Sunday, 12 December 2010

There is a proper time for mourning and then that time passes and things move on. For Santa Cruz the NHS grief counsellor was the Copa Pernambuco, a juniors competiton but one in which the weighty, at least for this level, elenco tricolor was deployed in full. Santa lifted the cup fairly comfortably, though let a 3-1 lead slip in the final game against Sport to the disappointment of most of the 6,000 who turned up. Still a trophy is a trophy, even if the shouts of tri-campeão which echoed around Arruda were a little hollow.

There were good things to come out of the campaign – teenage midfielder Natan is a shiny talent who should dazzle in 2011, if Santa can hang on to him. After his heroics in 2009’s Serie D the returning Juninho did not disappoint, and strapping striker Gilberto showed that he could be a force in the Campeonato Pernambuco which starts in January.

After the game this blog felt briefly hopeful for a while before remembering the team in question is Santa Cruz. On the positive side salaries (both players and staff) have been paid. On the negative side all non-youth product players were released last week in order to pay them. So it´s goodbye to Goiano and Osmar (with thanks for their almost sterling work this year), Sidrailson, and perhaps most unfortunately, the aforementioned Juninho, who asked for a salary twice above what Santa were offering to stay for 2011. The big cloud marked Doom and Gloom hovers over Arruda again.

Though maybe not. Bizarrely for such an impoverished footballing region Pernambuco has never put much faith in its kids, preferring to import more expensive mid to lower level talent from the backwaters of the Carioca or Paulista leagues. The thinking at Santa under (so far) likeable (or at least not loathable) coach Zé Teodoro is to bring in a few higher profile players and fill the rest of the spots with youngsters.

It makes financial sense – 11 players earning R$15,000 a month adds up to a higher wage bill than three players earning R$25,000 and eight earning R$3,000. It might even make footballing sense, if the top earners pull their weight and the kids fulfill their potential.

The first of the big (and it´s all relative) earners to arrive was Thiago Mathias, one of this blog’s favourite Santa players of the last four or five years. A dominant, occasionally elegant centre half, his return from Ipatinga, where he had been on strike following a spat with the directors, was a coup.

Though even Thiago pales into insignificance, profile wise, compared to the return of another prodigal son, the never knowingly humble Little Charlie Bullet, better known in these parts as Carlinhos Bala.

Bala is the self proclaimed rei (king) de Pernambuco, winning the title in 2005 with Santa and in 2007 and 2008 with Sport, and starring for Nautico in 2009 and 2010. He is small, fast, aggressive and knows where the goal is. He is also as representative of his supporters as any 1980s Norn Iron unionist MP ever was – dark, skinny and with something of the cola (glue) sniffing street kid about him. No stranger to controversy, he has at some time or another managed to alienate the supporters of all three Recife teams – particularly rubro-negros (during the 2006 Pernambuco when playing for Santa he made obscene gestures at the Sport supporters and was sent off) and alvi-rubros (he repeated the trick in 2008 when playing for Sport – this time imitating a crying child as Nautico lost the classico). Last year he disabused the folclorico Santa hero Brasão of the notion that he was Recife’s big shot, crowning himself the king.

But such shenigans are common enough in Brazilian football and football fans have short memories. At this level Bala is a great talent (though he has failed to shine when playing outside Pernambuco) and gives Santa ‘s hopes for 2011 a tremendous lift. Things seem better already.

But wait. A literary interlude is required. The writer BS Johnson was a great believer in writing the truth and believed that all fiction is a lie, even going so far as to put the brakes on his novel Alberto Angelo after 161 pages and write OH FUCK ALL THIS LYING, before going on to explain that everyone knew the fictional story up to now had been a blatant sham and the central character was obviously the author and so on and so on.

So as the preceding was written on Thursday night when Bala’s agent said he was “a phone call away from signing with Santa” and as it’s now Sunday and the phone call never came, FUCK ALL THIS LYING here too. Charlie will be rubro-negro next year and not tricolor and as he himself said it was all a jogo de marketing. Such, often, is modern football.

After a few days of playing everyone else off against each other – Santa offered R$32,000 a month, Sport offered R$40,000, Bala’s agent said he was leaning towards Santa, Sport upped their offer to R$50,000 plus win bonuses - the shady deal was done at the Ilha Do Retiro. Fair enough on one level – it’s hard to imagine why Bala would choose Serie D over Serie B, not fair at all on another – he clearly knew what he was doing in manipulating the two teams against each other.

And not for the first time Santa are left with not much more than a handful of dust. Reinforcements are arriving, among them volante Marcus Vinicius (ex America-MG), meia Diego Biro (son of pantomime Brazilain footballing hero Biro Biro), zagueiro Thiago Ribeiro (ex – Chapocoense), lateral esquerdo Alexandre Silva and lateral direito Bruno Leite. No-one has ever heard of any of them, but then that’s life in the trenches of Serie D.

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