TV rules the roost in Brazil
High summer in Rio, the kind of weather where you work up a sweat sitting in the shade sipping a fruit juice. And at 4.00 in the afternoon, in blazing sunshine, a local final was kicking off, traditional Botafogo against little Resende.
Outside the stadium the temperature was 36 degrees. It must have been higher out on the pitch, in the middle of the Maracana's giant concrete bowl and with no protection from the scorching sun. And it all seems unnecessary; kick off an hour later and most of the pitch is already in shadow. But it's accepted.
A year ago Brazil's Football Association and leading clubs caused a commotion in South America by trying to have matches at altitude banned on health grounds, a measure that would effect Bolivia and Ecuador, as well as Colombia and Peru. The Brazilian media, including some staunch opponents of the FA and club directors, were right behind the campaign.
There is no doubt whatsoever that altitude gives the home side an advantage. Unacclimatised opponents suffer discomfort in such conditions. But does altitude represent a health risk?
This is more problematic. Many would argue that extreme heat is more dangerous. Colombia has both heat and altitude - its physical preparation specialists seem to think that the real threat comes from heat.
And yet Brazilian football, so keen to kick up a fuss about altitude, raises hardly a voice in protest at playing matches in extreme temperatures - because it would lead to conflict with television.
The 4.00 kick-off for Sunday's match was made to measure for the schedules of TV Globo, the giant corporation that screens the games. So too are the start times for the big evening matches - 9.50pm.
Here, of course, there is no risk of overexposure to sunlight - the matches finish near midnight. But it is a problem for the supporter - getting back home at this time can be a real trial, and this is a country where, contrary to the carnivalesque perception, millions have to wake up extraordinarily early to get to work on time.
But 9.50 fits the TV schedules - Globo can transmit the match after the last and most important of its nightly soap operas.
One positive point in Brazil is that the kick-off times, with the alterations that TV makes to the schedules, are defined well in advance. That is not always the case elsewhere in South America. In Argentina there is less than two weeks notice.
When I was in Colombia a few months back the schedule for the weekend's round of matches was announced on the Monday - only then did fans know if their team would be in action on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, because it depended on which matches the TV companies found most attractive.
This is very short notice for the fan, especially one who needs to plan time off work, or who wishes to follow his side to an away game.
Clearly, modern football could not exist without television and its miraculous ability to bring matches into homes and bars all over the world. But the risk that South American football runs is as follows; excessive dependence on TV leads to excessive concessions being made to TV.
Just over a year ago a Brazilian media executive gave a lecture announcing that for his country's first division clubs 29% of their income was from TV. In Argentina it was 22%. In both cases there was one bigger source of income - player sales.
Revenue from ticket sales and other match day streams was lagging way behind. Clearly South American clubs cannot charge Premier League-style ticket prices - mass salaries are much too low - but there is room for improvement. It is difficult, though, when the fixture list is drawn up to suit the TV companies rather than the fans.
This is another factor (fear of violence, lack of comfort and poor transport are probably even more harmful) in keeping supporters away from the stadiums, increasing the dependence on TV and giving more momentum to the vicious circle.
Fifa president Sepp Blatter last week criticised what he sees as an excess of football on television. It is true that in South America, mostly on cable, there is access to all the major European leagues.
Over the last decade many local supporters have developed strong sympathies for certain European clubs. But I don't feel that this is something that keeps many people away from South American stadiums - the local culture of the game is too well entrenched.
But I would be interested to know about the situation elsewhere, in Africa and Asia, for example. Does coverage of European football inspire people to take up the game? Or does it hinder attempts to develop the game locally? Or does it even do both at the same time?
Comments on today's piece in the space provided. Any other questions on South American football to email@example.com, and I'll pick out a couple for next week.
From last week's postbag:
Nearly every week you write about another young South American footballer who moves to Europe 'too early', and returns, in many cases a lesser player, a couple of years later. Surely the European teams can see this as well? Why don't they secure something akin to a 'first option' clause on these players and let them have another year or two in south America, or even loan them back as soon as they have been 'bought', thereby reducing the risk of having a pointless purchase on whom they lose money very quickly?
I think I was falling into the trap of seeing 'the European clubs' as a monolithic block, and forgetting that, obviously, they're all competing against each other. I wrote a piece recently about a player who falls into the category you mention, the Peruvian Manco who was bought by PSV of Holland. I got a fascinating e-mail from a PSV fan who pointed out, very intelligently, that the only option open to PSV was to buy him too early. Because if they wait, and he keeps playing well at home, he will inevitably attract the interest of a club with more financial clout than PSV - so its 'too early' or 'not at all' as far as a club like that are concerned.
Looking at it from the clubs' point of view, once you've bought him, you'll want to try and get him adapted as soon as possible - so if you're going to loan him out, I can see the logic in doing it to a club in a fellow European country or a smaller one in your own. And if it doesn't come off, the chances are that you haven't lost that much. Transfer fees for a player from South America tend to be considerably smaller than for a deal between two European clubs - exactly to reflect the risk of non-adaptation - so I presume the clubs see it as a gamble worth taking. Because if it comes off - like, say Ronaldo with PSV, you can sell him on at a healthy profit.
What do you make of the young Argentinian striker Eduardo Salvio? I understand some of Europe's bigger clubs such as Juventus are interested in him. Does he have the ability/physique to succeed in the Italian league like Pato?
I don't think he's quite Alexandre Pato - there aren't too many like him around - but no doubt that Salvio is an excellent prospect. Another one of those stocky little Argentine strikers, can operate wide right or through the middle. He's quick, technically very good, good at running at defenders and playing quick one-twos. A lot of European clubs were having a look at him during the recent South American Under-20s, where he made a bright start but then faded badly - it's a gruelling competition but perhaps it shows that he's some way short in physical terms. He plays for Lanus, who are in this year's Copa Libertadores, which should give him terrific experience.