Brazilian clubs rock the boat – a trend developing across world football

BRAZILIAN football clubs want to breakaway and run their own competition, pushing for a divorce from the Confederação Brasileira de Futebol (CBF), who currently run the league. It’s a tough time for Brazil and its clubs; infection rates are high, the country has just hosted a Copa America that nobody really wanted, and their football clubs have lost income owing to the pandemic.

We are in a time of disruption, the pandemic has affected all walks of life and some business sectors are constantly exploring ways to fill some of their revenue gaps and adjust their business models. Football is no diferent and we have seen attempts to shake things up, mostly from a club perspective. 

The European Super League – as flawed as it was – the African Super League and other possible restructurings are all a symptom of an industry looking for ideas and ways to leverage the popularity of their product. There’s also a loss of confidence in both UEFA and FIFA and the game is also emroiled in politics and has developed a penchant for introducing and over-complicating competitions.

As much as people see Brazil, indeed South America, as far away and not Europe’s concern,  Brazil provides more expatriate players than any other nation – there are currently around 1,300 Brazilians playing in major leagues worldwide. Unsurprisingly, the most popular migratory route in global football is Brazil to Portugal. 

Yet the pandemic has already had its affect on player traffic from Brazil. In 2020, outbound transfers from Brazil totalled US$ 326 million, 12% lower than 2018-19 and the second consecutive season of decline.

Brazil’s clubs continue to fare well in the Copa Libertadores and the 2021 season is no different, only Santos failed to qualify from the group stage, but Flamengo, Fluminense, Internactional, Palmeiras, São Paulo and Atlético Mineiro all progressed.

The clubs want to move away from the CBF because of the governing body’s habit of being involved in scandals and controversy. As well as CBF president Rogerio Caboclo being suspended for an accusation of sexual harrasment, the federation has also had to answer claims of homophobia owing to the absence of a number 24 shirt in the Copa America. This number apparently has links to the gay community. 

The clubs may feel they need to challenge the status quo after a year in which Brazilian football saw its revenues decline by 14% to R$ 5.3 billion (US$ 998 million). At the same time, club debts rose by 19% to R$ 10.3 billion (US$ 1.9 billion).

All aspects of revenue generation dropped in 2019-20: commercial income was 6% down to R$ 677 million, broadcasting fell by 28% to R$ 1.7 billion and matchday was 46% lower at R$ 523 million. Interestingly, Flamengo accounted for 14% of all revenue, while five clubs (Flamengo, Mineiro, Corinthians, Palmeiras and Grêmio contributed 56% to the overall total).

Brazil’s underlying problem remains its inability to keep home grown talent in the country, although player trading remains key to many clubs. One leading football oficial stated that: “We have them between 18 and 19 and then they move abroad. They return when they are 32. This cannot be good for Brazilian football, so we have to find a way to keep some of our best players at home longer, to make our football more attractive, both visually and sustainably.” A bold ambition, but there is no easy solution to that problem while young footballers can earn huge sums of money in Europe.

Photo: ALAMY

Copa Libertadores Final: Brazilian derby in an empty Maracanã

TWO old rivals from São Paulo face each other in the 2020 Copa Libertadores final in Rio de Janeiro, yet another big football match played in a supporter-free stadium. Brazil has had 8.8 million cases of covid-19 and over 200,000 deaths.

Palmeiras and Santos meet in the Clássico da Saudade (the derby of nostalgia) with a difference, the first time they’ve met in the competition and only the third all-Brazil Libertadores final. 

The competition, established in 1960, has had a chequered history, but is still among the world’s top footballing events. Yet outside South America, the Libertadores is still relatively under-exposed, despite the fact Latin Americans live all over the world. For example, there are almost 200,000 Latin Americans in the UK, 275,000 Brazilians in Japan and 250,000 Argentinians in Spain. It is good to see broader interest in the competition these past couple of years – the BBC, for example, has been showing games from this season’s competition.

After a period of Argentinian dominance, this season will make it two consecutive Brazilian winners. Flamengo were the champions in 2019, beating River Plate in the final in Lima. The last Brazilian team to lose in a final were Cruzeiro in 2009. 

Palmeiras are considered by some pundits to be the best team in Brazil at the moment, although they are currently in fifth place in Série A versus Santos’ 10th. They have a better recent record in the competition, having reached the last eight in 2019 and semi-finals in 2018. Palmeiras have won the Libertadores once, in 1999, while Santos have lifted the impressive trophy three times, the last occasion being in 2011. 

Palmeiras, who come from the Perdizes district of São Paulo, are said to have 18 million supporters. They are the third most valuable club in Brazil after Flamengo and Corinthians, according to consultancy company Sports Value. Santos are ranked 11th in the same study. Both clubs are part of the Big 12, the group that comprises Brazil’s biggest and most influential football institutions. If ever there was a proposal for a South American super league, both clubs would be among the invited parties.

Gabriel Menino of Palmeiras (left)

Santos, the club that gave the world Pelé and more recently, Neymar, are based in the São Paulo barrios of Vila Belmiro. For a club of their history, Santos’s attendances are surprisingly low, but their home ground only has a capacity of 16,000. In 2019, they averaged less than 10,500 for their league games. In some ways, Santos’s international reputation allowed the club to punch above its weight.  Since the start of the 21stcentury, Santos’s value has dropped, largely due to diminished revenues. From being among the wealthiest clubs, Santos now make around a third of Palmeiras’ income.

In this season’s Copa Libertadores, Palmeiras and Santos strolled through their groups, coming through unbeaten with strong defensive records. Palmeiras conceded just two goals. In the knockout phase, Palmeiras disposed of Ecuador’s Delfin, Libertad of Paraguay and River Plate. Santos, meanwhile, beat LDU Quito of Ecuador, Brazilian stablemates Grêmio and Boca Juniors.

Neither Palmeiras or Santos are likely to win the Brazilian league title in the current season, they are behind leaders Internacional by 11 and 17 points respectively.  Palmeiras have had the upper hand this season in matches between the two clubs, winning 2-1 on their own ground and drawing 2-2 at Vila Belmiro. Both clubs appointed their current managers in late 2020, Palmeiras installing the Portuguese Abel Ferreira and Santos hiring much-travelled Cuca, who has managed nine of Brazil’s top 12 clubs.

With much greater interest in the Copa Libertadores, the final is going to be a shop window for some players to impress an international audience. Brazil, of course, is one of the great football marketplaces and Palmeiras and Santos have a number of players who are looking to move to Europe. 

Kaio Jorge of Santos

Palmeiras have Gabriel Menino and Gabriel Veron, who have both expressed a desire to go to Barcelona. Menino was outstanding against River Plate in the semi-finals and has been compared to Yaya Touré and Casemiro. The 20 year-old central midfielder can also play at right back. Veron has just broken into the Palmeiras first team and is already attracting European interest. Palmeiras have a link with Manchester City after the sale of Gabriel Jesus a couple of years back. His services come with a € 60 million release clause but his market value is more like € 30 million. The 18 year-old winger also has his eye on Barcelona.

Palmeiras also have experience in the form of Luiz Adriano, the 33 year-old wandering striker who has played for Shakhtar Donetsk, AC Milan and Spartak Moscow. He has netted 20 goals this season.

Santos have their own jewel in Kaio Jorge, a 19 year-old striker whose contract runs out at the end of 2021. Juventus, Real Madrid and Chelsea have all been eyeing the youngster who has excelled in the Libertadores this season. He’s another player with a huge release clause in his contract. The club’s leading scorer, however, is 30 year-old Marinho, who joined Santos in 2019 from Grêmio.

For such a clash, the Maracanã would normnally be buzzing, but the Copa Libertadores final still represents the climax of South America’s premier club competition. And much of the world will be watching, so CONMEBOL will be hoping for a cracker – with no fireworks.

Photo: PA Images