For a while there, things got pretty ugly. Anti-Zé Teodoro protests at training sessions. Twitter and Facebook campaigns demanding the removal of The Fool on the Hill. Fan turning on fan. Then again, maybe it was all worse than it seemed.
After all, the most steadfast of Santa’s support has always come from the trenches, amongst the Inferno Coral masses, and the hordes up on the arquibancada superior who can’t afford to pay more than R$10 for their tickets. The boo-boys are generally to be found over in the more middle class neighbourhoods of Arruda, in the seats and the área de sócios, where the only chanting ever heard involves calling for the head on a stick of some doomy player or manager. And it’s a fair bet that with more time and more internet access on their hands, those same middle class types (relatively speaking) made the redes sociáis their very own digital área de sócios fiefdom for a few weeks. Empty vessels, and all that.
Either way, it was no fun at all. For an eminently reasonable gringo tricolor such as See A Darkness, the thought of sacking a manager who had taken Santa to their first Campeonato Pernambucano triumph in six years, and had lifted the club out of Serie D after three lonely seasons, all because of a positively arctic run of six defeats since January (even if one of them was the gruesome Copa do Brasil elimination against Penarol, from the murky depths of Amazonia), seemed just a mite hasty.
At the height of the Everybody Hates Zé campaign, it all felt a bit like Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Neighbour turned upon neighbour. Suspected Zé sympathisers were outed to the House of Representatives Commission on Un-Santa Cruzian Activities. Democracy and civil liberties withered on the vine. To dare to suggest, that it might be, um, better to, well, you know, give Zé a few more weeks, days, or even hours to blend seven or so new signings into the team brought only bared teeth and feral snarls. The tablets had come down from the mount – Leandro Souza was a worthless mercenary (for being tempted by a money spinning move to Europe (or at least Hungary) instead of pledging the rest of his career to a team in the third flight of Brazilian football that rarely pays his salary on time), and Zé Teodoro was a dolt, a dead man walking, guilty of the twin crimes of being (a) stubborn and (b) an “inventor” (of which more later).
Thankfully, the sky over Arruda is brighter now. Eight wins on the trot tends to do that. True, the football served up by Santa is hardly ebullient, and the suspicion of rifts among coaching staff and diretoria (festering ever since Balagate) remains. But then as this is the lumpy lower reaches of the Brazilian leagues, tiki-taka is probably a bit much to hope for. Organisation, doughtiness, and the odd bit of attacking flair is about as anyone can expect for the moment. After all, that was enough for Santa to achieve their objectives last year, and it might just do the trick again this time round.
And who to thank for these glad tidings? William Alves, the strapping zagueiro over from Portugal, who has single-handedly shored up a leaky defence and elbowed in a few key goals from corners? Denis Marques, who’s helped himself to a fairly cheap thirteen goals despite managing to look fairly rubbish most of the time? The always marvellous Renatinho, back to his scampering best now that Dutra has Zimmer-framed it off to Japan? Perhaps (gulp) even Zé Teodoro himself, for stoically weathering the storm, keeping his dignity, and getting Santa to play as a team again (even if not an especially good one)?
SAD thought so. But it turns out SAD was very wrong. For the people most responsible for the remarkable turnaround in the fortunes of Zé Teodoro and Santa Cruz are, it seems, those who wanted Sr. Teodoro sacked in the first place.
The news came via an article on the Santa fan page of Globoesportes, where SAD has been known to scribble a few lines himself. The article was even written by SAD `s marvellous boss (if an unpaid entirely amateur freelance writer can have a boss) at Globoesportes, a man SAD loves like a distant cousin he hasn’t seen for a long time. Turns out that players and managers had little to do with the upturn in results, and that thanks were instead due to the protestors for giving said players and staff the kick up the arse that they so desperately needed.
SAD, as you might gather from all the verbosity on display on these pages, is not a man often lost for words. But this time was different. For hours, in fact, it was all he could do to point to the remarkable text, mouth agape, wonder and confusion etched across his deeply furrowed brow. For days, he wandered the streets of Goiânia in his dressing gown and slippers, the spilt egg yolk from that morning’s breakfast crusting on his t-shirt, birds nesting in his Joaquin Phoenix (post-breakdown/career change) style beard. He was fired from his job. Francis Begbie, needless to say, packed Flup The Idiot Pekingese into a suitcase and headed off to her mother’s.
Nothing, it seemed, would ever make sense again.
Perhaps it’s because SAD isn’t from these parts. After all, in the mad, mad world where SAD grew up, it’s not seen as particularly conducive to footballing success to sack your manager every few weeks. Tends to stifle such fanciful notions as long term planning and team, and player, development. And as all that pressure created by a fear of defeat means tactical experimentation is far too great a risk to take, everything ends up trapped in some nightmarish footballing equivalent of Soviet functionalism, where what was once a beautiful, open game becomes a war of attrition, the field patrolled by packs of monstrous defensive volantes (hence the howls of stop inventing, you clown, whenever oor Zé made changes to the Santa first XI).
If SAD was to play devil’s advocate, he might say that perhaps all this hot-headedness on the part of supporters and directors is actually doing considerable harm to Brazilian football. That really, the problem goes much higher than Santa Cruz and Zé Teodoro. He might say that despite being undoubtedly the world’s biggest and best talent factory, the home of Tostäo, Gerson, Rivelinho, Pelé, Zico, Romario, Ronaldo, Flavio Caça Rato and Creedence Clearwater Couto, Brazilian football hasn’t produced a really expansive, original international side for about 30 years, and that the jogo bonito now resides in Madrid and Barcelona instead of Rio and São Paulo.
And worst of all, while once promising young coaches such as Silas, Vagner Mancini, Adilson Batista and Caio Junior rub Grecian 2000 into their prematurely greying hair and gaze down at the 20 or 30 jobs already listed on their fledgling CVs, the best managers Brazil has managed to find for the last two stints of coaching the Seleção have been Dunga and Mano Menezes, with the direct result being the dismal fare served up over the last four or five years. During the same time, of course, coaches such as Bielsa, Tabárez, and, at club level, Sampaoli have transformed football in other South American countries with far fewer natural footballing resources.
But SAD would never say that. He’s far too amiable a chap. Instead, he’ll take the boss’s advice. He’ll raise a glass and toast all those who booed their own players and manager, all those who poured out vitriol and abuse on the internet, all of those in favour of ripping up the progress of the last 18 months and starting all over again.
Note: This article is dedicated to Waldemar Lemos, tecnico of Santa’s neighbours Recife Jr until this weekend. In December, Waldemar performed the water into wine miracle of getting a fairly tiny club promoted to Serie A of the Brasileirão. On Saturday, after a whopping six defeats in the Campeonato Pernambucano, Mr. Lemos was relieved of his position. Recife Jr have suffered dreadfully from injuries to key players this year, and Mr. Lemos has revealed today that for the last few months he has been travelling, when time allows, to Rio de Janeiro, to be with his sister, who is suffering from cancer. It is hoped that the fans and directors of Recife Jr are very, very proud of themselves this morning.
And thanks, one more time, to the work of art that is memoriasdosantacruz for the photo.