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atlpal.
Atlético Mineiro breezed through to the quarter-finals of the Brazil Cup, once again exposing a Palmeiras squad in shambles. It took the mineiros less than 20 minutes to get the message across to Dorival – placed next to Paulo Nobre in a box at the Independência stadium – in case he had any doubts: your one and only mission is to save Palmeiras from relegation, that’s all there’s left in 2014.

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Some have argued the team has been underperforming as of late in protest of Gareca. Others have anticipated Alberto Valentim’s return as interim coach, imagining he would repeat the success he enjoyed after replacing Kleina earlier this year. Both outlooks proved wrong: resent results is a direct reflection of the squad’s weakness. In fact, today’s squad is one of the worst that many of us have ever seen and even journalists, with access to all sorts of archive information, are hard pressed to come up with a weaker Palmeiras squad.

This coming Sunday, Palmeiras initiate a sequence of “favourable” games against direct contenders: Atlético Paranaense (away), Criciúma (home), Fluminense (away), Flamengo (home), Goiás (away), Vitória (home) and Figueirense (away). 3 or 4 victories, and we can start believing in the firing squad missing their target. Normally, a team with 46 point will escape relegation. Palmeiras thus need to bag 29 points in the remaining 20 rounds.

New players of rank will not arrive, this is the squad we’re stuck with. Dorival must get back to basics with these men, apply the Brazilian “arroz com feijão“, parting from the KISS principle and start rebuilding players self esteem. The now orphan Argentine players are of special concern: it’s crucial that they are embraced, encouraged, given opportunities.

It’s hard to underestimate the importance of keeper Prass and playmaker Valdivia: both recovering from injury and expected back within a week or two. If they perform like we know they can, and if they (read Valdivia) remain healthy, I seriously believe we’ll be “fine”.

“Fine”. Look at what they’ve done to us, done to Palmeiras. How can one even contemplate using “fine” under circumstances like these?

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Ricardo Gareca
“We may be criticised for decisions, but never for omission” Palmeiras president Paulo Nobre said when justifying the dismissal of medium-to-long term coach Ricardo Gareca. The renowned Argentine professional did not last three months at the Verdão, the club resorting back to the classical, Brazilian modus operandi described in a recent post: fire the coach.

True, Gareca wasn’t delivering. Or rather: Palmeiras, under Gareca, were not delivering. Gareca is partially to blame, as he was constantly testing players and line-ups (13 games, 13 starting elevens) and wouldn’t forgo his philosophy of always playing offensively, even when his limited squad was facing stronger adversaries.

That being said, Gareca’s failure must at large be attributed to Paulo Nobre, once again poorly making the bed we’re now all forced to sleep in. He kept Kleina much too long, taking Gareca on board – and players he requested – when most other teams in the Brasileirão were already tuned. He brought in a foreigner – who naturally would need more time to adapt – when there was little time available. He envisioned a medium-to-long term project – with the squad already partially cracking up due to the disastrous Kardec affair and growing influence from a few, spoiled fruit – when firm and urgent action was needed both from him and the new coach to arrive. In short: Gareca might possibly have been the right choice for Palmeiras, but he definitely arrived at the wrong time.

Palmeirenses kept the faith in a turnaround, including yours truly. Gareca enjoyed massive support – and respect – from the stands, all the way to his dismissal and beyond. Truly remarkable for a coach who delivered so little, at least in terms of points.

Anything Palmeiras wishes Ricardo Gareca the best of luck.

— ooo —

Dorival Júnior
wpid-dorival.jpgThis morning, Palmeiras announced their new coach: Dorival Júnior. Dorival is a former Palmeiras player, having pulled on the jersey 157 times for the club between 1989 and 1992. He also happens to be the nephew of legendary Palmeiras midfielder Dudu.

Dorival was runner-up as Kleina’s replacement earlier this year. As a coach, his previous clubs include Cruzeiro, Santos, Atlético Mineiro, Internacional and Flamengo. Palmeiras’ new coach has but one important national title on his curriculum: the Brazil Cup of 2010, with Santos.

wpid-dorival_int.pngDorival’s 2013 record of accomplishment does not still any nerves: he left Vasco da Gama in the relegation zone and worked the same magic with Fluminense (although he couldn’t really be blamed as he only took Fluminense on for the last five rounds, winning three games and drawing one).

So far, in 2014, 52-year-old Dorival has been, well, taking it rather easy. Studying football. Including apparently spending some time at Chelsea F.C. Hope he’s relaxed, confident and ready for what’s to come at Palmeiras.

— ooo —

Wesley
The midfielder is free to sing a pre-contract. Although denied by the player and his staff, rumour has it that’s what he’s done. With SPFC. Can’t say I’m bothered. Especially not as Wesley isn’t cheap and has been underperforming, on and off the pitch, for some time. If fruit can be performative, that is.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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43 hours. That is how long Ricardo Gareca survived at 15%. Out the door are also assisting coach Sergio Santín and physical trainer Néstor Bonillo, both brought in by Gareca.

Alberto Valentim returns as interim coach while Palmeiras seek a replacement for the Argentine. Dorival Júnior is the most probable option, while former Corinthians coach Tite should be considered the (very expensive) ideal.

Stay tuned for updates.

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ricardogareca-Marcos Ribolli.
For decades, the axiom of Brazilian football has been “when results disappoint, fire the coach”. The carousel is ridiculous, with first division teams sometimes swapping coach four, five time in one season. Experienced Brazilian coaches like Joel Santana, Vanderlei Luxemburgo and Muricy Ramalho have all found themselves returning to a club numerous times during their career: Santana five times to Vasco da Gama, Luxemburgo four times to Flamengo and Ramalho four times to São Paulo. Needless to say this modus operandi, driven by a desire for immediate results, kill any aspiration for continuity or medium-term planning. True, Sir Alex Ferguson cannot be treated as “the mark”: his 27 years at Manchester United are unique in so many way. Still, during the years he coached Man Utd to 13 Premier League titles, 5 FA Cup titles, 4 League Cup titles and 2 Champions League titles (among others), Brazil’s arguably most successful coach – abovementioned Vanderlei Luxemburgo – swapped clubs no less than 25 times, in addition to computing two runs as coach of Brazil’s national side (one being the sub-23 category).

The Paulo Nobre administration early on signalled they wanted a break from the paradigm, keeping Gilson Kleina for much longer than most would expect and then, when signing Argentine coach Ricardo Gareca, bring in the foreign players he asked for and, directly and indirectly, tell him he would be given decent time to work the squad.

As so happens, Gareca is having one of the worst runs in Palmeiras’ history. Since he took command, it’s been one victory, one draw and seven defeats in the Brazilian championship (including yesterday’s home defeat to Internacional). That’s 4 points out of a possible 27. Add the defeat to Atlético Mineiro in the first leg of the Brazil Cup, and you understand why many a palmeirense is suffering from insomnia. Palmeiras are first team out of the relegation zone, only thanks to the incompetence of other bottom-dwellers to push the club even further down the ladder.

Gareca is no Ferguson, but he is a respected and successful coach, having won the Argentine League twice in recent years. How long can Palmeiras stick to a medium/long term commitment under such circumstances, under such poor performance? When could Gareca be considered have been given “time enough”?

Gareca himself is confident he can turn things around. At yesterday’s press conference, he appealed for supporters to continue believing. “I want the best for Palmeiras. And at the moment I think I’m the best.” He also stressed that Palmeiras always have to enter the pitch seeking the three points, like any big team would.

Palmeiras had problems before Gareca arrived. Obviously he’s not to blame for the current situation. On the other hand, more and more doubts are arising in regard to his capacity to find solutions. Palmeiras are over a barrel on this one. Firing Gareca could bring about a lot of friction in regard to Tobio, Cristaldo, Allione and Mouche: players who attended Gareca’s personal request and are (at least the first three) a given in any regular starting eleven.

One option would be keeping the Argentine coach but in addition hire someone who could have a strong and positive influence on the motivational side of the squad. A number of players could benefit from, well, someone grabbing them by the balls, if you know what I mean.

Tough decisions ahead. I wouldn’t want to be Paulo Nobre. Then again, and regardless of his best intentions: he brought this upon himself.

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In mid-November of 2012, I used the expression “touches of cruelty” to describe a series of games where Palmeiras in unlikely ways lost important points which, in the end, determined the team’s relegation to the second division. The expression springs as easily to mind today, considering the goal Palmeiras conceded in the dying minutes against SPFC. But not only to SPFC, but also to Alan Kardec. The ultimate slap in the face. A reminder of the utterly disastrous intervention by Paulo Nobre during the failed process of renewing the striker’s contract a few months ago.

Watch the highlights below and you’ll perceive that Palmeiras – in contrast to the game against Atlético Mineiro the previous Sunday – this time played as equals and would have walked away with three points had it not been for the individual errors of keeper Fábio (both goals but especially the first), Leandro and Henrique (missed an open goal).
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The must anticipated re-debut of Valdivia was cut short as the playmaker was carried out from the pitch on a stretcher, covering his face, claiming headache, breathing difficulties and dizziness. The medical exam carried out after the game indicates a fracture to his nose, a fracture that he contracted during Wednesday’s training session upon colliding with Wesley, but that went unnoticed. It is a small fracture, no need for surgery. However, Valdivia will not be back against Sport on Wednesday, nor in any other game the coming weeks: today, in addition, a muscular injury on the back of Valdivia’s right thigh was detected. Un-f*cking-believable. And see how Wesley is able to make a negative impact, even absent?

On the positive side, Cristaldo made his debut, coming on in the second half to show both skill and personality.

— ooo —

The Nobre administration is experiencing a complete meltdown, with the tide working against Palmeiras on all levels. Stagnated at 14 points in the Brasileirão, direct contenders Botafogo, Flamengo and Vitória fared better in this round, pushing Palmeiras down into the relegation zone. Gareca, by most considered a competent and dedicated professional, will need another couple of weeks to shape this squad into a team, fully integrating the newcomers. Time he does not have: two crucial games coming up: Sport on Wednesday then Coritiba on Saturday. Well, every game is crucial as of now: there’s no fat left, if there ever were any.

Now, there’s more than the usual “breaking in of new players” going on, as the Argentines seem to be experiencing a bit of hostility from parts of the squad. This is not the time nor place to name the troublemakers  some of them are not that hard to detect if you have been paying attention to the squad and individual performances as of late – but one thing is certain: Paulo Nobre needs to get down there and sort things out, show who’s boss, before it spirals completely out of hand.

At least Gareca has the full backing of palmeirenses. Perhaps one of the very few things there’s consensus about: Gareca must remain, must be given time. The results are not primarily his fault, and there has been a bit of bad luck involved.

— ooo —

Today, we saw the draw in the Brazil Cup. Palmeiras take on Atlético Mineiro in the group of 16, the first leg taking place at the Pacaembu on 27 August, with the return game on 4 September. The other seven clashes are:

Grêmio vs. Santos
Botafogo vs. Ceará
Cruzeiro vs. Santa Rita-AL
Vasco vs. ABC
Coritiba vs. Flamengo
América-RN vs. Atlético-PR
Bragantino vs. Corinthians

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Ricardo Gareca is not the Grand Master of football coaches, nor is he a revolutionary. Still, he’s undoubtedly bringing some new thinking intothe Brazilian context – at least if judged by his first six weeks at Palmeiras.

palmeiras-gareca-apito-640x480-Cesar-Greco-FotoarenaThose who have been following training sessions assert that Gareca is very detailed in his instructions and that he has 4-5 tactical variations for each situation. In the words of Raul Bianchi, a well-known radio personality of the Web Radio Verdão and Mondo Palmeiras independent media, describing training sessions: “When coach Kleina talked, players smiled. When Scolari talked, players pretended to listen. When Gareca talks, players do as told.”

In an earlier post I’ve mentioned Gareca’s predisposition for allowing the young and promising gather experience at top level – even if that means coming in 20 minutes from the end with Palmeiras losing at home. It’s early to assert, but Gareca seems to bother little with pressure. We hear a lot in Brazil that one cannot expose young players to difficult situations, as this will mark them, take away their self-esteem, and possibly even destroy their careers. Gareca seems to think differently: give the kids a chance and they will rise to the occasion – if not immediately, in due time. Or not. That’s all there is to it.
.menezes.
Against Avaí, Gareca swapped no less than eight of the players that were on and lost against Cruzeiro. Not because they performed badly, but because he wanted key player fit for Sunday’s derby. True, the derby is very important, but it’s hard to imagine a Brazilian coach, having lost his first two games, send a mixed bag to an important away game: the fear of losing a third straight – and the pressure to follow – would have him assembling his strongest side both in the Brazil Cup and in the derby to follow, allowing him to claim he did what was possible. In stark contrast, Gareca expresses not only confidence in his squad and in his work, but also shows he’s not worried about external pressure or about losing his head. Part of that must certainly also be credited the Nobre administration, who are discretely working on Gareca’s wish list of reinforcements and backing Gareca up in whatever way is needed for him to feel strong. At least yesterday, it went well, with Palmeiras beating Avaí 2-0, both goals by Felipe Menezes. Highlights below.
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After the game, Gareca participated in the press conference, then a) went to the airport with the squad. b) went to the hotel. c) went out for a good meal and some drinks to celebrate. d) headed back to the Ressacada stadium to conduct a one-hour training session with all players not in the starting eleven against Avaí – including those coming on during the course of the game. Congratulations to those of you who picked option “d”. Actually, congratulations to Palmeiras and all of us for having found such a dedicated coach.

Dedicated, yes. But also unusual. Gareca commanded a training session minutes after having won the game. And gave the squad a day off after having lost to Cruzeiro.

The return game against Avaí takes place on 6 August, at the Pacamebu. Before that, two games in the Brasileirão: Bahia on 3 August and Corinthians this coming Sunday. There’s also the game against Fiorentina/ITA on 30 July for the EuroAmerican Cup, when Palmeiras will show off their new (and last) centenary kit. More on that later.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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palmeiras_azul-640x250.
Gareca’s debut against Santos was more bitter than sweet: Palmeiras – in a terrific, blue jersey paying homage to Oberdan Cattani – created very little offensively, Leandro refusing to come down from his pedestal and Bruno César not showing even remote conditions to substitute Valdivia. Diogo worked hard as always, but was off target again and again. Without additional reinforcements, palmeirenses must pray for Henrique and Mouche become Batman and Robin for the rest of the season. The former (suspended yesterday) and the latter (getting in shape) might both be on against Cruzeiro this coming Sunday.

One positive aspect yesterday was the compact defensive system, although obviously still in need of tuning. Our players seemed to shorten distances between each other, pinning the opponent down, and playing closer to the adversary. Santos used speed and the flanks as countermeasures, and were, generally speaking, successful. Still, I believe Gareca’s on to something. something. Time will tell.
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A second positive aspect was Gareca’s clear message to the youth academy: stay alert because your time will come. Against Santos, he pulled up centre-back Gabriel Dias, midfielder Eduardo Junior and striker Erik. Two of the three came on yesterday. The kids will only acquire experience if allowed to play, Gareca says. Nothing revolutionary in that philosophy, but difficulties have always surged when trying to implement, especially at Palmeiras, with the team considered either too good or too bad to let the kids in.

Even if Gareca proves successful in tuning Palmeiras defensively and offensively, even if he finds a few gems in the youth academy, reinforcements are urgently needed. At least a good to great striker and a great playmaker. Without these two, Palmeiras run the risk of relegation. And while we’re at it, a strong right-defender/winger is needed. Palmeiras need to FIND INVESTORS, INCREASE REVENUES, and DO WHATEVER IT TAKES to bring in these 2-3 players. There’s NOTHING more urgent right now.

Speaking of midfielders: Bernardo is back. The deal with Vitória went up in smoke as it was discovered that regulations prohibits someone playing for three different clubs during the same season. Bernardo came on once for Vasco and has played three games with Palmeiras. Oh, joy. Gareca, show us your magic.

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