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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.

FIFA revealed its 10 candidates for Goal of the Year today. See quick versions of them all here:

That youtube link has only partial versions of the goals, such as Neymar’s spectacular dribbled goal against Inter, in which he takes the ball from his own half, beats four men then dinks it over the goalie.

The FIFA site has longer links to them all, and here’s Neymar’s.

The other goal that stand out for me is one I’d never seen before by Gaston Mealla of Nacional Potosi in Bolivia.  I had to watch it three or four times to really see what he did.

And then there’s Messi’s Goal against Brazil from June or July. That one to me has to be the contender, partly because of the environment and the opposition (although what were the midfielders doing??!?).

To me, the real great goals embody individual brilliance and teamwork. In the words of the Guardian’s Rob Smythe, “any hairy arsed chancer can get lucky from 30 yards.”

Having said that there are a few great strikes, including one from Olivia Jimenez of Mexico against Switzerland:

So, my three favourites, in no particular order: Neymar, Messi and Jimenez.

You can cast your vote HERE.

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)

 

Neymar scored three times at Cruzeiro over the weekend and the home fans chanted his name as their own team went down 4-0.

Part of the reason was disgust with their own team – the fans also chanted “Wee Team, Wee Team” at their own players – but it’s nevertheless highly unusual to see partisan supporters so openly praising a rival, even one as gifted as the Santos superstar.

I’ve been to literally hundreds of football matches to support my team and I can’t remember ever chanting the name of an opponent. Applauding their brilliance, perhaps, but even that happened only on very rare occasions.

In fact, I can only think of two players before now who were worthy of such an honour. Garrincha, when he played for Botafogo back in the 1950s, and Ronaldinho Gaucho, when he was at the top of his game for Barcelona.

That puts Neymar’s performance into context.

Curiously, I’ve seen him play much better than he did on Saturday.

But take a look for yourself, here’s the goals:

 

Santos take on Corinthians tonight in the mostly hotly anticipated game of the year. The winner will go on to the final of the Copa Libertadores, South America’s Champions League.

Santos have won the tournament three times, Corinthians have never been to the final and are absolutely desperate to become the fourth of Sao Paulo’s big four clubs to win it (as I say here in last month’s post about their passionate fans).

One of the reasons a club like Santos, which has regular gates of around 12-13,000 (only a few hundred more than Hibs), is so successful is down to its marketing plan. I explain what it has done to bring in revenue and professionalise in this Reuters piece that came out earlier this week.

The club is one of many that has become become more professional in recent years, like many in Brazil.

As I say in my story:

      Encouraged by a rising middle class with money to spend, ambitious and cash-rich sponsors looking to reach them, and a powerful currency that makes signing and holding on to players easier, Brazil’s football clubs are slowly becoming more professional.

     They are still a world away from rivaling the corporate stars that are Barcelona and Manchester United. But for the first time, they are treating their off the field activities with some of the seriousness that has made them so respected on the pitch.

     Brazil’s 20 top clubs generated $ 2.14 billion reais last year, a 27% rise on 2010 and 73 % up what it was just four years previously, according to a BDO report.

     The money is pouring into the game because of Brazil’s economic boom and football’s increasing credibility, experts and executives at different clubs said.

     In 2003, the government introduced legislation that tightened security in and around Brazil’s dilapidated football grounds. The league won a newfound credibility the same year when it abandoned the complicated and unpredictable play off system league in favour of a more stable round robin tournament like that used in England, Spain and Germany.

     More recently, the financial crisis in Europe stopped foreign clubs from cherry picking so many Brazilian players and forced Brazilian teams to rely less heavily on transfer fees. The amount clubs received from TV deals has jumped sharply this year thanks to new negotiating rules.

     And Ronaldo’s return to Corinthians in 2009, and the close partnership the club formed with sponsors to make the deal work, showed clubs new ways of making money.

The clubs still have a lot of work to do. They are not companies and therefore not transparent and they are run by unpaid fans rather than the top professionals in their respective fields.

As Amir Somoggi, a well-known sports analyst with BDO told me:

“There’s still a long way to go, not just in terms of management and administration but also in marketing. We have a lot to learn from the Europeans. They have matchday revenue, we sell tickets for games.  Teams there have 30 sponsors, teams here have three.”

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.

There are a few great statistics knocking around that illustrate just how the strong real is enabling Brazilian footballers return from Europe and how that football is becoming better managed.

For example: In 2005, 804 Brazilian footballers left the country to sign for foreign clubs. In 2008 that number had risen to 1,176. It started to fall the year after and has been falling ever since. At the same time, the number of athletes coming home has risen every year since 2006, when 311 returned.

Here’s another: Corinthians are seriously offering around 40 million pounds to sign Carlos Tevez from Manchester City, one of the richest clubs in the world.

Just three or four years ago it would have been unthinkable that a Brazilian club could afford to sign a player at the height of his career like Tevez.

Of course, this could not happen with any top star. It is only possible because Tevez supposedly wants to be in South America, where he is closer to his family and where standards of professionalism are not as high as in Europe.

But it would be fantasy if Tevez wasn’t able to earn almost as much in Brazil as in England or Spain or Italy, thanks to the strength of the Brazilian real, which earlier this month reached its highest level against the dollar since 1999.

It is also because at long last serious administrators are replacing the corrupt dinosaurs who ran Brazilian league clubs as I point out in today’s Financial Times.

The new generation have put into place season ticket schemes that guarantee them income, struck new deals that in some cases have tripled their annual revenue from television, and signed significantly bigger sponsorship deals with companies that bank new signings.

Sponsors, for example, pay 75 % of what Ronaldinho Gaucho earns at Flamengo and 800,000 reais of Neymar’s 1 million-real-a-month deal with Santos.

“Of that 1 million, we pay 200,000 and the difference comes from image rights,” Alvaro de Souza, a former Citibank executive who now works for Santos, told me. “We get companies interested in using Neymar to sell their products and that goes towards paying his salary. He gets 70 percent of the contract and Santos gets 30 percent. The consumer market is bigger now and that means more brands looking for a piece of the market. Our shirt is very valuable because we have more exposure than before.”

Having said that, clubs like Santos and Flamengo are still a long way from earning the kind of money made by Manchester United or Barcelona.

Brazilian teams pay little attention to potential overseas income and are largely unknown in markets such as the US and Asia, even compared to neighbours Argentina. (Walk through the centre of any major city outside Latin America and there’s a decent chance you’ll spot someone in a Boca Juniors or River Plate jersey; there’s almost no danger of seeing a non-Brazilian wearing a Brazilian club shirt.)

The moment is also dependent on the continuing strength of the real, which many economists believe is overvalued (see this excellent Bloomberg piece). If it weakens, clubs will once again find it harder to match their European rivals.

Nevertheless, the structural changes taking place today are similar to the revolution in English football in the 1990s after Sky TV injected hundreds of millions into the game and stadiums were modernised following the Taylor report.

There is still a long way to go. But they are heading in the right direction.

 

Photographer: Ronnie Macdonald

It’s always entertaining to hear Diego Maradona whining that he was a better player than Pelé.

No matter that almost everyone who seen them both play rates Pelé higher.

Now, however, Maradona is updating that age-old dispute between Brazil and Argentina by claiming Neymar is not as good as Lionel Messi and probably never will be.

So far, he’s right. Messi has not only won much more than Neymar, he has done so with elegance and poise, both on and off the pitch.

But what was most interesting about Maradona’s latest rant was him targeting Neymar for his bad attitude. “That boy is ill-mannered and he respects no one, just like Pelé,” Maradona said (according to this story on ig.com.br).

Now, aside from the obvious, ‘black, kettle, pot’ aspect of Diego Maradona criticising another player’s attitude, it’s illustrative how Neymar has so quickly managed to acquire an image as a cheat, an arrogant boor and a spoilt brat.

Take this opinion last week from O Globo’s Fernando Calazans: “I am a bit sick of seeing him rolling around on the ground and then inventing stories about the referee threatening to send him off. The only person threatening to get Neymar sent off is Neymar himself, with his spoilt child antics and his addiction to being a star.”

That damning indictment from one of the most astute football columnists in Brazil is no isolated criticism.

Opposing manager Rene Simões called Neymar “a monster” last year and said he had seldom seen a player “as ignorant or unsporting.”

Several opposing players have accused him of cheating.

And after he scored both goals in a 2-0 win over Scotland earlier this year, amid lots of rolling around and feigning injury, former Chelsea winger Pat Nevin said Neymar “lives in an alternative universe where the slightest brush leads to mortal pain that looks like it is going to kill him and then 20 seconds later he is magically better.”

Neymar accused the Scotland fans of racism in that match but even after it was revealed the banana thrown on the pitch came from a German teenager, Neymar stubbornly refused to apologise for the accusation.

He would do well to grow up and show some humility and he could start by looking at some appropriate role models.

That doesn’t mean Pelé and it certainly doesn’t mean Maradona.

Neymar should spend more time trying to be like Lionel Messi. Both on and off the field.

P.S. Good luck to Santos (and Neymar) in the final of the Libertadores match tonight against Peñarol.

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