Monday, 17 January 2011


Which we might call Reasons To Be Cheerful, Part I.

For those brought up on the well lubricated corporate love-in that is professional football in the gringo world, Brazilian football can often seem like some kind of surreal through the looking glass alternate reality. Goalkeepers (allegedly) pay people to hack their ex-partners to death, managers are fired after a couple of weeks in charge, no-one can decide who won the national championship in 1987, and lots of people still don´t really believe that points based league systems are that much of a good idea. This week in Pernambuco the game between Salgueiro and Cabense was called off after 30 minutes due to electricity failure. When Cabense didn´t turn up for the rearranged fixture the next day, Salgueiro were given the points on a WO. That kind of thing.

As you drop down the divisions things become stranger and stranger. Watching Santa Cruz, for example, gives the supporter the rare opportunity to become both fan and scout. Every year, or at least every year for the last three, Santa have dispensed with an entire team in October or November (really as early as contracts will permit – the club´s professional commitments are usually done with in August or so). Then in December and early January they sign another, entirely different team. Usually no-one has heard of any of the players, which means when the first game rolls around it is a case of peering anxiously out towards the grass, trying to decide whether any of them might make one remember happier times.

They usually don’t. Stirring through the soup of memory, Leandro Gobatto was a scrawny bog-brush haired central midfielder, brought in in 2009 to be the creative fulcrum of the team. Unfortunately he was neither creative nor fulcrum. Santa were eliminated from Serie D even earlier that year than they were in 2010.

Juninho was the Gobatto of 2008, right down to the six or seven minutes he needed before deciding what to do with the ball. Santa were relegated from Serie C to Serie D during his time at Arruda. And there are hundreds more, from lumbering centre half Goncalves (2008 and 2010), catastrophic full backs Alysson (2009) and Robinho (2010), to disaster prone strikers Roger (2009) and Saci (2008) not to mention witless managers by the sackful. Hello, Mauro Fernandes, hello Bagé! So many players and coaches, so little talent.

It is a pleasant enough way to while away an afternoon, perched up on the top of the big concrete bowl of Arruda, with the sun dipping low in the sky and spreading shadows across the field and further out, over the little houses and shacks of the favelas spreading over the hills towards where the city ends.

As for the scouting, a check list seems a good way to start. New right back Bruno Leite? Pace – slow to moderate. Tackling ability – questionable. Passing – weak. Ability to get forward – not much. Crossing – not so far applicable. Overall – a palpable hit!

The fun is only slightly diluted by the terrace critics you might find around you. It is the first week of the season, after all, and the first time most people have seen any of the players. Verdicts must be reached quickly. The quick workers get going after about three minutes. Caralho que zagueiro ruim! Christ what a shit central defender! Que filho da rapariga é esse lateral direito! This right back is a real son of a bitch! Miseravel! Desgraça! Pathetic waste of space! Bloody embarrasment! The Algonquin Round Table it is not.

This year might or might not be different. Santa have signed 16 or so new players, upon whom, together with one or two holdovers from last year and five or six promoted from the youth team, the hopes and dreams of a couple of million tricolores will rest in 2011.

Some have previous. Mário Lucio will carry a lot of weight on young shoulders in midfield after an impressive Serie A season (or half of one) for Guarani last year. Thiago Cunha is a blast from the past, known as Thiago Capixaba in his previous incarnation at Arruda. He will hardly be well remembered, having sued his way out of the club in 2008 (going to Palmeiras, where he did nothing), but has promised to change. Landú, a notorious hell raiser, has come in from Remo in Belém, perhaps the only club in Brazil currently in as much pain as Santa. Best of all is Thiago Mathias, a craggy, occasionally elegant centre half who along with Marcelo Ramos was Santa´s best player in 2009. Goalkeeper Thiago Cardoso once saved three penalties in the same game somwhere in Ceará.

I cannot summon the energy to travel the 50km or so to Vitoria De Santo Antão for Santa´s first game in the Pernambuco championship this year. Things seem to go well enough without me – O Mais Querido win 3-0, with goals by Laécio, Thiago Mathias and Renatinho. But one is not a Santa fan without a hefty dose of scepticism. It does not do to get carried away. Judgement will be reserved until I see it with my own eyes.

Continued below.

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