Brazilian football isn’t at one of its high points right now after more World Cup pain. Blogging activity has been sparse too. But there are plenty of positive things going on worth writing about, including the Serie A, which kicks off this weekend and could be the most open championship in years.
Defending champions Palmeiras have resisted making any big signings, even with the Danilo money to burn. Instead, they look their academy for inspiration with Real Madrid-bound Endrick the pick to watch out for this year. On paper, Flamengo have a stronger team, but they had a shambolic start to the campaign: whipped in last weekend’s Carioca final, losing their Libertadores opener to little-known Aucas and the World Club Cup debacle. Let’s not talk about that. They have sacked coach Vitor Pereira, so things will are guaranteed to improved, especially if they convince Jorge Jesus to come back, except if they don’t.
Flamengo’s final whippers, Fluminense, could be one to watch. Coach Fernando Diniz was becoming known as a coach who plays good football, with an admiral style and ideals, but who never wins anything. That all changed last weekend when they destroyed Flamengo. It wasn’t even close. 4-1. A battering and a football lesson. A Carioca is one thing though. A Serie A is something different altogether so let’s see how things go. Should be fun to watch, however it turns out.
Grêmio are back. And so is Luis Suarez. He may be 36 now, but he continues to fire in the goals. Ok, he’s not hitting the same goals to game ratio that he did back at Ajax, Liverpool or Barcelona, but he’s not far off. Like Fluminense, who re-appointed Fernando Diniz, Grêmio have reappointed Renato Gaucho. The relative stability of having a familiar manager seems to be working. Talking about reappointments, São Paulo have turned back to club legend and previously-fired manager Rogerio Ceni. I don’t expect São Paulo to be in the title or top four mix like Grêmio and Fluminense though.
There are other good teams too. Atlético Mineiro have been there or thereabouts for the last few years. This year shouldn’t be too different, even if they have tightened the purse strings. Athletico Paranaense are well-run and have two players of note, at either end of their careers: 37-year old ex City and Brazil midfielder Fernandinho, and 18-year old Barcelona or Arsenal or Chelsea or (insert any top European team)-linked, and now full Brazil international, Vitor Roque. Bahia have had a cash injection from the City Group. Look out for them. Red Bull Bragantino have a tie up with, errr, Red Bull. Vasco have foreign money and have been spending big too. And Fortaleza shouldn’t be underestimated.
A Brazilfooty blogging comeback wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the names of some of the best young talent to keep an eye on. Endrick and Vitor Roque are out of the ordinary. But hot prospects don’t end there. Look out for: 17-year old forward Pedro of Corinthians; 18-year midfielder Andrey Santos, signed by Chelsea from Vasco and loaned back until he can secure a work permit; 19-year old Kayky, on loan at Bahia from Manchester City; Newcastle target Matheus Franca, of Flamengo; Alexsander and Andre at Fluminense; Adyson and Matos Arthur at America-MG; Estevão and Vanderlan at Palmeiras; etc.
It would also be wrong not to mention the Seleção. After looking so good in the group stages and against South Korea, Brazil’s World Cup exit to Croatia was a gut punch. Even without living up to the standards they had set earlier in the tournament, they should have easily won that game: Brazil had 11 shots on target; Croatia had 1. And, Croatia’s goal was so un Tite like: sloppy defending, poor decision making and terrible game management. It was a sad irony that Brazil were undone by poor defending – something not associated with Brazil under Tite – and not a lack of creativity, which was the concern. All in all, while I haven’t always been Tite’s biggest supporter, he has always conducted himself with dignity and respect, and it was a sad end to his reign. At times it promised a lot, but ultimately it failed to deliver. Fine margins, and perhaps Brazil currently just don’t have the squad depth to be champions (I’m thinking of Fred, Alex Sandro, etc).
Unless I’ve missed the memo, we still aren’t any closer to knowing who the next Seleção manager will be. The last time I checked, the favourite was Carlo Ancellotti and apparently the CBF are trying hard to get their man. Vinicius Junior is singing his praises too. I would personally love this: 1/ Carlo isn’t the guy who is going to spend hours on the training pitch improving players or working on tactics; he is the master psychologist, mind controller and cup dominator. The Seleção don’t need a trainer. They need a master psychologist, mind controller and cup dominator; 2/ Having a ‘gringo’ in charge would be a big shift and an important shift in Brazil’s football and cultural evolution; and 3/ just imagine the fun and intrigue seeing how Carlo and his perky left eyebrow deal with the likes of Neymar, the rest of the Brazilian team, the media and the fans. It would be something new to us all, not least Don Carlo himself. Please make this happen.
Last but not least, spare a thought for Agua Santa, the beaten Paulista finalists. They may have lost the final second leg 4-0 but they did have a lead going into that game. They also beat some much more fancied teams, Bragantino and São Paulo, along the way to the final. The crazy thing about all of this is that the club don’t have a national league to compete in this year – they aren’t in one of Brazil’s top four national leagues so they will only play again in next year’s Paulista. I don’t know all the ins and outs and whys and how’s and how they get onto the national system, but it does show just how great they have done and the precariousness of some clubs in modern-day football.
The reality is that many of their players are now free agents and the club no longer have a first team, despite these heroics. I wish the players and club all the best – and hope that the players find clubs and the club can cobble together a competitive team for next year’s Campeonato Paulista. And with that, I leave you with the more heart-warming news that their captain, 34-year-old Bruno Mezenga (pictured above), has found himself a new team: no other than Pele’s own club and Serie A participants Santos. This shows that it is never too late to reach the top, or at least make it back to the top (Mezenga began his career at Flamengo, before drifting into relative obscurity).
Who do you think will win the Serie A? And what about the next Seleção coach – Ancellotti, Diniz or someone else? Share your thoughts. Leave a comment below.