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by Erasmo München*

The standing ovation – a good 40 seconds long – offered to Cleiton Xavier in Allianz Parque on Saturday May 14, 2016 when he was substituted after scintillating performance in the convincing Palmeiras’ win against Atletico Paranaense may reveal more than simply homage to a player’s good day.

valdasCleiton’s history with the club bears some similarities with that of another player that left the club in August 2015: Valdivia. One of the most controversial subjects Palmeiras’ supporters faced between 2010 and 2015 was how to view the Chilean – was he a curse or a blessing? In any case, Saturday’s chapter has probably more to do with differences than similarities between the two players.

Chilean midfielder Valdivia – born in Venezuela due to his parents temporary living in that country – had had a prolific and successful stint with the club between 2006 and 2008, starring the win of the São Paulo championship of the latter year.

Since his departure in the second half of that year, there was a feeling among supporters he could have stayed longer and won more cups with the club. So, when in 2010 his return was announced, there was great optimism and also a sense of relief as the club was missing the type of talent that he possesses.

Well, history is known how he behaved and, how “often” he was fielded – around 42% of the games – the number of decisive matches he missed, how expensive each of his effective moves ended up being.
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His escapade to Disney World right after the 2014 World Cup cost Palmeiras the possibility of recouping some of the costs in the form of a transfer fee to an UAE club. To many supporters that earned him the nickname “Valdisney”.

Then, came the quality and consistency shown playing for his country’s national team in Copa America 2015 that made people sigh “wow if we could have that playmaker at least 75% of the games, Palmeiras’ performance would be transformed”. All to be frustrated by his refusal of the attempts made by Palmeiras to renew his contract on a variable remuneration basis.

Due to all these practically never ending hiccups, to many Palmeiras’ supporters he was definitely a curse. A bad professional who was using the club as launching pad or something in that line. To many others though, he was a blessing: “mago Valdivia” (Valdivia, the magician) whose misdemeanors should be minimized in the name of a seemingly unjustifiable hope that, at any time, he could pull off tricks on the pitch that would give the team a win.

Without fueling the controversy again since he’s gone and, reliable sources guarantee, has ZERO chances of returning, let’s compare his case with that of his successor in bearing jersey number 10, Cleiton Xavier.

Cleiton’s current contract with Palmeiras started in January 2015 and it constitutes his second stint with the club, having worn our jersey between January 2009 and mid 2010 before leaving for Ukraine’s Metallist.

In his first contract he had not won any title and probably his most remarkable achievement was the qualifying goal scored against Chile’s Colo Colo in an away game – the last of the group phase – that took Palmeiras to the last 16 of Copa Libertadores in 2009.

The goal is still revered by 10 out of 10 Palmeiras’ supporter not only given its meaning, but the making of the goal itself: a 35 meter-long shot that ended up in the left upper corner of the goal, right where post and bar meet each other – in Brazilian “footballese” that spot is called the owl’s nest”. Absolutely spectacular. And Cleiton’s reaction, his running, shouting etc. in celebration is still seen as an example of a player’s expression of feelings for a club.
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Unfortunately, Cleiton did not win any title: in 2009, we lost the Libertadores, lost the Paulista, lost the Brasileirão, came 2010, the team lost momentum, the trainer was sacked, other trainer came, one key player was “ejected” by the supporters (Diego Souza) and Cleiton’s first chapter ended up without much brilliance. 

But as in Valdivia’s case, when he left, there was a feeling that had he stayed he could have done more.

Comes his come-back and – in the same line as Valdivia – expectations were high. Not only the memories of the first time were still positive, but Cleiton’s performance with Metallist right before the move back to Palmeiras were quite convincing: many goals and assists, a true “number 10” as we needed.

Unfortunately, Cleiton’s many injuries – the latest one being on January this year during preparations for the Copa Libertadores 2016 – deprived him of delivering on expectations and many were casting doubts over his real possibilities to ever be effective for the club. There were comparisons stating that in a “cost benefit” analysis his case was much worse than that of Valdivia.

cx_atlBack to the standing ovation. I was in Allianz Parque and as decades old attendant of many Palmeiras’ games, I can attest that I can’t recall so much time being devoted to saluting a player like happened on Saturday. And something else, it was spontaneous.

Of course, I am not comparing Cleiton with Ademir, Evair, Marcos, Zinho, Alex and others at that level whose applause receiving record is “hard to match” to put it mildly. But those long seconds may have a meaning that we must interpret well for its repercussion on the club’s policy of signing players.

I believe that more than his performance, Cleiton was saluted for his commitment to paying back what the club had entrusted him with, in terms of cash and in terms of relying in his character.

Cleiton lived out his said and often times repeated love for Palmeiras: “it’s my heart’s club and I’ll very much honor the jersey, Mr. President” were his words in the presentation press conference, back in January 2015. During his injuries, he was never caught goofing off the treatment. In fact, in January 2016, again reliable sources in the club confirm that his latest injury was due to “over determination” to start the year strong to play the Copa Libertadores.

I believe the supporters followed all this, compared this with the behavior of the “former number 10” and expressed approval of Cleiton’s attitude and behavior.

Of course, there was also hope in that applause: hope that good times of us palmeirenses being permanently proud of our squadra’s performance are back; hope that we’ll have a number 10 that honors the traditions of Jair Rosa Pinto, Chinesinho, Ademir da Guia, Djalminha, Alex.
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But, the signal is there: that is the kind of player we want. Yes, we want quality. But only if it comes with commitment, respect, a coherence between talk and deeds, professionalism, collective spirit and all these qualities that, at the end of the day, really make up a team.

My hope is that the club’s senior management will heed to the signal and be very careful when seeking new signings.

And I also hope that Palmeiras will be 2016 Brazilian champion!

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*Erasmo München is 57 years old, Brazilian, and the biological child of an Italian man and a Brazilian women. Early in life, Erasmo was adopted by a family of Italian descent: becoming a passionate palmeirense was definitely his destiny. Holding two university degrees (Economics and Administration), he works as project auditor for a Dutch humanitarian entity.

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After suffering three defeats in a row (Atlético Paranaense, Cruzeiro and Coritiba), Palmeiras last Sunday beat Flamengo 4-2 halfway through the Brazilian championship, then yesterday proceeded with a 2-1 victory against Cruzeiro in the first leg of the Copa do Brazil group of 16. Losing streak broken, Palmeiras back on track and all blue skies? Not quite.

Previously analyzing recent defeats, the most disturbing factor was the expressive drop in quality and overall mood. Although victories against Flamengo and Cruzeiro certainly have changed the mood to the better, technical issues largely remain the same: Palmeiras of today are characterised by inferior ball possession, bad passing, confused defensive positioning and inattentiveness. Against Flamengo, fluke and questionable refereeing limited initial damage, allowing Palmeiras to recover and dominate the last 25 minutes of the game. Yesterday, Palmeiras were saved by individual brilliance displayed in short bursts. In both games, Palmeiras initiated the second half in a zombie state, conceding goals before acting under pressure and turning things around. Highlights below (starting with yesterday’s game against Cruzeiro).
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In a previous post, I wrote that Cleiton Xavier was stirring my temper like Wesley in 2014. Against Flamengo, the crucial (and lucky) equalizer was Xavier’s feat and against Cruzeiro, he opened up the scorecard following a terrific setup by Egídio and Barrios. Go figure.

Yesterday, Arouca left the pitch already in the first half, feeling the back of his thigh. If injury confirmed, both central pieces of Palmeiras’ midfield defence are out (Gabriel for the remainder of the season, mind you). In Brazil, the importance of having multiple quality options on the bench cannot be underestimated. Coach Oliveira will have to find a way.

Upcoming Sunday, Palmeiras travel to face Atlético Mineiro. The team from Belo Horizonte, until recently top dog, come from two defeats in the Brazileirão and yesterday drew with Figueirense in the Brazil Cup. Thus, both teams have been underperforming as of late, although more pressure will be on Atlético due to home advantage and more recent defeats. Let’s see if Palmeiras are able to explore this advantage.

Overall, the Brasileirão anno 2015 is an exciting and open affair: teams have been oscillating a plenty and will continue to do so, especially as fatigue and injuries increasingly become important factors. Again: a numerous squad of decent overall quality is fundamentally important and in this aspect, Palmeiras seem to be reasonably well prepared for the remainder of the season. Even currently trailing nine points behind Corinthians, the title should be our goal.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

ps. Did I mention that Monday was Valdivia’s last day as a Palmeiras player? Hallelujah.

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With the holidays coming to an end, so does the one-liners…

On 8 July, Palmeiras beat Avaí 3-0 in the 12th round of the Brazilian championship, goals by Rafael Marques, Lucas and Cristaldo.

As expected, club president Paulo Nobre has confirmed that Valdivia will not renew his contract with Palmeiras, the Chilean midfielder heading for Al-Wahda (Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates) when his contract with the Verdão ends in mid-August.

Last Sunday, Palmeiras drew 2-2 with Sport, becoming the first team in 2015 to yank points from the Recife team at their home grounds; it’s well worth checking out the highlights below.
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Palmeiras officially announced the signing of striker Lucas Barrios earlier this week, the Argentine-born Paraguayan having signed a contract over three seasons – more on this to follow shortly, stay tuned.

The Allianz Parque facebook page is rapidly closing in on the 500K mark and has become the most popular Brazilian sports venue on social media, overtaking the legendary Maracanã stadium in Rio de Janeiro.

Today Palmeiras – without Arouca and Zé Roberto – take on ASA in the second leg of the Brazil Cup for a spot in the round of 16, the first game against ASA resulting in a goalless draw.

Finalizing, a quick look at the status of athletes recovering from injury:

Alecsandro – likely to return next week, the striker, recently arrived from Flamengo, is in the final stages of recovery from a muscular injury.

Alione – the Argentine midfielder had knee surgery in April and is gradually stepping up intensity during training sessions, albeit yet not participating in collective activities.

Felype Gabriel – back at training with the ball after an injury to the left leg, the offensive midfielder is finalizing his recovery period with muscle-strengthening activities.

Mouche – after tearing knee ligaments in mid-January, the forward is participating fully in all training sessions and is expected back, if only on the bench at first, within a couple of weeks.

Robinho – the midfielder is in the final stages of recovery after a minor muscle injury and should, like Alecsandro, be available for play as of next week.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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table_05.25Palmeiras exited the sold-out Allianz Parque humiliated by Goiás. Humiliated not so much due to performance, but the end result. Ball possession does not win games, especially if you do not take the shots but only do crosses. Halfway into the second half we finally saw some vertical passing action, but it proved too late. Another disappointing result, and displays on the stuttering machine have gone from yellow to red. Yes, it’s early in the championship, but seven (considered easy) points are lost and Palmeiras are flirting with the relegation zone.

Before I forget: the referee was a disaster, but that does not excuse the poor result, neither how our players acted and reacted on the pitch, seeing the yellow all the time. Emotional stability is key.
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On paper, yesterday’s starting eleven is good. And should improve further as two fundamentally important players – Arouca and Cleiton Xavier – return from injury this week. And if there was one positive flash yesterday, it is spelled Kelvin. That being said, a few tweaks are urgently needed:

# Removal of Valdivia from the squad: it’s crystal clear he will not renew his contract and the sooner Palmeiras learn to live without him, the better.

# Signing of a star quality centre-forward A.S.A.P.

# Signing of a seasoned centre-back, a “sheriff”, as one says in Brazil.

# Signing of a quality playmaker.

# Tightening of coach Oswaldo de Oliveira’s thumbscrews: the “go-deep-cross-the-ball” routine is not working – at least not with the pieces currently in the squad – and he needs to develop other tactical options. Personally, I’m against his dismissal at this point, but another three rounds without results and Oswaldo is toast.

Wednesday night, the first clash with ASA in the third phase of the Brazil Cup. Allianz Parque. The 10 pm kick-off time will certainly spoil chances of any larger audience. A solid victory is imperative to boost confidence ahead of Sunday’s derby against Corinthians.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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TV Palmeiras
– the youtube channel – last week reached 300.000 subscribers, making it the 8th largest in the world and the only non-European football channel to reach the milestone. With more than 18 million views, it has rapidly become a prime source of information for Palmeiras supporters.

Yesterday, Palmeiras’ supporter membership programme Avanti reached the 110.000 mark, making it the 9th largest. Recently overtaking Internazionale and Manchester United, the next “victim” is Borussia Dortmund with roughly 120.000 members. 

“The Avanti is the primary reason behind our growing investments in football. The more members we have, the stronger Palmeiras become”, club president Paulo Nobre explains. Seems like the supporters are buying the argument: in Brazil, Palmeiras are second only to Internacional, the gaucho side computing some 130.000 members. If Avanti maintains the pace, it’s just a matter of time.

Not only the supporter programme boosts revenues: turnout at home games have generated impressive profit for the club so far in 2015. Palmeiras’ net revenue from the group stage of the Paulista championship totalled R$11.251.787, compared to the R$10.564.009 the other seven teams going through to the knockout phase managed to collect. Yes, that’s right: Palmeiras ALONE netted more than the other seven TOGETHER – some US$5 million. 

Palmeiras might be making big bucks, don’t think for a second it means entering spending mode. Valdivia can tell you more. The midfielder is unhappy with the current proposal for contract renovation, where Palmeiras offer a fixed salary roughly a third of his current, compensating with hefty sums each time he enters the pitch. Valdivia probably feels he is being punished for getting injured a lot. Palmeiras certainly feel they might finally get their money’s worth out of the player. With Mattos in the driver’s seat, we can assume the breaking point has been well defined and that Palmeiras won’t budge. Which is excellent.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

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Tonight against Ituano, in the last round of the group phase of the Paulistão, Valdivia is expected in the starting eleven.

Valdivia is a cracking midfielder, well above the rest in activity in Brazil. Problem is, as we all know, Valdivia’s activity frequency is well below the rest. This is the first time in four months he starts a game. He hasn’t bagged a brace in more than a year.

Beyond being a great player, Valdivia is charismatic, irreverent, cocky. The kind of player you love in your jersey and loath when in an opponent’s.
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In all fairness, Valdivia has made the occasional sacrifice. Last year, he played the last three games injured. “Fundamentally important in saving Palmeiras from relegation” some argue, forgetting the many opportunities he blew to make a difference during the season, including a never explained mid-season trip to Disney after a failed transfer to an Arab team.

The way Valdivia sees it, he is a victim. A victim of unfortunate injuries. A victim of circumstances. Misunderstood and misread, Valdivia makes his point time after time – in interviews, on social media – letting us know through half-baked sentences and hints that we should be grateful for everything he has done for Palmeiras. When in fact, Valdivia has been doing nothing but his duty all these years. Correction: he has been doing less than his duty. Nevertheless, always receiving his hefty salary on time.

Valdivia undoubtedly brings very different qualities to the game when available. If he just stayed quiet, focusing on recovery, training and playing, the issue of renewing his contract would be nothing but a cost/benefit analysis. An additional factor would be his inclination or not to accept a contract with a heavy productivity component: much lower fixed salary but additional pay for performance.  

Thing is Valdivia doesn’t stay quiet. On the contrary. He constantly creates shockwaves, throwing his little grenades around, just as last weekend. In my opinion, his attitude tips the scale and is a deal breaker.

That being said, there is one strong argument for signing a new contract with the Chilean: reel him in so he can be sold as soon as a sucker shows up with the cash.

To be continued.

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I’d say the “which Palmeiras is real: the one against SPFC or the one against Red Bull” question, exhaustedly repeated in the media for the last week, was answered yesterday against Mogi Mirim. When Palmeiras enter focused and determined, they apply pressure high up on the pitch, frequently  allowing for quick turnarounds and sequences of rapid exchange of passes: this scenario gave us 3-0 before halftime – two by Dudu and a third brace by Robinho. The midfielder arriving from Coritiba has scored five goals and given five assists so far in 2015. The men on the pitch were Fernando Prass; Lucas, Victor Ramos, Vitor Hugo and Victor Luis; Gabriel, Arouca (Renato, 39’/2º H) and Robinho (Jackson, 24’/2º H); Rafael Marques, Dudu and Cristaldo (Valdivia, 20’/2º H).
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The second half – featuring the much awaited debut of Valdivia – naturally dropped in quality as Palmeiras both took the foot of the pedal and forgot all about the KISS principle, complicating and overdoing it. At least in the offensive. In defence the issue is more serious: again and again, Mogi Mirim were allowed to take shots at goal and approach Prass in situations that would have led to not only one but several goals if Mogi sported attackers of better quality. Palmeiras’ central defenders are too adventurous, especially Vitor Hugo, who “risk it all” trying to outsmart the attacker very early on: great when it works, dangerous when it doesn’t. Yesterday, it got him sent off after two bookings, one in each half.

In any case, the end result certainly pleased the almost 30.000 supporters at the Allianz Parque.

Palmeiras’ last game in the group stage is against Ituano on the 8 April. Soon we’ll learn who will be our opponent in the quarter-finals.

Scoppia che la vittoria è nostra!

UPDATE – Palmeiras’ opponent in the quarter-finals was defined yesterday as Botafogo/SP beat São Paulo 2-0 while Linense thrashed São Bernardo 4-1. The combination of results mean we’ll have Palmeiras vs. Botafogo in the next phase. It is however not decided if the game will be played at the Allianz Parque: if São Paulo overtake Palmeiras in the last round of the group stage, São Paulo push Palmeiras out of the Capital for the quarter-finals. The explanation is simple: São Paulo police claim they cannot handle two games involving major teams on the same day. As we’ll have Palmeiras, Corinthians and SPFC playing on either the Saturday or Sunday, one of these three – i.e. the team with least number of overall points – will have to move their game out of the Capital. Corinthians are out of reach, followed by Palmeiras one point ahead of São Paulo.

São Paulo play Portuguesa in the last round. Palmeiras visit Ituano. Kickoff Wednesday night.

Other quarter-final duels already defined: São Paulo vs. Red Bull Brasil and Corinthians vs. Ponte Preta. Santos will know their opponent – XV de Piracicaba or Penapolense – only on Wednesday. It’s an open affair: XV are currently two points ahead but play Corinthians in the last round, while Penapolense receive weaker opponent São Bento. Stay tuned.

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