Wednesday, 5 September 2012

On Scepticism

Doleful old Greek sceptic Pyrrho believed that nothing was inherently good or inherently evil, nor honourable or dishonourable, but simply that things merely existed. On one occasion he even went so far as to refuse to help a (presumably unimpressed) friend out of a ditch, as that would involve passing judgement on the value of friend, ditch, fetid ditch water, and so on. It doesn`t do, runs Pyrrho’s thinking, to interfere with the general order of things in the great cosmic tapestry.

With this in mind, Pyrrho would no doubt approve of Serie C of the Brasileirão. Serie C, at least for Santa Cruz Futebol Clube of Recife, is the footballing equivalent of purgatory, of an overcast day that is neither hot nor cold, of boiled potatoes, cabbage and ham for dinner. Lacking even the desperate pathos of Serie D (and surely Santa fans missed a trick by not adopting Man City’s “we’re not really here” anthem during their time in the abyss), or the almost-there-now buoyancy of Serie B, Serie C is neither good nor bad. It`s simply there.

Fittingly enough, Santa Cruz have also been neither good nor bad this year, but have merely existed. The team is competent enough for this level, occasionally oscillating towards the poor, notably when losing to Fortaleza and Luverdense away from home, and drawing 0-0 against Cuíaba, without ever really plumbing the depths. And Santa`s best moments, such as the 6-1 thumping of Águia de Maraba at Arruda a week ago, or the equally handsome 4-0 home victory over Icasa, also in Recife, have been undercut by the feebleness of the opposition.

This sense of ennui is perhaps in keeping with the work of Zé Teodoro. Zé Te Adoro, as he was christened back in the heady days that followed the epic Campeonato Pernambucano win over Sport back in May 2011, is something of a specialist in teams with all the imaginative spark of a kitchen chair. Zé`s Santa, creatively speaking, do the bare minimum, but still manage to win (or at least avoid defeat), most of the time, through dint of sheer hard work and organisation.

That though, is what makes sense at this level, which is why the continued campaigns to have Mr. Teodoro’s head mounted on a spike somewhere on Avenida Beberibe make little sense. Yes, the football produced by Santa is brutally functional at best, but surely, given that this is the third tier of a very flawed Brasileirão, it was always going to be this way. See a Darkness has racked his brains and consulted the Big Book of Football Records for mention of a truly memorable, aesthetically pleasing Third Division campaign by any team, anywhere, and come up with close to nothing. Division 3, Serie C, call it what you will, is not a place that is particularly suited to football as art. So are tricolor expectations, demanding victories and tiki-taka symphonies at the same time, unrealistically high?

Perhaps. Or maybe it`s all about perspective. SAD first exchanged hot glances across a crowded room with O Mais Querido back in 2007 (his first game a handsome 2-0 win over Náutico at Arruda, both goals courtesy of Marcelo Ramos). Santa finished the estadual that year in 7th, behind such three-men-and-a-dog luminaries as Vera Cruz and Porto, and a few months later, were relegated to Serie C of the Brasileirão.

The year after brought more Pernambucano pain (another 7th place finish, behind Ypiranga and Serrano, no less), and relegation to Serie D. The misery continued for the next two years as Santa failed to escape from Serie D and finished a distant 3rd behind Recife B and Recife Jr in the Pernambucano.

In short, it`s been the footballing equivalent of very thin gruel. As a result SAD’s expectations are lower than standards of customer care at a Brazilian telecommunications company, or in other words, very, very low indeed. Perhaps if he had been around a bit longer and seen some of the great Santa teams of the past, such as the 1975 side that reached the semi-finals of the Brasileirão, eliminating Palmeiras and Flamengo along the way, or even the team that stormed back into Serie A in 2005, he might understand better the rage of those screaming for Zé Teodoro’s blood to be spilt.  

Thinking back, in SAD`s more than five years of supporting Santa Cruz, the team that has come closest to playing entertaining football (and this gives an idea as to how bad it`s been) was perhaps Dado Cavalcanti`s 2010 side, with the elegant Léo at volante, creaky-legged veteran Jackson and Elvis pulling the strings in midfield, and Brasão splashing around up front. And that team couldn`t make it out of Serie D.

Zé Teodoro is not as bright or open a coach as young Mr. Cavalcanti (now doing well at Serie C Paraguayan horse Luverdense), but he might just be a more efficient one. A love of efficiency rather than beauty, after all, is surely the only explanation for the repeated presence of the lumbering Chicão in the Santa midfield. Elsewhere, this Santa team is a mix of the good (Denis Marques, William, Memo, maybe Leandro Oliveira and Leozinho), the bad (goalkeeper Fred, who when handling the ball strongly resembles a man fighting off bees*), and the ugly (Fabricio Ceará, who might be a tub-thumping striker, but is unlikely to attract a new generation of female admirers to Arruda).  

That has been good enough in the past, and is probably not much more than can be expected for Santa`s reduced present. Whether it is enough to reach the (relatively speaking) promised land of Serie B remains to be seen.    

* This line stolen from the lyrical pen of Roger Angell. The photo shows players from Santa's 1957 Campeonato Pernambucano winning team, and is taken from the excellent Memorias do Santa Cruz site.