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Campeonato Brasileiro 2011 – the Preview

May 17, 2011

Elano's Santos FC will be a force to be reckoned with

As most major football leagues in Europe approach their season finale, I can already hear the cries from millions of dejected fans around the world: “oh boo, no more Ozil or Messi, no more Eto’o or Robben…”.

But do not fret, oh beloved whiney fans! I’m here to save you from tears and pains. After all, with the Brazilian league rising in the horizon, there’s plenty of reason to smile.

I’m here to tell you why.

For interminable reasons that would take me countless of centuries to list and properly explain here, the Brazilian league is one of the most unpredictable and entertaining sporting competitions in the world – trust me. The whole thing is one delightfully chaotic mixture of raw football talent and incompetent club management. In it you’ll find devout fans that defy the fine line between passion and mental impediment; poor but somewhat interesting infrastructure; plenty of goals, flair and questionable defending; a demented calendar packed with way too many fixtures and parallel competitions (the Copa America, Libertadores Cup, the Sul Americana Championship, etc); and lots of transfer windows, domestically and internationally – plenty of entertainment for the whole family. (for the specifics on the complexity of transfer windows, please click here)

Moreover, the big European summer transfer season kicks in nearly two months into the Brazilian championship, and it always manages to throw the competition into a twister of madness after most of the major stars are snatched away just when the clubs begin to show some form of consistency. It is at that time when we witness the exciting explosion of new talented youngsters who completely change the dynamics of the second half of the Brazilian season. Indeed, the Campetonato Brasileiro is action packed, both on and off the pitch.

The major pleasure, at least for me, comes from witnessing the birth of new stars; to be able to watch their very first steps down the aisle of football superstardom; and then once they move to Barcelona or Manchester United, to say “I used to watch him every Sunday when he was 17, playing for Cruzeiro. What a highly skilled kid he was.”

In truth, it would be madness to miss this championship, or to dismiss it as a “minor B league”, as an unfortunate friend of mine once referred to it (he’s French, so cut him some slack).

This is the league that gave us Ronaldo, Romario, Rivaldo, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldinho…and that’s just one letter in the alphabet.

Bottom line is, if you truly love football, then you will fall in love with the Brazilian league. Trust me.

A Campeonato for the ages

As the Copa do Brasil and the State Championships come to closure, our attention starts to bend towards the Campeonato Brasileiro Série A, the country’s main competition.

Set to take place between May 21st and December 4th, the 2011 Brasileirão – as the league is popularly known in Brazil – promises to be one of the most competitive championships the country has seen in years – maybe decades. Brazil’s recent economic reforms have allowed for the homecoming of many football stars, such as Ronaldinho, Luis Fabiano and Elano, raising the profile and overall quality of the tournament.

The old football maxim “anything can happen” has never been truer than when applied to this year’s Brasileirão, as several teams have dramatically bulked up their squads during the transfer window, and even international names like Clarence Seedorf and Diego Forlan have been linked to moves down South. For the first time in modern history there is talent coming into Brazil, instead of just being exported.

Expect greatness, surprises and plenty of goals.

Favourites, Surprises & Stars

To try to point out favourites in a league like this is almost irrational. Too many youngsters bloom and catch fire half way through the season, and a significant number of players and managers change their loyalties and are transferred between clubs. Just to give you an idea of how used Brazilians are to changes in football, they do not refer to it as “the transfer window”, but as the vai-vem: “back-and-forth.”

Nonetheless, there are indeed the usual “big clubs” that deserve more attention. For the 2011 season, these would be Fluminense, Corinthians, Sao Paulo FC, Cruzeiro, Internacional and Santos. The main party-poopers, Gremio, Palmeiras, Vasco, Botafogo and Flamengo, are also traditional big guns, but their recent performances in the State Championships have been largely mediocre and/or terribly inconsistent; lacking the usual spark.

Nevertheless, as mentioned, do expect surprises. It wouldn’t be totally out of the realm of reality to see newly promoted Bahia crowned Champions. After all, with new signings Dodo, Lulinha and Jobson (all highly skilled players), they may indeed pull off a miracle. It is unlikely, but hey, this is Brazil, where miracles do happen.

Additionally, the clubs from the State of Sao Paulo will indeed try to get back on top. In the last two years, the Champions have hailed from Rio de Janeiro:  Flamengo (2009) and Fluminense (2010). The traditional rivalry between Brazil’s two most important States has been intensified, and Santos, SPFC and Corinthians will give everything they have, and some more, to prove Sao Paulo’s reputation as the most industrious and hardworking State of the nation.

In terms of strength and skill in squad and manager, Sao Paulo State (Paulista) Champions Santos are my favourite club. Paulo Ganso and Neymar are two of the most wonderfully inventive and dazzling players Brazil has produced in recent years, and this will probably be their last season at home. Elano has also been instrumental in the club’s successful campaign at the Libertadores (South America’s Champions League) and in the Paulista, of which he was the top scorer with eleven goals.

Furthermore, Santos manager Muricy Ramalho is one of Brazil’s most coveted coaches. He was offered the Brazil job after Dunga was sacked in 2010, but Fluminense refused to release him. Fortunately, for Fluminese fans, the outcome was that he led the Rio club to a national title. Previously, between 2006 and 2008, Muricy led Sao Paulo FC to three consecutive national titles. Doubtlessly, Muricy will want to keep his winning streak intact.

Waiting to get back to the top since Muricy left in 2008, Sao Paulo FC are desperate this year, and with the shiny signings of 1999 World Player of the Year Rivaldo and striker Luis Fabiano, they plan on pulling a massive comeback in style. Alongside those experienced players, the talents of Lucas Moura, Dagoberto and Fernandinho round up a powerful cast of football artists of the finest kind. But their desperation and hunger may be their folly.

Who wouldn’t want to see keeper-striker Rogerio Ceni score a few more goals though?!

That’s another thing you’ll only see in South America: keepers who often act as outfield players, specializing in set pieces such as free-kicks and penalty shots.

Such is the cheekiness so characteristic of Brazilian players.

And then there’s Corinthians. A mediocre manager, Tite, a failed signing (former Inter Milan star Adriano, still injured), the recent retirement of their biggest star (Ronaldo) and the defeat at the Paulista final against Santos have not exactly helped in the team morale department. Nevertheless, with talented players such as Portuguese international Liedson, up-and-coming keeper Julio Cesar (another one!) and new signing Alex (Spartak Moscow), they are still a very imposing squad. What makes them such a threat is their ambition. Corinthians President Andres Sanchez is a very driven man, a ruthless go-getter and the main responsible for bringing megastar Ronaldo to the club. The man is determined to win at all costs. Now a retired player, Ronaldo has been acting as Sanchez’s powerful wingman, and together they’ve been tormenting teams around the world with seductive offers for their players. Lately, Paulo Ganso and AC Milan’s Seedorf are rumored to be in contact with Corinthians. With Ronaldo’s name, popularity and rivers of money behind him, Sanchez could transform Corinthians into a Galactico team indeed. Just look at the opponent they’ve arranged a friendly match with on June 1st: Barcelona.

For the Rio teams, Fluminense and Flamengo, the tough task will be to withstand the pressure to keep their status as recent title-holders. In terms of squad cohesion, Fluminense is a much stronger team, albeit they’re still in search of a coach, since Enderson Moreira is merely their interim manager. However, with international stars such as Deco and Conca (last year’s tournament MVP), and team Captain Fred, a natural leader and extremely effective striker, Flu has the heart and will to turn impossible dreams into reality. In 2009, they fought relegation fiercely, leaving the danger zone in the last rounds of the competition, and saving themselves at the very last minute. And in 2010, they were league Champions; who would’ve thought?! The defending champions are certainly the biggest threat to the dreams of the Sao Paulo State clubs.

Now, Flamengo is a complicated beast. The country’s most popular club has the world’s most popular player in their squad, Ronaldinho; yet, somehow, they still haven’t found their groove. Frankly, Ronaldinho is still in that post-2006 World Cup limbo, and now he’s brought Flamengo into his sea of oblivion too. I’ve decided to stop asking myself the questions “whatever happened to him?”, or “will he ever come back?”, and I suggest you do the same. Ronaldinho will not “come back”. Ever. Ronaldinho’s star has gone supernova, and he’ no longer able to dazzle us with the same speed and stamina of his Barcelona days. The sooner Flamengo fans accept that, and the sooner Ronaldinho himself accepts that, the better for all of us. He needs to focus on what he is realistically able to contribute to the team (experience, game vision, leadership), instead of dreaming the impossible dream that he’ll play at the 2014 World Cup – which he will not, by the way. A cold shower of pragmatism will do him, and Flamengo, much good; washing away the current mud of anxiety. The talents of Thiago Neves, Felipe and possible signing Vagner Love will blossom if the attentions of the team are on teamwork, and not on Ronaldinho’s ridiculous bandanas.

But, alright, I’ll admit it: it’s still pretty awesome to have him back in the homeland!

Outside the Sao Paulo and Rio axis, we have contenders Cruzeiro, from Minas Gerais State, and Internacional, from the Gaucho State of Rio Grande do Sul. Both clubs have led extremely successful campaigns in recent years, and both have historically unveiled players that went on to become big stars. Cruzeiro has given us Tostao, Ronaldo, Belletti and now the league’s best keeper, Fabio. Meanwhile, Inter has produced names like Falcao, Taffarel, Pato and now Brazil’s new number 9, Leandro Damiao. Both teams have been finishing second or third in current times, but watch out, since their bitter exit from the Libertadores Cup earlier this month, both are hungry for silverware.

Gremio, Vasco, Botafogo and Palmeiras, the rest of the party-poopers, are all, in reality, very strong names capable of causing severe damage to the title hopes of any main contender. Gremio has Brazil internationals Douglas and Victor, both skilled game-changers and natural leaders. Vasco has recently signed superstar Juninho (former Lyon) and they’ve been having a tremendous Copa do Brasil, currently sitting as semifinalists. The hopes of Botafogo rest in the hands of international keeper Jefferson and Uruguayan star Loco Abreu, a man whose stern demeanor reminds me of an angry Viking with a great tan. And, finally, Palmeiras, another traditional Sao Paulo club, whose hopes are not in the feet of any of their players, but in the hands of their coach, World Cup Champion Felipe Scolari. Under his management, any team should be feared (Chelsea may be the only exception). Chilean star Valdivia and team Captain Kleber are very talented footballers, and if fit, those two could cause a lot of headache to the bigger clubs. However, gone are the days when Palmeiras used to play international competitions such as the Libertadores and the Club World Cup, where they once faced Manchester United at the final. Could Scolari make them party like it was 1999 once again? Probably not…

Having said all of that, let us not forget that some of the very tiny outsiders may also pull major upsets. Ceara, Avai and Coritiba are all in the semifinals of the Copa do Brasil, after they defeated big teams like Palmeiras, Sao Paulo FC and Flamengo – and in style too. Remember that 6 x 0 samba party Coritiba threw for Palmeiras?

Indeed, as I said, anything can happen.

In Memoriam

Nostalgia is a big part of Brazilian culture: “Oh, they don’t make players like Pele and Garrincha anymore”; “the 1982 Brazil team was the best Selecao we’ve ever had”; “if Dunga had taken Neymar with him, instead of Grafite, we’d have won the World Cup”, etc etc…

So here are some of the footballers that have recently retired, and that I will personally miss at this 2011 Campeonato Brasileiro: Ronaldo, a three-time World Player of the Year, he needs no introduction. The former megastar is still very much present as a Corinthians marketing and business manager; Washington, former Sao Paulo FC and Fluminense star, a towering striker who challenged a severe heart condition and became one of the top goalscorers Brazil has produced in recent years, earning him the nickname “Braveheart”; and Juliano Belletti, former Chelsea and Barcelona star, who, unfortunately, due to serious injuries, was unable to make a successful comeback at Fluminense last year.

To all, our hearty thanks!

The Brasileirão & the road towards 2014

Undoubtedly, the 2011 Brasileirão promises to be a very exciting tournament. Many famous stars will grace the fields of Brazil this year, and the league will most likely gain more international attention because of that. After all, many people are curious to see what Ronaldinho and Neymar will be like this season. Furthermore, the country is gaining more and more attention everyday as it prepares to host the next World Cup, and with construction and preparations way behind schedule, the anticipation will only grow stronger. Sadly, the iconic football temple Maracanã will not be featured in this year’s Brasileirão, since the stadium is still under major (and late) renovations. Will the temporary measures taken to deal with this inconvenience work? Who knows?!

When it comes to Brazilian football, who knows truly is the best answer to any kind of prediction.

Exciting times lay ahead. Buckle up.


Opening round fixtures:

21/05 Flamengo x Avaí

21/05 Ceará x Vasco

21/05 Atlético-MG x Atlético-PR

21/05 Santos x Internacional

22/05 Palmeiras x Botafogo

22/05 Grêmio x Corinthians

22/05 Coritiba x Atlético-GO

22/05 Figueirense x Cruzeiro

22/05 Fluminense x São Paulo

22/05 América-MG x Bahia

ALTERNATIVE (and superb) pieces on the Brasileiro 2011 =

Pitacodogringo’s guide to the Campeonato Brasileiro 2011 (by Jon Cotterill)

The \”In Bed With Maradona\” Guide to the Brasileiro 2011 (by Jack Lang)

Zapkam Blog: Brasileirão to begin this weekend (by Christopher Atkins)

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Florent permalink
    May 17, 2011 5:04 pm

    I didn’t have the courage to sit and read the entire thing. Besides, I don’t have enough time, the Australian league kicks off soon. Did you know they’ve produced players such as Kewell? And K is the most awkward letter in the alphabet to attach famous footballers to!

    • May 17, 2011 5:11 pm

      Ladies and Gentlemen, here’s the French clown I mentioned in my piece! Everyone, clap!! Clap!

  2. Danny permalink
    May 20, 2011 7:32 am

    Good stuff man, will follow your blog.


  1. Pitacodogringo’s guide to the Campeonato Brasileiro 2011 « Pitaco do gringo's Brazilian football site
  2. Brasileirão to begin this weekend | Goalkeeper Gloves and Football Kit News

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