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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.

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.

riquelmeAfter months of speculation, Palmeiras are reportedly closing in on signing Juan Roman Riquelme.

For the sake of both the player and the club I hope the deal doesn’t go through.

Palmeiras will play in the second division this year but have also qualified for the Copa Libertadores. They need a big squad with players who can perform over what will be a long and grueling campaign and who will stand up and be counted.

Riquelme is 34 and hasn’t played professional football since July when he fell out with Boca Juniors.

He is clearly not a player who will be able, much less willing given his attitude over the years, to put his heart and soul into every game. He has a history of clashing with teammates and managers throughout his glorious career. He is certainly not a player you build your team around.

Not because he isn’t talented. Fewer Argentines have shown as much deftness with a ball at their feet that mercurial No. 10.

But Palmeiras need a leader, with experience, character and stamina.

That the club’s directors think Riquelme is that man goes a long way to explaining how they’ve driven the club into the ground over the last 10 years.

Fluminense won their fourth Brazilian league title on Sunday and this piece explains why.

In short, two men were outstanding. Fred finished the season as top goalscorer with 19 goals, and more than half of them ensured Flu took all three points. His goals were decisive in 10 games.

Goalkeeper Diego Cavalieri couldn’t establish himself as first choice at Palmeiras or Liverpool, where Marcos and Pepe Reina were No. 1, respectively. But he was fantastic for Fluminense, keeping 13 clean sheets over the season and making countless great saves.

A team wins the league, not individuals but they were two of the best performers over the season.

Congratulations to Fluminense who will now want to emulate Corinthians and win the Libertadores for the first time.

If players like Deco, Rafael Sobis and Thiago Neves turn it on like they’ve turned it on before then they are in with a real chance.

See O Globo’s photo essay on Flu’s triumph here.

Common sense prevailed today in the case of the Palmeiras handball goal.

Judges with the Supreme Tribunal of Sports Justice (see their decision here) ruled that the referee was right to disallow the illegal goal and confirmed the 2-1 victory for Internacional stands.

As I explain in my Reuters story here:

Palmeiras were losing the Brazilian championship match on Oct. 27 when Argentine striker Hernan Barcos punched the ball into the net to apparently level the score.

The referee originally disallowed the goal but back-tracked amid furious protests from Internacional players, delaying the match for five minutes.

Palmeiras claimed the fourth official had been told of the handball by a colleague who watched a replay.

Barcos didn’t deny punching the ball into the net, although he alleged it was not deliberate.

But Palmeiras argued that match officials chalked the goal off only after seeing it on television replays, which would violate FIFA’s rules.

Palmeiras are almost certain to be relegated for the second time in 10 years.

They currently lie third bottom of the league and are seven points behind the team fifth from bottom with four games left to play. Four teams go down.

Here’s the goal at 1:20 in this clip:

Here’s a cool idea from Brazil.

Rather than suspend football players for fouls, handballs and ungentlemanly conduct, authorities here are making them do community service.

It’s a novel ‘punishment’ for players who all too often abuse their role model status.

Among those receiving alternative sentences in recent months are Sao Paulo and Brazil striker Luis Fabiano, Palmeiras’ Chilean midfielder Valdivia and troublesome Corinthians striker Emerson Sheik.

Valdivia was ordered to spend his 10,000 real fine for insulting a referee on food and other aid for an orphanage in Rio de Janeiro while Luis Fabiano was sentenced to visit a rehabilitation centre for handicapped children. Emerson yesterday visited children being treated for cancer.

All declared the experience enlightening.

“This isn’t punishment,” said Luis Fabiano, shortly after bonding with a spunky six-year old who claimed to be a fan of rival Corinthians. “It made me really happy and gave me great satisfaction to spend some time with these kids, it was priceless, Sometimes we complain about little things and a visit like this serves to motivate us all.”

As I said in my Reuters story here:

“This type of visit is educational as well as being punitive,” said Flavio Zveiter, who heads the court that metes out punishment to footballers in Brazil.

“These guys are heroes to lots of people and this helps them reflect about their position and responsibility to society.  They sometimes live in their own little world and they don’t realise that what they do has repercussions in society as a whole.”

Zveiter said he was moved after seeing Luis Fabiano interact with the disadvantaged kids and vowed to hand out more alternative punishments in the future.

“It think the repercussions were positive, the player himself said he was touched by it and that was the main thing,” Zveiter said. “I intend to use this policy more.”

The policy sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t.

Emerson, the man who played such a huge part in helping Corinthians win the Copa Libertadores earlier this year, turned up almost three hours late to see kids at the Graacc hospital.

Authorities might want to reinstate his ban. Turning up three hours late for a meeting is a total lack of respect under any circumstances. For children with cancer it’s an outrage.

Here’s a local TV report on Emerson’s visit:

Brazil has approved 54 cities to host national teams during the 2014 World Cup.

It’s a preliminary list that should rise to closer to 100 by the end of the year.

The cities must have at least one  FIFA-standard hotel and at least one FIFA-standard football pitch. Teams will base themselves there for the group stages of the tournament, and from there fly or drive to games.

That’s why 30 of the 54 are close to Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte, each of which will host at least six matches.

Japan, England, Australia, Holland and the United States are among those nations who have sent representatives to scope out potential bases.

See the official FIFA document with all the approved areas here.

The Brazilian teams still in the Libertadores and Copa do Brasil have adopted the same strategy as every year, saving the best players for the midweek games and playing their reserves in the league.

Both Santos and Corinthians are getting exactly what they deserve for such stupid, short-sighted and insulting policies. After four games, Corinthians are bottom of the table with 1 point and Santos are just above them with 3 points.

The clubs still in the Copa do Brasil playing semi-reserve teams are doing almost as badly. Palmeiras are second bottom of the table and Coritiba are in 14th place. Only Sao Paulo in seventh and Gremio – in third after defeating Corinthians (reserves) yesterday – are anywhere like they should be.

The policy is stupid because resting top players for league games doesn’t make these teams any more likely to triumph in the Libertadores.

It’s short-sighted because giving up on so many points at the start of the season will inevitably cost them any chances of league success later on.

And it’s insulting to players because it presumes they can’t perform to the best of their abilities twice in a week and to fans, who are asked to pay to see sub-standard line ups.

Pele used to play more games in a season than any player does today. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo play twice a week and seem to do just fine. Players in England, Germany, France and Italy all play high profile, energy sapping league matches at the weekend and Champions league fixtures during the week.

Supporters deserve better. They’re not daft. Yesterday’s crowd to see Santos (reserves) play Sao Paulo (reserves)? 6,327.

Ronaldinho training with Atletico (from Atletico’s official site)

I started writing a story this morning about Ronaldinho Gaucho’s departure from Flamengo that ended up here on Reuters.

But my first musings were this:

   The question for Ronaldinho is where he goes now. Most doors looks closed to him in his homeland because few clubs can afford his salary demands and fans see him more as a disruptive influence than creative one. One poll asked fans of Brazil’s top flight clubs if they’d welcome Ronaldinho in their side. Supporters at all 20 teams said No.

      Gremio and Palmeiras, the two other clubs who tried to sign him from Milan, have rejected any suggestions they might want to sign him. Both teams are still angry at the way he misled them in contract talks last year – Ronaldinho allegedly promised to sign for both clubs before jilting them for Flamengo – and neither could afford him or put up with the associated problems he brings.

Perhaps the most likely destination is one of football’s emerging markets; the Middle East, the former Soviet republics, China or even the United States. In many of those countries, teams pay top dollar and give their top players more freedom.

How wrong I was. Ronaldinho signed for Atletico Mineiro today.

They must be mad. Even though they are getting him on the cheap, he’s unlikely to reproduce anything like the form that made him the world’s best player two years running.

As Tostao said: “Ronaldo didn’t play like he used to because he didn’t want to. It was because he couldn’t. There’s no mystery. That happens with all athletes, some earlier than others.”

Ronaldinho will turn it on in flashes for Atletico. But unless he’s learnt his lesson at Flamengo and starts becoming a lot more professional then he’ll be out of Belo Horizonte by Christmas.

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