I’m not talking about the World Cup yet, I’m still in a huff with it (see my last post for details…)
We are currently in close season, but it won’t last much longer with the madness of the State Championships due to kick off in most states a week on Sunday. Mental – they only finished the league on the 8th December.
No wonder, then, that senior players have led a sit-down protest against the crazy schedules that they are forced to play here. Your typical calendar runs something like: January-April, State Championships; January-July, Copa Libertadores; July-Dec, Copa Sul-Americana; April-November Copa do Brasil; May-December, the League. Add into that mix the summer international tournaments and you begin to wonder how the players are still standing come December, never mind how they manage to pull themselves together to start the whole gruelling process again in January! I remember Ronaldo’s ill-advised, “They treat us like slaves” comment a few years back… Come and spend a couple of seasons in Brazil, bonny lad!
For the record, football’s a bit like cricket over here in that if your star player gets chosen for the national team you just have to get on without him while he’s away. Nice, eh?
My biggest problem with the calendar here is the State Championships. They used to be huge deals – I mean, properly huge. Matches between Flamengo and Fluminense (the Fla-Flu) in the Carioca Championship used to attract 100,000+ into the Maracanã. The biggest crowd at a club match was this fixture in 1963 when 177,500 squeezed in! Because of their history and tradition they are still fiercely defended, especially by the traditionalists. The younger, more globally savvy, generations are more pragmatic when it comes to them, but when I mention scrapping them they still get a wry smile across their face which lets me know that they still love winning it.
They are defended more so by the State Football Federations themselves, and it’s easy to see why. Firstly, without these championships their smaller clubs would, in many cases, simply fold. A few fixtures against the state giants once a year can help tide a club over till the next big payday comes in (it is with this argument that I have most sympathy). Then, we have the power that these championships generate for the State Federations within the CBF. A state such as Rio Grande do Sul only has two major teams, fair enough they are the giants Grêmio and Internacional, but without hosting their state championships it is easy enough to imagine them losing their voice within the halls of power at CBF headquarters, and the same can be said of every state with the exception of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
There must be solutions to this conundrum that would enable the smaller clubs to get their payday but would alleviate the demands placed on the players of the top clubs. I’ve come to terms with the fact that my radical idea of scrapping them altogether isn’t going to come to fruition any time soon, but there are other ways. They could let the smaller clubs battle it out for the right to face the big clubs, for example, only introducing top flight teams in the later rounds. Or, they could even remove the top flight clubs altogether, remould them as tournaments for teams outside the top flight (a sort of FA Vase type of thing) and then get the media right behind the tournaments and sell them to the public on a mass wave of publicity.
As a footnote to all this, it is interesting to note that traditional yo-yo club, Atlético Paranaense finished in a remarkable 3rd place last year. Maybe it was just a coincidence, but their president had made it clear prior to their State Championship kicking off last year that they wouldn’t be taking it seriously, they would be fielding youth and reserve players and they would be concentrating on the league. Unlike NUFC, their strategy was actually aimed at success, as opposed to mediocrity, and they more than achieved it.
I’ve had a pretty busy festive period, the highlight has to have been taking the boy to his first ever football game. Not many can say this, but his first match was in a VIP box at the Maracanã watching Zico. Fantastic.
Zico holds an annual charity match at the Maracanã and we scored tickets through my brother-in-law. The game itself was, as you’d imagine, a mixture of old timers showing their touch and flair (and Zico, at 70, still has plenty of both) surrounded by youngsters doing the running, mixed with plenty of showmanship and joking. We also had the di Canio style pantomime villain in the shape of Renato Gaúcho who earned more boos than Mike Jones. Zico is a legend (lenda) for Flamengo so there was a huge Flamenguista presence in the stands and they’ll never forget the goal that Renato Gaúcho scored for their arch-rivals, Fluminense, to win the Carioca Championship in 1995. Hilariously he scored that goal with his stomach and so is now known as the Gol de Barriga (Goal of the Belly) – it even has it’s own Wiki page – click here .
In the end Amigos do Zico ran out comfortable winners, beating Estrelas do Brasil 7-3, but with a very interesting sub-plot, as explained – click here –
You can have a look at the skills on show here (and it’s well worth a gander, just for SEVENTY YEAR OLD Zico’s first goal – click here
More importantly, as any Dad out there will tell you, when we take our kids, specifically our boys (sorry girls!), to the match for the first time, we hope upon hope that they will be hit with that feeling of awe and wonder that we remember feeling the first time we stepped out into the stands to be confronted with the gloriously green pitch surrounded by the colour and din of a rocking football stadium. Well, I couldn’t be any prouder to say that I certainly wasn’t disappointed! Although the bairn is too young to remember the moment in later years (he’s about to turn 3), I’ll certainly never forget it; the moment his jaw dropped and his eyes drew wide with wonder and he said his breathy, slow, ‘WOW!’ will be imprinted in my memory till the day I switch off for good. For those yet to experience it: savour it – it’s mint. As the Editor has already pointed out to me, his next big one will be SJP and I can’t wait to get him up the steps at the Strawberry Corner!
I’m probably well late on this, but if you haven’t already, please get yourself on the tf Saturday Special mailing list – it’s absolutely free and the Deputy. Editor has created a weekly read that is now firmly a part of my match day ritual, and I’m certain I’m not alone! Subscribe – click here –
And finally… Good luck to Seedorf at AC Milan! I’m going to miss seeing the old fella pulling the strings for the Black ‘n’ White wonders, but that’s football for you.
As ever – if you have any questions about anything Brazilian or about these ramblings, leave them in the comments box and I’ll be happy to get back to you.