Tuesday, 6 September 2011

If the Serie D noose had not quite been tightening around tricolor necks then someone had at least been sent out to Hanging Ropes R Us to check on stock levels. The weeks leading up to Sunday’s game against Porto had a distinctly Arsene Wenger’s August 2011 feel about them.

Dissatisfaction has always spread as fast as bird flu amongst the Santa support. The 16,000 who invaded João Pessoa against Alecrim, still tipsy on campeão champagne, had dwindled to 4,000 (still not too shabby) by the time another chance to make the same trip, this time against evil twin Santa Cruz of Rio Grande Do Norte, came around nine days ago.

The prudent 12,000 didn’t miss much – a hopeless 0-0 that by all accounts was worse than the score line suggests. Home attendances have been on the slide too – 42,000 against Alecrim in the first home game of the league season dropped to 35,000 against the evil twin on 14/8, and a relatively puny 27,000 turned up against Porto. This is the best support in Brazil, after all.

Misfiring strikers have been the most obvious post Pernambucano Arruda malaise, with Messrs Grahl, Cunha, Rene, Kiros, Rat Hunter and Ricardinho as toothless as hens. Having the now departed Grahl lead the line was as appetising a prospect as cold porridge, while Cunha has not been the same since his injury early on in the Pernambucano running (and following the old adage that the more self-aggrandising a player is, the less his loyalty may be relied upon, there may still be some trust issues with Oor Thiago).

Rat Hunter is the current favourite of the vitriolic Arruda boo-boys and goals are urgently required soon if he is not to become the next Landu. 12,000km of distance makes it impossible for See A Darkness to comment on the hardly seen Kiros and the unseen Ricardinho, but even from afar the former has promise while the latter will hope to avoid the fate of Reinaldo's 2009 return to Arruda, which proved you should never, ever go back.

Injuries and suspension have decimated the midfield with Wesley, Natan and Renatinho – Santa’s three Don Drapers (aka creative whizzes, for those unfortunates who haven’t seen Mad Men) during the Pernambucano - all missing Sunday’s game. Bismarck has arrived to save the day, with Leandrinho in as his Ron Weasley.

Added to this was Matias-gate. Santa’s xerifão gave notice last week that he had received an offer from Ceará, currently tootling along happily enough in Serie A. Business was done in the usual Brazilian way – buying club contacts player and offers wheelbarrow load of cash, player accepts wheelbarrow load of cash, informs his current club (until now been completely in the dark) that he’s off, buying club offers selling club a small fraction of the contractual multa, or penalty, that player is responsible for when breaking his contract, selling club shrugs its shoulders and cries into its beer. The aforementioned Mr Wenger, railer against tapping up in all its forms, would not be impressed.

Matias is gone now, taking his remarkable 14 2011 goals with him (as a centre half!) and See A Darkness, is….well, not that bothered, if truth be known. Though the timing could have been better, the standard howls of Judas and Traitor are wide of the mark, given that Brazilian football clubs treat their players and managers like so much chattel – dumping them at will, paying them late if at all. Matias is pushing 30, and painfully slow even in his best days, and probably does not have much time left at the top. At a push he was Santa’s second best defender, after Leandro Souza, at worst number three or four behind Everton Sena and the as yet unused Walter. And a quick caveat emptor for the square-heads of Ceará – if Matias occasionally looked sluggish against the dullards of the Campeonato Pernambuco and Serie D, what terrors lie ahead against the likes of Ronaldinho Gaucho, Neymar, Lucas, Liedson et al?

Amidst all the confusion, even the implacable Mr Teodoro’s judgement has wobbled. Flipping strikers like burgers in a desperate search for goals, there has been little chance for continuity or understanding to grow amongst the tricolor troops. Three different formations were tested in the run up to Sunday’s game and the Friday favourite – 4-3-3 – was ditched at half time. Ditched before that was youngster Jefferson Maranhão, touted as Dutra’s replacement at left back. In the end Zé Knows  (most of the time) went with Chicão as volante, pushing Roma across to the left and Memo back to right back. Maranhão was left on the bench, of which more later. 

With all this in mind, 4th August 2011 had the feel of being Santa’s 16th July 1950 (or should that be another 16th July 1950, given that we've already had a few). See A Darkness followed things in the now usual way – tinny internet radio clutched to hot little ear. 0-0 after 45 minutes, against bottom of the table Porto, meant boos echoed around the canyons of Arruda at the break. Was it really going to wrong again, so soon? This is the problem with Serie D – two or three defeats can mean the end of the road.

Still at least one person in Brazil would be pleased – Tyra Banks* of the Centro-Oeste, currently patiently awaiting SAD’s arrival in the savannah swelter of Goiania. If Santa make it to the knock-out stages, SAD isn’t going anywhere but Recife. If Santa are out, Goiania beckons all the sooner.

In the end the small moments make all the difference. Back in November last year, in the final of the rubbish Copa Pernambuco, SAD witnessed a hitherto timid Gilberto, who had been so unsure of himself he’d been loaned out to Vera Cruz that year, and so shy he refused to give TV interviews, elbow his way in front of two big defenders and bully in a thumping header against Sport. Gilberto was transformed and would go on to carry Santa to the Pernambuco title and earn himself a move to Internacional.

On Sunday, with Santa floundering, Ze Teodoro threw on Bismarck and Jefferson Maranhão in place of Leandrinho and Ricardinho. Maranhão is 18 and so green around the gills that his birth place is not listed on the Santa website (it may or may not be somewhere in Maranhão). No matter -  after 13 minutes of the second half, after receiving a ball from Rat Hunter, he dribbled round the zaga and curled the ball into the corner.

Crisis over. With Maranhão and Bismarck’s pace and craft Santa were transformed, though Rat Hunter and Kiros missed their usual glut of unmissable chances and Thiago Cardoso was required to palm away a firm Porto header near the end. Arrudazo averted, a vital three points and the leadership of group A4 in the bag. Tyra Banks might have to wait.

* Name changed following reader complaints. And it always pays to keep the missuss happy. 


  1. Hi there

    My name is Zvi Adller and i am the editor in chief at www.who-is-thegreatest.com , a new user-content "hall of fame 2.0" project, online since June 2011.

    We are looking to collaborate with sports writers and bloggers in terms of content, links exchange etc. if you are interested, let me know.

    Your feedback will be much appreciated. Really.

  2. Thanks James I and the huge crowd of santa cruz, thank you for the blog, I will disclose enough for it to become popular as well as our club here in Brazil.