Friday, 16 March 2012

Fine Dining, Difficult Second Albums and Other Mixed Metaphors

Supporting a team like Santa Cruz, who over the last few years have put their supporters through Websterian (John) levels of agony and suffering, does something to the body and soul. It creates a certain toughness of spirit. Raises the pain threshold.  Makes one, so runs the theory, a better man.  

Not for the tricolor the whining of the supporters of leading English teams not named Manchester City, with all their complaining that their fabulously wealthy club is not as rich as another, even more fabulously wealthy club. Not for the tricolor the whimpering of the Flamenguista, demanding the head of Patricia Amorim on a silver platter because Mengão don’t win the Brasileirão, the Libertadores, and the All-Rio Under 15’s Domino Championship every single year.

Sobral away, for those unlucky few who went (SAD among them), was the tricolor’s bitten-by-a-funny-coloured-spider-in-the-lab moment. A quick reminder. Despite two balletic own goals by zagueiro Leandro Cardoso, Santa won the first leg of the 2010 Serie D promotion playoff against Guarany de Sobral 4-3, in front of a swaying, heaving mass of 55,000. A tidy performance away in the Ceará dustbowl would be enough to see O Mais Querido through. To stay at home was hardly an option, so SAD joined a thousand or so fellow sufferers on the 20 hours there, 20 hours back pilgrimage to Sobral. Santa lost 2-0. The return journey was, then, a time for considerable self-evaluation, and the making of many promises about how things would be different from now on.

After that, the spiderman super powers kicked in. Defeats were sneered at. Eliminations simply bounced away of the tricolor’s protective armour. After Sobral, nothing could hurt the tricolor.

Until now. Until this week, when in one of the more miserable of many, many miserable performances over the last five or six years, Santa lost 3-2, at home, to Penarol of Amazonas, and were eliminated from the Copa Do Brasil. To give some background, Penarol were playing in Division 2 of the Campeonato Amazonense in 2008 and, as late as 2007, were still an amateur team. The club’s average gate in 2011 was 823 people. A further note. Santa had won the first, away leg, 2-1.

And suddenly, the protective armour helps not a jot. SAD, to his surprise, is sick and sleepless with anger, frustration, and regret.

Perhaps it hurts because of the sheer stupidity of it all. Given that Santa won the Campeonato Pernambucano last year, defeating two Serie A (nominally at least) teams in the form of Recife Jr and Recife B, and then went on to win promotion from Serie D in October, plus reinforced (nominally at least) the team in the off-season, AND with an away victory from the first leg in their pockets, the team shouldn’t, you would have thought, have had too much trouble seeing off the mighty Penarol.

Perhaps it’s because expectation died so quickly and cruelly. And here SAD is himself to blame, for committing the cardinal sin of looking forward to something. For if Santa had managed the herculean task of defeating Penarol, they would have come up against Atlético Mineiro. Atlético Mineiro! SAD’s first team in Brazil, from all those years ago when he first stepped off the boat in Belo Horizonte (excuse artistic and geographic license). What a time for reminiscing and happy, happy remembering it would be! More importantly, a game that would bring back memories of Santa’s glorious Copa do Brasil displays over the last two years, against Botafogo (the home leg was lost, the away leg was won, miraculously, in Rio, with a last minute goal from Souza) and São Paulo (the home leg was won, though stout resistance in the second game could not, ultimately, keep Lucas et al at bay). And more importantly again, an (improbable) victory over Atlético would see Santa take on (possibly) Goiás in the next round! Here, in SAD’s very own Elba!

None of which will now happen.

Perhaps it’s down to a greater knowledge of Santa and their financial plight (debts of R$75 million and counting, a constant struggle to pay bills, wages and service outstanding debts). Last year’s game against São Paulo was watched by 46,000 at Arruda. Gate receipts totaled close to R$1 million, which doesn’t include TV money or extra sponsorship deals. With Santa’s crowds perhaps healthier even this year than last, such income would have been easily surpassed in a game against Atlético.

[Insert link to sound effect of water swishing and slurping down a plughole].

Why, then, were Santa so apathetic against Penarol? Why, in fact, have they been so apathetic throughout 2012? SAD, if he may, would like to suggest two possible theories:

(1) That difficult second album syndrome. Santa Cruz, in 2011, were the perfect blend of determination and organisation. Entering the Pernambucano, Santa’s last game had been against Sobral, the year before.  Wrongs were there to be righted. Zé Teodoro had arrived, with a clear idea of how the team should be set up. The players themselves were an ideal mix of hungry, young talent (Gilberto, for example, had spent 2010 on loan at Vera Cruz, in the interior of Pernambuco, and had seemed on more than one occasion to be on his way out of Arruda), and journeymen, inspired by playing in front of such big crowds and either still hopeful of climbing the ladder (Weslley, Thiago Cardoso) or stretching out a long career for just one more year (Jeovanio). The team were underdogs, vira latas, rank outsiders in the Pernambucano. That determination, organisation, and never say die spirit carried the team a long way. Guerreiros, the fans sang, and for once it wasn’t an exaggeration.  

2012 could hardly be more different. The team is more confident, more sure of its own abilities. Nothing to prove here, might be Santa’s motto, we know what we’re doing. We’re a top outfit these days, you know. It might not always be obvious, or even conscious, but it’s there, lying beneath the surface, making the blood run just a little slower, sapping just a pipette of energy from pounding legs, allowing the mind to wander, just a little, at just the wrong moment. The results have been calamitous.

(2) The posh restaurant syndrome:   In 2011, with extremely limited resources, Zé Teodoro made water into wine. Nineteen year old Everton Sena, with only a handful of first team appearances behind him, was transformed into the greatest man marker the world has ever seen, effortlessly nullifying São Paulo’s Lucas, at the time riding a vertiginously ascending star for both club and country, and Recife B kingpin Marcelinho Paraiba. Gilberto was given enough confidence to become the Pernambucano’s best player, and earn a move to Internacional. Even when the goals dried up at the end of the year, the manager was able to eke out a vital away goal here and there to see Santa safely into Serie C. It was, in short, a virtuous display.

Things are different now. It is as though after a year or two of performing gastronomic miracles with some lentils, a bit of dried bread and some on the cusp tomato sauce, Zé I Love(d) You has been seated at the best table in Recife’s finest restaurant, a crisp white napkin tucked under his neck by an obsequious flunky, and told to order whatever he wants. The surprisingly tasty lentils, dried bread and tomato sauce (Renatinho, Léo, Natan, etc) are no longer good enough. Now only the finest will do for our hero. I’ll have the suckling Charlie Bullet, with mountains of Eduardo Arroz on the side, and a vat of Luciano Henrique sauce to go with it, he cries. And when the platter arrives, tough, chewy, far from as fresh and tender as expected, Zé is undaunted. I paid for it, so I’ll bloody well eat it, he bellows, as a waiter dares to remove one of the plates. And, stubborn to the end, our Zé does chew his way through it all, oblivious to the damage being done to his waistline, arteries, and Santa’s prospects for the year ahead.

Another slant on theory (2). Once more in Recife’s finest restaurant, Zé Teodoro is bewildered by the myriad choices on offer. Ordering becomes impossible. It’s all too much, he shrieks, you decide, passing the menu to a passing Pekingese. The Pekingese emits a few random barks, and Zé’s order is placed, after a fashion. That, then, would be an analogy for Zé Teodoro, who, entirely spoilt and confused by having to solve such conundrums as which two from Memo, Léo, Sandro Manoel and Anderson Pedra to play as volantes (Zé, of course, chooses Chicão, which nobody can understand, not even the Pekingese), gives up entirely, gives his pen to a passing pigeon, the pigeon scrawls a few names on the team sheet, and pronto!

Job done.

And the year, already shaping to be one of ennui and mild to heavy suffering, rumbles slowly on. 

Note: Profound thanks to Memorias do Santa Cruz, again, for the photo.