Sometimes (rather annoyingly) life gets in the way of this blog and I have recently been forced to swap the sunny climes of SÃ£o 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 AlemÃ£o) 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 itâ€™s all about. And it didnâ€™t disappoint.
There were a few good matches in the capital that weekend but as Iâ€™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.
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, Iâ€™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 couldnâ€™t complain and stumped up the cash. It could have been six former England internationals if Carlton Cole wasnâ€™t injured and David Bentley hadnâ€™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 didnâ€™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 Iâ€™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.
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 AndrÃ© Santos (Arsenal) and Ramires (Chelsea). Now, anybody who is interested in defending must surely agree with me that AndrÃ© Santos is a terrible defender. For Chelseaâ€™s first goal the attacker just dribbled past AndrÃ© Santos and crossed for Lampard to score like nobody was there. AndrÃ© Santos looked like heâ€™d just dropped his car keys and didnâ€™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 donâ€™t have anything else to say about his performance against Arsenal. More generally though, he is not a good finisher which is why SÃ£o Paulo turned down the chance to sign him when he was at still at Cruzeiro Iâ€™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 SÃ£o 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 EngenhÃ£o stadiums in SÃ£o 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.
The fixture list in Brazil is shambolic which is another can of worms Iâ€™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. Iâ€™ve seen matches where players couldnâ€™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). Iâ€™ve seen worse than that on TV but couldnâ€™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. Itâ€™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. Thatâ€™ll mean him getting up at 4.30am. Heâ€™ll only get home at 2.00am. Impossible.Â Iâ€™m not sure about other cities but thatâ€™s the way it is in SÃ£o 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).
Parking and queues is another serious problem in Brazil. Sometimes itâ€™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 couldnâ€™t find a parking space so I paid the VIP parking (35). I didnâ€™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 AmÃ©rica MG). Sometimes there are 2,000 or 3,000 fans inside the 70,000 capacity Morumbi stadium to watch SÃ£o Paulo. The EngenhÃ£o 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.Â In many Brazil Serie A matches you see about 10 travelling fans. I canâ€™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 – mÃ©dia – is the average).
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, cÃº na mÃ£o) when Leicester hit the post with five minutes left.
Betting aside, we saw some true English football and West Hamâ€™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 â€“ 20 players crammed into about one sixth of the pitch either side of the half way line.
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,Â 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, Iâ€™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 playersâ€™ 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 seleÃ§Ã£o 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. Itâ€™s about 12-13 in the Premier League. Thatâ€™s 25% more intense, 25% less time on the ball. Itâ€™s easy to look good in the Serie A but not so easy to look good in the Premier League or Champions League (AndrÃ© 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 Iâ€™ve got my worries over Ganso and if heâ€™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.
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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