Wednesday, 28 December 2011

See A Darkness is worried about Santa Cruz.

Christmas was spent constructing a football pitch on the abandoned lot at the end of the street, after our hero, out walking Flup the idiot Pekinese on Christmas Eve, heard the voice. If you build it, he will come. True, SAD had been watching Mr Costner’s finest moment just a few hours before, but this was no trick of the imagination. SAD stood and watched the light drain from the midwestern sky for a few minutes, just to make sure. Goias. Iowa. Suddenly it all made sense. And the voice came again.

If you build it, he will come.

He, SAD knew immediately, could only be Brasão, stranded far from his tricolor roots in Feira de Santana, Bahia. So SAD set to work, knowing that if he built it, Brasão would come. And in a bit that wasn’t in the original film, SAD also knew that Brasão would not only come, he would then take SAD back with him to Recife, just before firing Santa to Campeonato Pernambucano and Serie C glory in 2012. As well, of course, as helping to repair SAD’s fractious relationship with his father.

So SAD built it. And waited. But Brasão did not come shuffling nervously out of the corn. And neither did Fumagalli. And neither did Thiago Cunha, who in fact did the opposite and disappeared into the corn. Branquinho appeared for a moment, then just as quickly stepped back into the shadows. There were rumours that Vanderson was wandering around in the middle of all the corn stalks, unable to find his way out. Luciano Henrique turned up, true enough, but by that time SAD had gone home.

Which leaves the cast of the Rogers and Hammerstein (or Garota Safada and Aviões Do Forró) musical that will be Santa Cruz 2012 looking pretty much like it did in 2011, minus Thiago Cunha and the fantasmas listed on this page a few weeks ago.

ThiagoCunhagate is as good an example as any of life in the footballing darkness, where, in case anyone was confused, Santa Cruz still dwell. Still outside the top two divisions, still excluded from the cosa nostra of Brazilian football that is the Clube Dos 13 and its TV money carve-up, still with debts of R$70 million or more (a large chunk of which is imminently payable to the Justicia Do Trabalho for non-payment of former players’ wages), still the menino pobre from Brazil’s footballing interior (or in other words, anywhere north of Belo Horizonte).

It was announced on December 14th that atacante, and specialist in weak shots to side netting or goalkeeper’s midriff, Thiago Cunha (who has previous in the world of contractual duplicity) was set to stay at Santa for 2012. All had been agreed, and oor Thiago just had to sign his contract extension. Tricolor enthusiasm was muted, though generally favourable. We’re pretty shit with him, imagine how bad we’d be without him? gushed one anel superior loyalist.

Except that on December 22nd Thiago announced that he wouldn’t be grazing on the Arruda turf next year, but instead would be strutting his dubious stuff on the greener grass of Guaratinguetá, in the interior of São Paulo.

Guaratinguetá were formed in 1988 and have been since 2004 the glove puppet of the sports management company Sony Sports. The club spent 2011 in the neighbouring city of Americana, changing their name in the process, after Guaratinguetá city council refused to stump up R$6 million to keep the team in town. Both Garça’s supporters were very upset by these events, though they will have been assuaged by the return of the club to Guaratinguetá for 2012. The club survives almost entirely on private investment and the support of their city council, whichever city it might be. 

Santa Cruz, as everybody knows, were formed in 1914 and are one of the most storied clubs of the Brazilian nordeste. In the last two years, despite playing in Serie D, the team has boasted average crowds of around 40,000.

All of which means, obviously, that Guaratingueta can afford to pay oor Thiago around three times what Santa can. Adeus, Sr Cunha, née Capixaba.

Unfortunately, ThiagoCunhagate is just the tip of the new signings iceberg. It is fair to say that Papai Noel did not bring Santa Cruz all that he was asked for. To recap:

Ex-Sport craftsman Fumagalli is wooed by the diretoria as a form of bringing back the wiry elegance that has been lacking in the tricolor midfield ever since Rosembrick lost his heart to a bottle of Guaraná. Recife B leap into the hunt at the last minute. A bidding war ensues between the two Recife big dogs. Fumagalli signs for Guarani of São Paulo.

Branquinho, who had been on loan at Sport from América PE, will provide next year’s goals. His signing is announced. I’m really chuffed to be playing for such a big team, Whitey says. Only nobody has told América. Santa have signed Branquinho without telling the team he plays for? That’s clever, snaps América president José Augusto Moreira. Contractual chaos looms.

In an attempt to make up for the Fumagalli debacle, the traditional Pernambuco proverb that states one aging ex-Sport midfielder is much the same as another is invoked. Except there are a few distinct differences between Fumagalli and Luciano Henrique, most evidently in the areas of work rate, motivation, and talent.  An airport welcoming committee and ticker tape parade up Avenida Beberibe will probably not be forthcoming.

At least Vanderson, an admirable volante who tugged opponents’ shirts across 241 games for Vitoria, saying in 2010 that he loved the club so much he’d even work there as a janitor, is rumoured to be on the way. Only this particular rumour has been doing the rounds so long that it has assumed almost mythical status. A number of Recife churches have replaced their hopeful Jesus Is Back signboards with Vanderson Signs for Santa posters.

Tricolor natives, a hot headed bunch, are restless. These directors are a bunch of clowns, scream the Twitter feeds, sack them all! Perhaps it is the news that Santa players will only return from their holidays on January 2nd, while Recife B players are already sweating under the Pernambucano sun, that has so incensed the mob.

But it is early yet. The defence of the Campeonato Pernambucano will not begin until January 15th. Vanderson may yet come. The return of 2010’s hapless hitman, Joelson, might be avoided. Maybe Papai Noel is just late. There may still be surprises in his sack.*

Though there probably won’t.

* One such surprise, in the talented shape of ex-Recife Jr striker Geílson, has just been announced, partly, though not entirely, scuppering the whinging tone of this piece.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Now that See A Darkness is a veritable internet smash hit, with over 100 followers on Tweeter, or something equally foolish, difficult decisions must be made.

What to do with such an army of disciples? Lead them into a David Koresh style mass suicide at Arruda, while Recife choque troops blast Achy Break Heart (or more appropriately, something by Naughty Wesley) from six foot high speaker stacks lined up along the canal bank?

Although thinking about it, given SAD’s secret Galoucura past, perhaps the reference should not be Koresh but Jim Jones, who spent a year in Belo Horizonte* in the sixties, and, given the way things later turned out, must almost certainly have been Atleticano.

Better by far would be to invest in a bit of brand marketing, and here too SAD has previous, thanks to his days selling his soul to something far, far worse than the devil, as legal department tea boy at a certain London based club and record label complex whose name cannot be mentioned here but who we might call Ministry of Sound. So just in time for Christmas – prepare yourself for SAD branded skimpy speedos, SAD flip-flops, SAD cachaça etc, etc. Maybe Neymar will be free for a bit of TV advertising.

Someone who was no stranger to cult fandom, or, for that matter, a bit of self-marketing, was a certain Mr Ivan Fiel Da Silva, better known in these parts as Brasão. Our hero has been in the news in Brazil this week (quite hard to find news, admittedly), having returned in a blaze of glory to the club where he made his name.

Unfortunately, anyone expecting a triumphant cry of O Glorioso Santa Cruz Do Recife at this point will be disappointed. Brasão will play not for O Mais Querido in 2012, but for Fluminense de Feira, of Bahia.

For some, such news will bring with it a sigh of relief and a mutter of thank Ana Maria Braga he’s not coming back here. For some, a gnashing of teeth at a potential answer to Santa’s chronic failings in front of goal having slipped away. For the vast majority, a shrug of the shoulders and a quick mouse click away from this page and on to something much more interesting.

But we are, after all, in the middle of Santa’s 2938 days in the wilderness (if you’re counting, and yes, SAD did, the clock started on 12/11/2006 with relegation to Serie B, and will run until a return to Serie A is clinched (possibly, but almost certainly not) on 30/11/2013).

In short, these are barren times, and heroes are thin on the ground. During his time in Recife, SAD can remember precious few. Carlinhos Paraiba, despite looking a bit like one half of Milli Vanilli, strived manfully, almost entirely single-handedly, and ultimately fruitlessly to keep Santa from falling into Serie C in 2007. Marcelo Ramos scored a bucketload of goals in the Campeonato Pernambucano in 2009. Gledson, and a year or so later, Tuti, were good, if not particularly great, goalkeepers.

That, really, is pretty much your lot. At least until this year, when a veritable George Lucas film set worth of heroes rolled onto the Arruda stage. The magnificent Gilberto. The dazzling Little Pants. Canny Weslley. Superfly Leandro Souza. Brazil’s best keeper, Thiago Cardoso.** The best thing ever to come out of Goias (and unfortunately, SAD should know), comandanteI Love You.

But this year doesn´t really count, because all the above are still here (apart from Gilberto), their legends still in the making. Hopefully, there will be more to come from all of them.

There won´t be more to come from Brasão, at least not with Santa. Looking back, maybe there wasn’t that much there in the first place. But back in 2010, for a few months at least, watching Brasão play was about as much fun as there was to be had with the lights on. Or off. Or flickering between on and off because the rickety nordeste power grid was on the verge of keeling over again.

Like a footballing Littlest Hobo, he turned up at Arruda without much fanfare. Then, and even now, players arrived, and left, Santa in their droves. The Brazilian footballing calendar is effectively made up of two seasons – in the first half of the year teams concentrate (to a greater or lesser degree) on the state championships. The national championship runs from May or June onwards. The problem is that Series C and D are structured something like the World Cup (and the similarity ends there), with just a couple of group phases, followed by knockout rounds.

As a result, and also because they were rubbish, from 2008 to 2010 Santa didn’t play more than twelve or fourteen games in the latter half of the year. And after each failed Campeonato Pernambucano, or each disappointingly early exit from Serie C or D, the players would pack their bags and head off into the sunset. A new bunch of steers would be rustled up for the following year. SAD remembers turning up for games at the start of the season with the names of that afternoon’s first team scrawled on a grubby piece of paper, peering out at the field and trying to match eleven unknown names to eleven unknown faces.

As regular readers will know and new ones will guess, most of the arrivals were of questionable quality. Brasão himself didn’t promise that much. There was a clip on Youtube of a cheeky chipped penalty for Atlético Goianiense in 2010. The usual vaguely surreal CV of the journeyman Brazilian footballer (four years at Fransa Goa in India, three clubs in one year in 2009). That was about it.

A low key debut was made as a substitute away against América in sticky Manaus in the Copa Do Brasil in February 2010. Three days later, an equally low key home bow against Sete De Setembro.

The Brasão sort of low key. Our hero`s end of game report: hit bar (twice), goals created (two), goals scored (one), over the top goal celebration resulting in yellow card (one), seven minute end of game interview proclaiming his love for Santa, the club`s fans and his new teammates (one).

That would set the scene for most of Brasão’s time at Arruda. Everything was splendidly over the top. A shot like a mule. The occasional ludicrously dangerous kidney high challenge on an unsuspecting opponent. The goal celebrations, which ranged from shirt off, muscle-flexing strongman, to waving of unfurled poster of daughter.

There were a few truly memorable performances. The clássico against Nautico/Recife Jr at Arruda in March was one. Santa had led 2-0 in the second half, courtesy of goals by Edson Miolo and Brasão (a preposterous 25 yard chip over advancing Nautico keeper Gustavo), before the jitters kicked in and Nautico scored two sloppy goals towards the end. Nigh on 40,000 tricolores sobbed into their Pitu, while at the Nautico end, a few thousand pink clad Barbie dolls were waved in wild celebration.

But cometh the hour, cometh Brasão (a quote the player himself, a great fan of referring to his exploits in the third person, would appreciate). With four minutes left, close to goal but with a defender and goalkeeper in front of him, Brasão swayed left, then faked a shot, dummied again, waited until both defender and goalkeeper were on the ground, then rolled the ball into the corner. Jackson added a fourth, and the top deck of Arruda shook under all the stamping feet. Brasão, of course, was sent off for over-celebrating his goal.    

Then there was the epic Copa Do Brasil victory over Botafogo in Rio De Janeiro on, appropriately enough, April Fool`s Day. Santa had lost the first leg 1-0 at Arruda, but played their little white socks off at the Engenhão. Léo hit a long ranger that slipped under Jefferson’s body for a 1-0 lead, before Botafogo equalised through Herrera. Brasão put Santa 2-1 up for an away goal lead. With just five minutes left, Herrera equalised again, putting Santa out and breaking tricolor hearts. Until, that was, Souza scored Santa’s winner  in injury time.

There were the never a dull moment, endearingly demented third person interviews: it’s not about Brasão. It’s about Santa Cruz. Only God is bigger than Santa Cruz. Brasão's car, parked up outside Arruda with a for sale sign stuck to it in protest at Santa`s slothful (putting it kindly) wage payment policy. The 75 tickets bought for fans for the Serie D game against Potiguar.  The fact that, for the first time in a long time, Santa had someone to get excited about. Brasão é esperanca, as one of the fans in the queue for the free tickets said, though his judgement may have been slightly coloured.

Brasão is hope.

This being Santa Cruz, however, hope springs eternal before being dashed almost immediately afterwards. With Brasão, fans were nervously optimistic that Santa would win the clássico against the hated Sport/Recife B at the Ilha De Retiro. But Santa lost 1-0, Brasão was feeble throughout, and was sent off in the second half for hacking down Eduardo Ramos.

There was the Campeonato Pernambucano semi-final exit against Nautico, when Santa failed to score a goal over two legs, and Brasão was taunted by Nautico`s Carlinhos Bala: the king of Pernambuco is Carlinhos Bala, not Brasão.

Worst of all was the defeat away at Guarany de Sobral which eliminated Santa from Serie D that year, and meant another awful year would be spent in the basement in 2011. Brasão had failed to score in the home leg, and missed the decider through injury.

After that defeat Brasão packed his bags, somehow wangling a move to Vitoria Setubal in Portugal`s Primeira Liga. There are a handful of newspaper stories on the internet about his first few months in Europe, but after that nothing, until his return to Brazil this week. With a career trajectory that reads Serie D to Primeira Liga then back to Serie D (or not even Serie D, as Flu de Feira will have to qualify via the Campeonato Baiano), SAD can’t decide whether the player has the best, or the worst, agent in the world.

In the end, as his CV will tell you, Brasão is probably not quite good enough to be a top flight footballer. Serie C or D is probably his true level. Even during his time at Santa, for every barnstorming show there would be two anonymous displays and one bloody awful one. He is a little bit too slow, and a lot too volatile, to be the player he would like to be.

But this is not a criticism. There is nothing wrong with being Brasão. He is better, after all, than thousands of other professional footballers around the globe. He continues to make a living from the game, and, without wishing to sound like a testosterone pumped high school American football coach, gives everything he`s got, almost much all the time. Sometimes, a bit too much.

And for a few months, during a period when it was not very much fun at all to be tricolor, Brasão gave a great many people something to smile about, even if only for a short while. And so SAD says, marketeering or not, thanks for the (brief) memories, and good luck for the future, Ivan Fiel Da Silva.   

* Give or take 40 years, Jones was almost a drinking buddy of SAD. According to Jaime, owner of the finest bar in Belo Horizonte (and once SAD`s local), the imaginatively titled Jaime`s in Santo Antonio, Jim Jones would drop in from time to time during his year in BH. Jaime reports that, like most suicide pacters/mass serial killers planning the death of 900 people, Jones was quite a pleasant chap who generally kept himself to himself.  

** If you can’t show your love like SAD can, even in the face of cold hard reality, then SAD feels sorry for you.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Like the ghosts of Shoeless Joe Jackson and the rest in Field of Dreams, slowly they slip away, back into the rows of corn. There will be no festa da despedida, no cheering crowds wishing them boa sorte, no champagne bottles smashed against this prow. It is on to pastures new, if not greener, for less than valiant tricolor guerreiros Alexandre Silva, Fernando Gaúcho, Ludemar, Washington, Walter, Roma, Bruno Leite, Cleber Goiano, Ricardinho and Leandrinho.

Each represented distinct phases of 2011. Laterals Bruno Leite and Alexandre Silva arrived twelve months ago, projected to be Santa`s Roberto Carlos and Cafu, and SAD imagined the pair buccaneering up and down the wings, terrorising opposing full backs, fierce in the tackle, strong in the handshake, generous and attentive to their womenfolk in bed.

Almost. After two games Bruno Leite was replaced by the equally hapless Jackson and, apart from a stand-in appearance against Cabense in February, was never seen again. Jackson himself lasted in the first team until March, as did Alexandre, when rational thinking returned to Arruda and the two were replaced by Cleber Goiano and Renatinho.

Ricardinho and Leandrinho arrived on the same day in July. Ricardinho was a meia and Leandrinho an atacante. Or maybe Leandrinho was a meia and Ricardinho was an atacante. The plan was to add enough midfield nous and attacking spark to put the all-conquering champions of Pernambuco over the top in Serie D. Continuing the lexicographical confusion, debuts were made as substitutes against Santa Cruz (Rio Grande Do Norte), on 14th August. After that, like drinking Pitu and cerebral aneurysm, our two friends were rarely separated. Four games later it was the end of the first team line for Dastardly and Muttley.

Ludemar and Fernando Gaúcho, meanwhile, joined Larry (Kiros), Curly (Caça-Rato), Moe (Thiago Cunha) and the rest, in the ensemble comedy that was Santa’s post-Gilberto front line. In the madcap scramble for promotion from Serie D, coach Zé Teodoro adopted a score-or-you’re-out policy. This understandably proved to be a problem for our heroes, for whom, in terms of difficulty, scoring goals was on a par with reciting the Koran backwards. Ludemar and Gaúcho were each called up each three times (approximately – SAD really hasn’t the energy to check) and dropped three times.*

Affectionate joshing (truly, SAD swears, in the event that he should ever happen to bump into any of the above mentioned players) apart, there is a sad story at work here. For Serie D and to a lesser extent Serie C, particularly in the more remote regions of this footballing kingdom, is the Slough of Despond of Brazilian football, the hard knock cousin of o jogo bonito. Few of these players earn huge amounts of money. Fewer still will go on to greater things after Santa - in recent years only Gilberto (Internacional), Leo (Botafogo, briefly, now back at Santa) and Carlinhos Paraíba (São Paulo) have taken great leaps forward after Arruda.**

It is an annual event, this drifting in and drifting out of players. The short Serie D and Serie C campaigns (most tricolores these days dream not of a Libertadores final against Boca Juniors but of the simple pleasure of a 38 game, pontos corridos season), and the terrible pressure they create for a big club like Santa, mean that only the chosen few stay very long. This year, at least, Santa kept playing until December, meaning contracts could be honoured. In other years, early elimination from Serie D meant the club, with no fixtures and so no money to pay wages, has had to buy its players out, and grant them early release.

And for the supporter, how can one remember, let alone love, players who stay only for a game or two? A glance back over the teamsheets of the past brings up names that only the obsessive statistician will remember.  SAD  is not an obsessive statistician, and worse, after years of Pitu abuse, is the possessor of an at best fractious memory.

Take 2008`s Titanic-esque Serie C campaign. SAD was at the Amigão in Campina Grande for that first game against Campinense (a 2-1 defeat, no reader will be very much surprised to learn). He can remember Memo from that day, and a clutch of others, including the excellent Juninho, doughty Alexandre Oliviera, and grizzled 63 year old striker Edmundo. Even Gilberto appeared, briefly, showing what a slowly mellowing wine he turned out to be.

But Garrinchina, and Esquerdinha? Who the Marcus Valerio were they? They didn’t feature much – both were dropped a few weeks later following another slapstick defeat, this time 3-0 against Potiguar. Other than the odd spot start, neither would feature again. SAD has no recollection of either.

There are a hundred such names. Adilson, lateral during 2009`s Campeonato Pernambucano, was a great favourite of SAD, as can be seen here. Whither Adilson today? Nobody, certainly not Google, seems to know.  Midfield schemer Leandro Gobatto, who was to be the Zidane of 2009’s victorious Serie D promotion campaign, fares a little better, with his own Youtube show-reel and even a Wikipedia page. Unfortunately, neither provides any information of what happened after his year at Santa.

Can anyone remember zagueiro Daniel Horst, who played against Ypiranga in the Campeonato Pernambucano in 2009? A Daniel Horst has just rolled up at Botafogo-SP. Could it be our hero? SAD suspects it must be. There can`t be too many Daniel Horsts in the Brasileirão. Add one, then, to the list of former Santa players whose career has if not flourished then at least continued, post Arruda.

What of calamitous lateral Robinho, loaned from Atlético de Alagoinhas in Bahia for the Pernambucano in 2010? Once his time was up at Arruda (which, one suspects, might have been a few minutes into his first training session), Robinho presumably wandered the dusty roads back to Alagoinhas. After that, the trail runs cold.

No such discussion would be complete without a mention of the fabled Thomas Anderson. SAD can’t remember when Thomas first surfaced at Arruda, but knows that he has played in, and been released immediately after, every competition that Santa have contested since 2008. SAD feels confident that when this blog is in its dotage, a decade or so from now, Thomas Anderson will once more be giving interviews in the Recife press, saying that he has matured and is confident that this is the year when he really makes his mark.

Last but not least comes the great Paulo Rangel. A feared goal getter at Salgueiro in 2009, Santa signed Paulo for one solitary, make-or-break contest. Only a win against CSA at Arruda, in the last Serie D game that year, would keep Santa`s promotion chances alive. Paulo, surely, would make that win a reality. Readers will guess the rest. Santa drew 2-2, Rangel missed a boatload of chances. It would be Serie D again in 2010.

And after that? Like the ghost of Shoeless Joe, Paulo Rangel drifted away into the corn. Literally, in this case. Mr Rangel spent 2011 with Cuiabá, in Brazil’s very own Iowa, Mato Grosso.

To finish, no such baseball-referencing wafflings would be complete without a little bit of Roger Angell. How about this gem, on sporting ghosts, the difficulties proved by box score induced abbreviations, and the Robbie Burns spirit?

Not even a latter-day O. Henry would risk a conte like the true, electrifying history of a pitcher named Pete Jablonowski, who disappeared from the Yankees in 1933 after several seasons of inept relief work with various clubs. Presumably disheartened by seeing the losing pitcher listed as “J’bl’n’s’i” in the box scores of his day, he changed his name to Pete Appleton in the semi-privacy of the minors, and came back to win fourteen games for the Senators in 1936, and continue in the majors for another decade.  

* SAD shouldn`t be too harsh on Ludemar and Gaúcho – the pair ultimately scored the goals that got Santa out of Serie D. But boy, was it a struggle.

** Those bouncing up and down in their seats at the back shouting about Gledson and Thiago Mathias can pipe down. Recife Jr, Serie A or not, is nobody`s idea of progress, and neither is being relegated with Ceará.