It’s a club that most football followers with an international eye are aware of, but by no means are they Brazil’s most successful. At the end of the 2014 season, Botafogo were relegated for only the second time in their history. Instead of lining up against old rivals Fluminense, Flamengo and Santos, Botafogo will begin their 2015 campaign against newly-promoted Paysandu, a team from Belem in Northern Brazil. And in their line-up may be players like Elvis, Bill, Eric, Sidney and Zen!
Doubtless Botafogo will be favourites to regain their place in Brazil’s top division, but they will need to “clear the decks” after a troubled 2014 during which players left the club en masse and the team spirit was strained to the point where players came to blows in training.
Botafogo’s relegation raised eyebrows in Rio de Janeiro, but given events at the club, not a big surprise. It was the second successive year that a famous Rio club had experienced the drop – in 2013, Vasco de Gama were relegated, although they bounced straight back in 2014. In 2013, “O Glorioso” had finished fourth and in the previous three years, had finished 6th, 9th and 7th.
But 2013 had ended with the club starting to implode. Much of the blame was laid at the door of former President Mauricio Assumpcao.
Botafogo had assembled a team rich in potential, including Brazil’s current goalkeeper, Jefferson. Furthermore, talented centre-back, Doria, was at the heart of defence, and in midfield, the club had the veteran Dutch star, Clarence Seedorf. Financial problems led to the departure of coach Oswaldo de Oliveira and then Seedorf, Doria, Rafa Marques, Vitinho and Hyuri were all sold to ease the bank balance. This ripped the heart out of the team. Vagner Mancini, who succeeded Oliveira, had an impossible task. It got worse, with players like Bolivar and Emerson Sheik both leaving and Mancini threatening to resign.
Botafogo were finally relegated on November 30 2014 after losing to Santos, their 22nd defeat of the 2014 season. The club issued this statement: “Sadly, Botafogo will play in Serie B next season. There have been a lot of problems, mistakes and defeats. The club asks fans for their forgiveness.” Rene Simoes, who managed Jamaica in the 1998 World Cup, took over from Oliveira for the 2015 season.
Botafogo finished top of the Rio state championship, the Carioca, losing just one game of 15. They play Vasco de Gama in the second leg of the Taca Guanabara final on May 3. The first leg saw Vasco win 1-0 in front of 46,000 people in the Maracana, thanks to an added time goal.
Botafogo’s form so far bodes well for the national championship. But the club’s financial position is precarious. The government, aware of the systemic importance of football to Brazil (and, bearing in mind the Selecao’s capitulation in World Cup 2014), is encouraging Brazilian clubs to get their act together. As well as allowing the clubs to renegotiate USD 1.2bn in debts, they are also urging them to spend more wisely – and pay players on time. Botafogo are one of the clubs that recently faced lawsuits from players demanding delayed payments. Apparently, eight of Brazil’s top 12 clubs are behind on wages and most are drowning in debt. Who’d be a Brazilian player these days?
One keen to be putting on a Botafogo shirt is former Brazilian international Daniel Carvalho, who has dusted off his boots after a year out of the game. The club has also managed to retain national team keeper Jefferson.
Botafogo does have some great names peppering its history. As mentioned, the legendary Garrincha (pictured left) played for Botafogo between 1953 and 1965, helping them to the Taca Brasil in 1962 just before he succumbed to injury and an ill-advised lifestyle. Other luminaries, such as Jairzinho, Gerson and Nilton Santos have also played for Fogão, the “Great Fire”.
But despite some top talent, Botafogo have never run short of silver polish. They have won Campeonato Brasileiro Série A just twice: 1968 and 1995. They have never lifted the Copa Libertadores, but they have won 20 state championships.
Nevertheless, Botafogo are in unfamiliar territory at the moment. But with a player called “Elvis” (a 24 year-old midfielder) in their line-up, they will be doing their best to ensure a year in Serie B is not a case of “Heartbreak Hotel”. Thank you very much.