Brazilian league football in perspective

Brazilfooty at West Ham

Sometimes (rather annoyingly) life gets in the way of this blog and I have recently been forced to swap the sunny climes of São Paulo for the grey English sky. So I’ve taken some time to reflect on the differences between the game in Brazil and the game in England. I did so after watching a live West Ham match with Brazilfooty followers.

My brother in law Bruno and his friend Luis (nicknamed Alemão) were over from Brazil last week and I took them down to Upton Park to see some real English football. Forget Brazil, Rio, carnival and foot-volley on the beach, West Ham v Leicester is what it’s all about. And it didn’t disappoint.

There were a few good matches in the capital that weekend but as I’m sure many readers are well aware tickets for top Premier League matches (Chelsea v Arsenal and Tottenham v QPR) are at a premium and sold out weeks in advance. The next best option was West Ham v Leicester so down we went to Upton Park early on Saturday morning to purchase our tickets.

Upton Park

129 pounds later and three tickets were ours. A bit pricey for a second division game if you ask me; if I went to see Portuguesa v Ponte Preta and was quoted that price, I’d give the vendor a slap. But English club football is where all the money is at and now we know why. Besides, with London being London (expensive for entertainment) and with no less than four former England Internationals on show (Rob Green, Paul Konchesky, Darius Vassel and David Nugent), we couldn’t complain and stumped up the cash. It could have been six former England internationals if Carlton Cole wasn’t injured and David Bentley hadn’t just returned to Tottenham after his loan.

The fact that all these former England internationals are playing in the English second division explains two things: 1/ English league football is financially the strongest in the world and 2/ why England have only won one World Cup.

Expensive tickets in hand, off we went to enjoy some pre game entertainment. A chip butty, sausage sandwich, pie, fish and chips and three pints later, we were wondering what hit us. Ok, I lie we didn’t consume all of that (about half) but explaining the concept of a chip butty (sandwich with nothing but fries in the middle) to Brazilians is not an easy concept. And I’m still trying to figure it out myself. Of course everybody in the world has heard of British fish and chips but a pie and mushy peas is something of a strange one too.

A hamburger? Chip butty? Fish and chips? Sausage and bacon roll?

I did do a little pre-game Brazilfooty scouting mission (which involved me standing in a bar looking at a screen with a pint in my hand) to check up on the progress Premier League Brazilians André Santos (Arsenal) and Ramires (Chelsea). Now, anybody who is interested in defending must surely agree with me that André Santos is a terrible defender. For Chelsea’s first goal the attacker just dribbled past André Santos and crossed for Lampard to score like nobody was there. André Santos looked like he’d just dropped his car keys and didn’t even try and make a challenge. Hopeless.

He did score an equaliser for Arsenal and he is quite good going forward (nowhere near as good as other Brazilian full backs like Maicon, Dani Alves or Marcelo) but as a defender he is slow, lacks special awareness and has got poor discipline. You can get away with that in Brazil or Turkey but not the Premier League. Premier League flop if ever I saw one. Ramires ran around a lot as usual and I don’t have anything else to say about his performance against Arsenal. More generally though, he is not a good finisher which is why São Paulo turned down the chance to sign him when he was at still at Cruzeiro I’ve been told by people in the know.

As for West Ham, I should start by saying that while we thought the entrance fee was steep for a second division match, in many ways we got a lot more than what we would get for a pricey Brazilian Serie A match. In São Paulo at least, a ticket for one of the top teams costs anywhere between 30 to 150 Reais (which is between about 13 and 60 pounds).

The state of the pitches is a lot better in England than it is in Brazil. The Upton Park pitch looked like a carpet from where we were sitting. In Brazil, frequently the grass is often left very long and it creates a bumpy surface, not very conducive to slick passing football. The amount of games played on some pitches like the Pacaembu or Engenhão stadiums in São Paulo and Rio is crazy. More than 50 matches must have been played at each of those stadiums so far this year so hats off to the grounds men for making those pitches playable even if they are not carpets.

You can see its a carpet pitch, even from here

The fixture list in Brazil is shambolic which is another can of worms I’m not going to go into now but what that means is that matches are almost never postponed or called off due to bad weather or unplayable pitches. Drainage is a serious problem in some stadiums and as you all know Brazil is a tropical country subject to the odd downpour. I’ve seen matches where players couldn’t kick the ball without first flicking it up to get it out of a puddle of water. Take a look at this video. Some nice goals but try and imagine what the rest of the match was like (hint: diabolical). I’ve seen worse than that on TV but couldn’t find them on youtube.

Another thing that makes British league football a more attractive affair than Brazilian league football is violence. Sadly, violence still plays a big part in Brazil and a few times every year we see terrible scenes of fans fighting with police, their own supporters or opposition supporters inside or outside of the stadium. Go to wrong end of the ground wearing the wrong shirt and you could be killed or seriously injured. It’s time for this stupid violence to end. Because of this, many people (understandably) prefer to stay at home and watch the games on TV or just listen to them on the radio.

The timing of the midweek games doesn’t help either. Midweek matches normally kick off at 21.50. For the average poor Brazilian that lives miles away from the stadium, it could take him hours to get home on the shoddy public transport. Chances are he needs to be at work at 7.00am in the city centre the next day. That’ll mean him getting up at 4.30am. He’ll only get home at 2.00am. Impossible.  I’m not sure about other cities but that’s the way it is in São Paulo though. And a small number of brave souls do it.

Another thing is the price, for all the hoo-ha in the press about the Brazilian economy booming and this and that, the average man on the street in Brazil is MUUUUUUCH poorer than his English counterpart. A working class man with a job in England can just about afford to pay 40 pounds to go and watch West Ham or Chelsea or Arsenal or Everton or Aston Villa. No so in Brazil where the minimum wage is less than 200 pounds a month (many people working informally for less).

No pitch invasion

Parking and queues is another serious problem in Brazil. Sometimes it’ll cost you 50 Reais just to park your car close to the stadium. Public transport to and from the games is normally lousy. I remember one match (Palmeiras) where four hour parking cost 20 Reais. 4 hours and 1 minute cost 50 Reais. The queue to pay was an hour and a half long so most people had to fork out 50. I was lucky in that I couldn’t find a parking space so I paid the VIP parking (35). I didn’t have to queue up on the way out so ended up saving money.

All of these things sadly translate into far lower average attendances at matches in Brazil. The average attendance in the Serie A this year is barely more than 10,000 (less than 4,000 for América MG). Sometimes there are 2,000 or 3,000 fans inside the 70,000 capacity Morumbi stadium to watch São Paulo. The Engenhão stadium in Rio hosting Botafogo, Flamengo and Fluminense games this year is nearly always empty, even with all the Rio clubs near the top of the table. Compare that to around 30,000 people at West Ham v Leicester in the English second division. About 4,000 Leicester fans travelled down to watch the game and were in fine voice. My hats go off to them. In many Brazil Serie A matches you see about 10 travelling fans. I can’t confirm the accuracy but the table in this article (see link) shows average attendances for all clubs in the top four divisions nationally in Brazil (the four column – média – is the average).

Alemão and Bruno near the stadium

In terms of the actual match, West Ham won 3-2. It was a really good exciting game. We decided to put a 20 pound bet on West Ham just to fire us up and give us extra incentive to cheer for the home side. It worked well but I had my arse in my hands (direct translation from the Portuguese expression, cú na mão) when Leicester hit the post with five minutes left.

Betting aside, we saw some true English football and West Ham’s goal was a classic. Rob Green goal kick, centre forward flicks on and other centre forward latches onto it and finishes first time. Classic route one stuff. Now in terms of cultured passing football, the English second division may not be the best but compared to Brazil, the speed of the game is much quicker, players are much more disciplined. An example of that was how close both sets of players got to each other at every goal kick – 20 players crammed into about one sixth of the pitch either side of the half way line.

A lot more emphasis on tactics in England

Of course, the Brazilian Serie A is a talent factory and technically the players are far superior to your average English player. Everywhere you go in the world there is some Brazilian there who is good at football, guaranteed. The same can’t be said for the English. But the game is a lot more professional in England, much better organized that is how it manages to attract the global stars and the crowds.

I wonder how the lack of professionalism affects the Brazilian national team though? That is the thing about Brazil: if they could effectively combine the two (talent and organization) consistently they would be unstoppable, surely. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not taking anything away from Brazil who have won five world Cups and in my mind are the best footballing country in the world. But Germany battered them earlier this year proving to me that something is wrong with them at the moment.

Brazilian football is chaotically organized, full of politics, drama. That undoubtedly feeds into the players, onto the pitch, into the way they prepare and train. Does a lack of intensity and discipline in Brazilian football end up stinting their players’ development? Is that why European teams are so keen to bring over Brazilians at a young age? You bet. Another thing that is happening with the seleção at the moment is that the players are just not playing well together. Why is that? Perhaps no other reason than poor coaching from Mano Menezes. Is there something else we can read into this? If anybody else has a thought, I’d love to hear it.

The average Brazilian player runs 9-10km in a Serie A league match. It’s about 12-13 in the Premier League. That’s 25% more intense, 25% less time on the ball. It’s easy to look good in the Serie A but not so easy to look good in the Premier League or Champions League (André Santos is a good example). This is perhaps one of the reasons that Neymar, Ganso and Brazil struggled so much at the Copa America this year. The teams in that tournament were playing at a much higher intensity than they do in local tournaments (the Serie A and Libertadores). Neymar will be fine when he goes to Europe I am sure. But I’ve got my worries over Ganso and if he’ll be able to adapt to the pace, particularly with all his injury problems. I hope he proves my concerns to be unfounded because on his day he is fantastic.

An away player (Darius Vassell) signs autographs for West Ham fans

A few final observations from my Brazilian guests: no pitch invasions; no pushing in queues to by beer or pies; no drunk fans fighting; no strip searches upon entering the stadium; no fans throwing stones at the team bus; some of those players have crap control; Brazilian women are better looking than those from E13. Not necessarily in that order.

Despite all of the above, I still love it, Brazilian football. You just never know what’s going to happen and that’s what makes it so exciting. For example, with five games to go, three points separate the top five teams in the Serie A. You won’t see that in the English Premier League, ever, no matter how much money or organization they have.

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16 thoughts on “Brazilian league football in perspective

  1. You have brought up valid points and I agree with pretty much everything. However, one of the best experiences in the world is to attend a Brazilian game with a near full stadium. The atmosphere is like none other; very few places in the world have atmospheres that can compare in my opinion.

    A good example of a soaked field: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YsQzkjTV5Fo

    • Fully agree Andrew, that is a very valid point that I forgot to mention. When the stadiums are full in Brazil, the atmosphere is incredible!

      Classic soaked field that. HAHAHA

  2. Good words as usual Brian. I was at Upton Park last season. Thought it was a shithole. I can see why they wanted to move to the Olympic stadium. Their stadium looked like it might have looked new in 1971.

    • Lol. That’s a bit harsh Baz. It is a bit old but its traditional and close to the pitch. I think they are better of there than the Olympic stadium. With an athletics track between the pitch and stand you would be miles away from the field. The atmosphere would suffer plus West Ham would never fill the Olympic stadium, not in the second division anyway….

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  4. I dont see the point of this article, it seems like you are a bias premier league fan like most of their fans. Everything is bigger and better in premier league they are the best at everything have the biggest clubs. LOLOLOLOL stereotypical.

    • Appreciate your views and comments on here Chino. And I know how you feel about South America vs. Europe. I obviously like Brazilian football which is why I have this blog. But the point of this blog and this post is not to simply promote Brazilian football and say it is the best in the world, etc. The point is to give opinions, look at things from a different perspective, debate ideas.

      In terms of a spectacle, the Premier League is sadly miles ahead of the Serie A in Brazil. Unless people in Brazil and South America can see the faults and problems and talk about them without getting upset and too passionate then things will never get any better.

      As Andrew pointed out, the atmosphere at games in Brazil when the stadium is full is something that Europe doesn’t have. That is special. In terms of talent and ability, South America produces players that European countries can only dream of. In terms of organization and management, Europe is miles ahead of South America. I think that is getting better in Brazil. Hopefully it keeps getting better. That will take some time though…

  5. You need advertising on your site… you deserve to be paid for the articles you write.

    Sorry I haven’t been on the site in a while. Honestly forgot about it and just remembered what a great site it is.

    • I know you do this because you enjoy it, and not for money or any other reason, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t reap the benefits of your passion.

      It is by far the best English language Brazilian football blog on the net.

  6. This may be old, but it’s one of the best (if not the best) article I’ve read about the current situation of Brazilian Football. You’ve just got a new fan.

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