atlético Goianense away); and Sport (playing Botafogo at home, Fluminense at home and Náutico away). In order for this to happen, Portuguesa and Bahia are allowed a maximum two draws each. Sport are allowed a win and a draw.

On paper, Bahia have the easier path and must be considered favourite to avoid relegation, while both Portuguesa and Sport might fall short of accumulating a sufficient number of points to steer clear solely on their own merits.

The million dollar question: can Palmeiras pull three rabbits out of the hat?
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