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Worrying news from Brazil, where the first matches to be played in a renovated World Cup stadium were a failure with the paying public.

Only 33,000 fans turned out to see the double header that opened the Castelão stadium in Fortaleza. The city’s two biggest teams, Fortaleza and Ceara, played games one after another on Sunday but still only half the capacity of 64,000 people turned up.

Why were fans reluctant to see such a big event live? Could be high prices. Could be that the games are on TV. Could be that they are treated like cattle by police and security. Could be that public transport to the game is atrocious and parking is absurdly expensive.

I wrote about those issues in this Reuters piece last week and the broader fear that real fans will be priced out of the new grounds.

The story started:

(Reuters) – Upgrades to Brazil’s crumbling football stadiums ahead of the 2014 World Cup promise a safer, cleaner and altogether more pleasant environment for fans but the luxurious new grounds come at a price – quite literally.

Brazilian fans are already complaining about high ticket costs and a debate has begun over whether some supporters will be priced out of venues that boast cinemas, shops, restaurants, and even automatically flushing toilets.

“I fear that the new stadiums being built for the World Cup will make football more elite,” Tostão, a former World Cup winner with Brazil in 1970, said in a recent newspaper column.

“Different priced tickets need to be sold in order to avoid that. Those who want to be waited on can pay for it. More humble fans have a right to pay reasonable prices and get safety and comfort.”

Tostão, once again, got it right.

Brazil has to be very careful here. It doesn’t want to go the way of England, where working class fans have been priced out and football lost it soul.


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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