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It is unfortunate that Waldir Peres, the Brazilian goalkeeper who died on Sunday aged 66, will be remembered mostly for his calamitous mistake in the 1982 World Cup match against the USSR.

waldir peres

Arquivo Histórico do São Paulo FC

Peres let Andrei Bal’s 30-yard strike squirm through his hands and the image became an unforgettable one for fans, particularly those outside Brazil, who thought of Brazilian goalies as no less dodgy than Scottish ones.

Peres was widely seen as the weak link in that star-studded team, alongside misfiring centre forward Serginho.

But Peres’ team mates did not agree with that assessment.

Sócrates was not close to Peres, who was older than he was and as a happily married homebody, not part of Sócrates’ drinking circle. The two also differed over Corinthians Democracy, with Peres and his team mates at São Paulo often dismissive of what they considered a distraction to the sole issue of playing football.

But Sócrates refused to condemn Peres for his mistake or single him out as a weak link. He pointed out that Peres was the best keeper in Brazil in the lead up to the 1982 World Cup and deserved his place.

Most notably, he had proved his worth in the 1981 mini-tour to Europe. Brazil beat France, West Germany and England and Peres was a factor in all three.

He saved not one but two penalties from Paul Breitner in the 2-1 win over West Germany that cemented Brazil’s position as favourites to lift their fourth World Cup title a year hence in Spain.

He was then excellent in the 1-0 victory over England at Wembley, a victory notable as the first time England had ever lost to a South American side at home.

Peres got his spot in fortunate circumstances, after first-choice stopper Carlos injured his elbow in the Mundialito tournament in Uruguay. Peres stepped in and helped Brazil to the final, defeating West Germany 4-1 in the process, before losing to the hosts.

But his performances helped cement his place, as did his personality.

He was quiet and serious and easy to get along with, unlike Emerson Leão, his other main rival for the No. 1 shirt. Leão had been first choice in 1974 and 1978 but seemed to enjoy rubbing people up the wrong way and coach Telê Santana refused to pick someone who would so obviously endanger the bubbly spirit in what was a settled and contented  side.

After that early error against the USSR, Peres composed himself and performed well. He had little do against Scotland or New Zealand and was reliable in the 3-1 win over Argentina in the second round.

He was also blameless in the fateful 3-2 loss against Italy. Brazil went out not because of goalkeeping errors but because they kept trying to win a game they only needed to draw. They were exposed at the back and only the harshest of critics could fault him for any of Paolo Rossi’s three goals.

Unfortunately for Peres, those incidents are forgotten now. But the facts speak for themselves. He won the Brazilian league title with São Paulo and three Paulista state championship medals. Only one player in the clubs history has more appearances that he has.

He is fondly remembered at São Paulo. He deserves to be known elsewhere for more than that one mistake.

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Flamengo, less real fans than Hibs?

Flamengo, less real fans than Hibs?

A new study was released yesterday claiming that Flamengo is the best supported football team in Brazil, followed closely by Corinthians. (See the full report here.)

The report claims that 16.8 % of those polled back the Rio side, while 14.6 % support Corinthians. The next best placed team is Sao Paulo, with 8.1 % of preferences.

The study, carried out by Stochos and Pluri, is the latest in a string of such reports rating the support of Brazilian clubs. It feeds into the myth that teams like Flamengo and Corinthians have 30 million fans.

Borussia_dortmund_badgeWhat it doesn’t define is the meaning of fan. (The report says those polled expressed a preference for a team but it also repeatedly talks about torcidas, or fans.)

To me, a fan is someone who follows their team and participates in the club activities. That goes from the die hards who buy season tickets, to the ones who go to the odd game, buy a top or a tshirt or a calender, or contribute in some other way to the team’s revenue and well-being, even if it is just commenting on message boards or buying a pay-per-view package. (Not all fans live close enough to be able to go to games.)

hibsUsing even that loose destination, it’s clear that Flamengo or Corinthians have nothing like the 30 million fans they are purported to have.

Some 4,000 people turned up to see Flamengo last weekend. That’s 4,000 people in a city of around 8 million. Or 1-in-2000 people.

Compare that to Dortmund, the best supported club in Europe. Their average crowd is 78,000 in a city of 600,000 people. That means 1-in-6 locals go cheer their team. In other words they have 333 times more fans than Flamengo.

It’s a similar story elsewhere. The mighty Hibernian sit sixth in the Scottish Premier. Average crowds are around 9,000. Edinburgh has a population of 450,000. So 1-in-50 people in Edinburgh alone go see the Hibees.

As I wrote here last year, more people go see top flight matches in China, Mexico and Japan than in Brazil.

Studies like this one should be treated with a massive pinch of salt.

The real news here? That in the ‘pais de futebol‘ more than 1 in 5 people don’t even like the game.

When I first came to Brazil I was shocked at how many people wore football shirts. Everybody wore them, young and old, male and female, and they wore them everywhere.

It wasn’t unusual to see people in nightclubs or restaurants wearing the colours of Flamengo, Corinthians, Palmeiras and dozens of others. I thought it was weird (and still do).

If one thing has changed over the last decade it is that you no longer see people wearing just local shirts. Nowadays, for every Botafogo shirt there’s a Chelsea one, for every Cruzeiro a Barcelona, and for every Gremio a Liverpool.

Turned off by the corruption and mismanagement endemic in their domestic game and with the exotic attractions of Europe available on demand via TV, the internet and video games, many Brazilians – especially youngsters – are taking a greater interest in foreign football.

“Little by little, the big European clubs are silently ‘invading’ the hearts and minds of Brazilian football lovers, especially the young, who are seduced by competitions that are much more attractive than those we are used to seeing in Brazil,” said Fernando Ferreira, the director of Pluri, a sports consultancy firm. “The phenomenon of Brazilians supporting one team in Brazil and another abroad is more and more common.”

Read the full Reuters story here on how Brazilian fans are paying more and more attention to European clubs.

The reasons?

One is that Brazilian football is expensive and still a bit of a mess (even though it is slowly getting better). Another is that more Brazilians have more money to spend, as I’ve written about a thousand times. And third, the world is smaller and more people have more access to European football, via TV, the internet, social media and video games.

Brazilian clubs are trying to internationalise. But the truth is their fans have already taken that step.

NB – You couldn’t make it up. The CBF president got his dates wrong when he made the bombastic announcement on Tuesday night. The friendly, the CBF web site says, is April 6, not April 5 as Marin stated.

 

Now here’s something you won’t hear me say very often: “Well done to the CBF!”

Nice decision to take a Brazil team to Bolivia to play a benefit match for the family of the boy killed by Corinthians fans last month.

Kevin Beltran Espada died when Corinthians supporters fired a rocket into the home enclosure. The firework hit the 14-year old in the head, killing him instantly.

The CBF announced last night that Brazil will play Bolivia in a benefit match in Santa Cruz de la Sierra on April 5. As it is not an official FIFA date, only home-based players are likely to feature.

Of course, the match itself is largely irrelevant. What matters is the gesture. Let’s hope it’s a sign the CBF is becoming more open and more in tune with public opinion. Don’t hold your breath. But well done for now.

Corinthians issued a statement this afternoon saying it would only allow TV cameras and press into tomorrow’s game against Millonarios if Conmebol called them and expressed permitted it.

According to Corinthians, the club doesn’t know if the ban on fans includes “authorities, those invited by federations, the local mayor’s office, and the Pacaembu, or over 60s and under 12s, and the press.”

It seems like a transparently infantile attempt by the Libertadores champions to cock a snook at Conmebol, who imposed the ban after a flare fired by a Corinthians fan killed a 14-year old Bolivian supporter at last week’s game vs. San Jose.

Fans are regularly banned from stadiums. TV cameras are always allowed in. In no case I can ever remember has the definition of fans only included those between 12 and 60 years of age.

Conmebol’s sanction is harsh and arbitrary and Corinthians should work to reduce it.

But the club should let TV, radio and newspapers in. To stop them on such flimsy grounds is an insult to the fans who want to see, hear and follow their team.

Deco, delighted he didn’t have to play against me, even on a concrete four-a-side pitch

In December I spent a week in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro interviewing players, directors, economists, marketing experts and media personalities for a Time magazine article.

The piece, written by my colleague Bobby Ghosh, came out yesterday to much consternation, thanks largely to a misleading headline that declared Neymar The Next Pele. (See more on that controversy here.)

Here’s five interesting things that never made it into the piece:

–          Botafogo have someone standing at the same of the pitch with team shirts to give to players who are going to be interviewed. At the end of the game or at half time the players have either swapped their shirts or taken them off because they are sweating and club officials realized sponsors logos weren’t appearing when they were being grilled on TV. The officials now make sure the players are suitably attired.

–          Brazilian clubs exaggerate the number of fans they have, or at least what constitutes a fan. Flamengo and Corinthians claim they have more than 30 million fans each and yet neither averages a crowd above 30,000. Only around 350,000 Brazilian fans are registered with their club’s socio-torcedor scheme, the closest thing Brazilians clubs have to season tickets. Clubs and sponsors have started a push to get more adherents through a deal that gives them discounts with major retailers such as SKY TV, Pepsi, Netshoes and Brahma. The target is to get 3.5 million fans signed as socio-torcedores.

–          Corinthians increased their revenue from 55 million reais in 2003 to 290 million reais in 2011 but marketing director Luis Paulo Rosenberg still believes the club has only scratched the surface of what is possible. “I am not saying we do everything right,” he told us. “But we stopped doing everything wrong and that was enough to multiply revenues by five or six.”

–          Santos have more fans in Sao Paulo  than in Santos, according to Stochos, a sports consultancy.  Their numbers show that 19.5 % of Santos fans live in the Baixada Santista, while 37.6 % live in the state capital. The number of young people who support Santos has increased greatly over the last few years, thanks largely, Stochos believes, due to the influence of Neymar.

–          Deco was lucky that he was late for his scheduled interview at the foundation for disadvantaged kids he set up in his home town of Indaiatuba. By turning up half an hour late he didn’t have to face me in the under 12-s four-a-side match. (Each team was allowed one over-age player). The former Barcelona and Chelsea midfielder would doubtlessly have struggled to contain my box-to-box running and overall stranglehold on midfield.

Here’s a nice little idea to encourage people to go to football matches, courtesy of the the Museu de Futebol, already one of the best places to visit in São Paulo.

Present your match ticket from any Paulista stadium at the door and get entry for only 2 reais. (Normal entry fee is 6 reais.) One game days, tickets will be sold for 4 reais.

The museum is also making it easier to visit on game days. The museum is built into the Pacaembu stadium, home to Corinthians and where Santos and Palmeiras also play regularly.

It is now going to open up until two hours before kick-off on game days.

The museum is fantastic and well worth a visit, even if it does lack content in English.

Most people seem to think that Corinthians have sprung a coup by signing Alexandre Pato from AC Milan for 15 million Euros.

I am more sceptical. I reckon there’s a long way to go before we can say whether the deal is a good one for the Libertadores and World Club champions.

I draw that conclusion not just because it is the biggest transfer fee ever paid by a Brazilian club but also because Pato appears injury prone.

He’s appeared just 150 times in five years for the rossoneri and only once in the last year did he play the full 90 minutes for the club.

I think it’s also questionable whether Corinthians really need another striker.

They already have Emerson Sheik, Guerrero, Romarinho and Martinez vying for one of the front two places plus they have Douglas, Danilo, Jorge Henrique and now Renato Augusto competing for the spots right behind them.

Granted, Corinthians do need a regular goalscorer, seven teams last season scored as many or more goals than they did. They also need fresh legs, the average age of the current side is almost 30.

If Pato stays fit and fast he will surely get them goals. He will certainly get more chances per game in Brazil – and against poorer defences – than he did in Italy.

But there is a gamble involved in paying 15 million Euros for a player as inconsistent as Pato.

It is also a bellwether signing for the Brazilian league. If it works out we might see more Brazilian clubs throwing caution to the wind and splashing out. In a league as indebted as Brazil’s that’s worrying.

One thing is for certain. Corinthians and Nike will be throwing their considerable weight behind a marketing campaign to promote Pato as the next big thing.

Good luck to the young man. His career has come off the rails recently and this move might get him back on track.

Only time will tell…

Brazil fire Mano Menezes as manager and with it they become more like Chelsea and less likely to win the World Cup on home soil.

Menezes has struggled to beat the top teams and that is worrying. But recent form suggests he is getting closer to finding his ideal team and ideal formation.

The ridiculous thing about this is that Mano’s critics want a more expansive style of play, more attacking and more goals.

They know nothing about football. They have been crying out for the return of Luiz Felipe Scolari or for Tite to take over. Both of those managers are winners (as Menezes was) but they practice dour, defensive football.

They are not the answer.

Once again, impatience has won out in football.

Fluminense stars Fred and Diego Cavalieri got a just reward for their fine performances in helping Flu win the Brazilian league today by being called up to the Brazil team to face Argentina at La Bombonera on Nov. 21.

The match was hastily rescheduled after last month’s encounter was postponed because of a floodlight failure.

Only home-based players are chosen for the game and the Fluminense pair are not the only surprises in Mano Menezes’ squad.

Botafogo midfielder Fellype Gabriel wins a first call up, as does Durval, Santos’ 32-year old centre half.

The squad contains five players from Fluminense, four from Atletico Mineiro and three each from Corinthians and Santos.

The full list

Goalkeepers: Jefferson (Botafogo) and Diego Cavalieri (Fluminense).

Full backs: Marcos Rocha (Atlético-MG), Lucas Marques (Botafogo), Carlinhos (Fluminense) and Fábio Santos (Corinthians).

Central defenders: Réver (Atlético-MG), Durval (Santos) and Leonardo Silva (Atlético-MG).

Defensive midfielders: Arouca (Santos), Paulinho (Corinthians), Jean (Fluminense) and Ralf (Corinthians).

Attacking midfielders: Thiago Neves (Fluminense), Bernard (Atlético-MG) and Fellype Gabriel (Botafogo).

Forwards: Neymar (Santos), Leandro Damião (Internacional) and Fred (Fluminense)

 

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