Friday, 18 November 2011

Guerreiros, Guerreiros, Guerreiros, Time De Guerreiros, is a chant that has echoed around many a Brazilian football ground in recent years. Based on the track Sorte Grande (or Big Luck), by introspective, melancholic Bahian singer Ivete Sangalo, with its hushed, haunting refrain of Poeira, Poeira, Poeira, Levantou Poeira (we sure kicked up some dust, or words to that effect), it acclaims the warrior spirit of the team in question, salutes their unconquerable spirit, praises their brave Brazilian hearts.   

Perhaps the most famous Team Of Warriors in the last few years has been 2009’s Fluminense, who were bottom of the table with only a few games left before reeling off six wins on the trot and escaping relegation on the last day of the season. A quick scan of the internet, however, reveals that the term Time De Guerreiros has, like cheap shoes, been somewhat devalued by overuse. This year’s warriors include Cruzeiro (one position above the relegation zone despite an extravagantly talented cast of players), Vasco (fair enough – coach Ricardo Gomes almost died of a stroke a couple of months ago, and last week’s stirring comeback against Universitario of Peru wasn’t too shabby), Guarani, heroically mid-table in Serie B, and Atletico Parana (even worse off than Cruzeiro). These days, it seems, winning a throw-in in the opposition half while losing to a team not much better than yourselves is enough to earn a rousing chorus of Guerreiros, Guerreiros, Guerreiros, Time De Guerreiros, from the stands.  

Santa Cruz 2011, of course, have been a Time De Guerreiros pretty much all year, and from time to time have even deserved it. On 30th March Rogerio Ceni, Lucas and the rest of the São Paulo glamour pusses rolled into Recife for a Copa Do Brasil tie. Santa’s names were less well-known but gutsier. 19 year old Everton Sena marked Lucas out of the game, Gilberto out-muscled Alex Silva and Rhodolfo, Renatinho did his smaller-faster-better routine one more time, and Rogerio Ceni lost the plot completely, charging 90 yards to scream in the referee’s face as Santa goalkeeper Thiago Cardoso lay injured on the ground. The referee sensibly sent Rogerio The Humble 90 yards back to his own goal, as cries of timinho, timinho (wee team, wee team, in the Norn Iron vernacular) rang around the ground. 

Another timinho, aka Recife B, aka Sport Club Do Recife, were chewed up and spat out three times in a row, first of all at Arruda, then at the Ilha Do Retiro, then at the Ilha again in the Campeonato Pernambucano final. All three times Santa were rank outsiders – Sport’s payroll is three or four times bigger than Santa’s, Santa are/were in Serie D, Sport have the biggest support in Recife, in the nordeste, in America Do Sul, in the world, and are rivalled on the pitch only by Barcelona and possibly Manchester City (by now SAD’s leanings towards the bluer, and better half of Manchester are hopefully common knowledge).*  All three times the results were ground out through determination, sweat, and the odd moment of genius from Wesley, Renatinho, Gilberto or Thiago Cardoso.

So far so guerreiro. But then came Serie D. Santa were no-hopers at the start of the Pernambucano, expected to finish well behind Sport, Nautico, and maybe even Salgueiro, Porto or Central. But in Serie D, suddenly, Santa were favourites, roared on by crowds 60, or even 600, times bigger than some of their rivals. And if wages at Arruda are a long way behind those at the Ilha or Aflitos, then imagine what the slim pay packets at Alecrim or Coruripe must be like.

Such pressure has weighed heavy on fragile tricolor backs, and in truth Santa have struggled mightily in Serie D. Such has been the fear of defeat (understandable, given the cruel twists and turns of Serie D’s group/knockout structure) that Santa have retreated into their collective shell. Steadfast, determined, warriors once more, even though this time the opposition has not been São Paulo or Sport but Cuiaba, Treze and Guarani.

Still, the salutes of guerreiros, guerreiros have continued. The scoreless second leg away in Alagoas against the mighty Coruripe was clearly the work of heroes, as was the stirring fight back against the all-conquering Treze in Campina Grande. SAD might even have joined in with a verse or two in Rondonopolis as the omnipotent Cuiaba were put to the sword in the Serie D semi-final. Fair enough – all three games saw Santa qualify for the next round. But really, Coruripe, Treze and Cuiaba?

The thing about being a Time De Guerreiros is that the underlying subtext is that, well, you’re not very good. Nobody calls Barcelona or Man City a Time De Guerreiros, because Barcelona or Man City don’t really need to roll their sleeves up and battle as though their lives depend on it to escape from Juiz De Fora with only a 1-0 defeat (supposedly setting things up nicely for the second leg). Being a Time De Guerreiros means a team is effectively a bunch of honest toilers, stubborn and hard working, but lacking in talent and inspiration. And when you’re being a Time De Guerreiros against teams that are probably worse off than you are, then it’s an even poorer state of affairs.

The thing is that Santa are more than a Time De Guerreiros. Thiago Cardoso is as good a goalkeeper as there is outside of Serie A. Leandro Souza is a classy zagueiro, if a bit slow. Memo has developed into a decent volante, though is a terrible fill-in fullback. Weslley has a terrific range of passing. Renatinho and Natan are as gifted as those weird 12 year old kids who pass their Oxford or Cambridge entrance exams that you sometimes see on the news.

And then there is Bismarck. Bismarck is imaginative, creative and quick. Bismarck has transformed almost every game he has played in (usually coming on as a late substitute). A midfield of Bismarck, Renatinho and Weslley would carve open most defences at this or even higher levels, and certainly that of Tupi, Santa’s opponents in the second leg of the Serie D final on Sunday. Even Thiago Cunha, Kiros and Rat-Hunter, surely, could not contrive to miss all the chances that such a midfield would create.

But Bismarck is not a guerreiro. Bismarck might give the ball away too often. Santa have come this far on Zé Teodoro’s terrific organizational skills and the aforementioned redoubtable mental and emotional characteristics. Bismarck, then, is a luxury, perhaps to be held in reserve for the more refined terrain of next year’s Serie C.

Maybe, though, the whole guerreiro thing is getting a bit tired now. It’s the last game of the season. Santa’s chance to win their first ever national championship (embarrassing as that sounds). 60,000 roaring from the stands. Jeovanio is suspended, opening up a spot in midfield. Tupi are probably not very good. Two defensive midfielders will perhaps not be completely necessary.

SAD feels the need to beseech. Come on Zé Teodoro! Guerreiros no more! On Sunday, as Santa run out 3-0 winners following a glorious display of expansive, flowing football, a new chant will be needed!

Weaklings, weaklings, weaklings, team of weaklings!        

* All of these claims, remarkably, are true. At least according to every Recife B supporter SAD has ever met. 

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