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A top league with both quality and unpredictability

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Tim Vickery | 09:46 UK time, Monday, 21 May 2012

Even the most enthusiastic inhabitant of the Matthew Harding Stand might be reluctant to argue that Chelsea are the best team in Europe. But they dug deep, rode their luck, came up big at key moments and went home with the trophy. And this is the essence of a cup competition, with the chances that it creates for upsets.

League championships are a different matter. At the end of the season the table does not lie. The worst teams are at the bottom and the best ones are at the top - and in most major leagues the number of teams capable of making a genuine title challenge has fallen over recent years.

In the first full season I followed the English title was won by Derby County, who did it again three years later. There were still players around who had been active when the championship went to Ipswich and Burnley, unthinkable from today's perspective.

Before we start eulogising over the good old days, it is worth remembering that this competitive balance was underpinned by the treatment handed out to those who put on the show.

The existence of the (low) maximum wage meant that the great Tom Finney could earn no more at Preston North End than if he moved to Manchester United. And if he wanted a move anyway he could not have one. Preston could hold his registration for as long as they liked. And so they were frequent title challengers in the 1950s, while Finney was denied the chance of finding a stage more fitting for his talents.

Neymar is among a host of young stars playing in the Brasileirao Serie A. Photo: Getty

Take such artificial restraints away and an inevitable process of concentration begins. Football is the game of the city. The big city giants can afford to pay more, so they attract the best players and a reduced number of clubs cut away from the pack. Make the area of operation worldwide and the number is reduced still further. There is space for a handful of giants to go global, first winning over fans in Asia and North America, and then working to find ways to turn this allegiance into money.

The super-size teams are thus able to assemble squads of dazzling quality, making it hard for the mid-size clubs to compete. The price of quality is a large dose of predictability, the big dilemma of today's top domestic leagues.

But there is one championship with the potential to come up with an interesting answer to the quality/predictability equation - Brazil, where the 2012 national league kicked off over the weekend.

A similar dynamic of predictability has been taking place in Brazil. A decade ago, for example, tiny Sao Caetano, existing on gates of around 2,000, spent a few seasons as title contenders. And Atletico Paranaense, from Curitiba - at best Brazilian football's fifth city - were champions in 2001. All of that is unlikely now.

For a start, the season is longer - in 2003 a fully fledged league system replaced the previous, shorter play-off format. The longer the competition the deeper the squad needed, making things harder for the smaller clubs. Also - fundamentally - there is more money around. The country has been experiencing a consumer-led boom and so clubs have been able to boost their revenues from TV and sponsorship.

More money means more quality, but because the former is not distributed equally nor is the latter. Gaps have opened up and it is now unthinkable that the Brazilian equivalents of Derby, Ipswich and Burnley can win the title.

Even so, the Brazilian championship is never likely to prove as predictable as the English or Spanish ones, for example. The sheer size of the country comes to its rescue. It is hard to imagine the title slipping out of the grasp of one of the giants from the traditional centres, but there are enough of them to keep things interesting.

Rio de Janeiro has four big clubs, Sao Paulo has four, Belo Horizonte and Porto Alegre each have two. Then there is the north-east of the country, where the mass support of the big teams has yet to translate itself into consistent strength on the field. Perhaps, though, 2014 World Cup investments will give the region a boost and the competition will benefit from the growth of more giant contenders.

The Brazilian championship, then, can combine quality with a healthy lack of predictability. But if it is to fulfil its massive potential, it must sort out its calendar.
The first round of any league should be a huge festival of football, the moment when fans flock to the stadiums eager to see their heroes in action. But the Brazilian Championship kicks off at the very time when the Copa Libertadores, the continent's Champions League, and the domestic cup are reaching the decisive stages.

Teams still involved in these competitions tend to pick reserve sides for the league games. There will be plenty of reserves in action later on as well. The fixture list goes straight through until early December, with no pause for Fifa dates or international competitions. The best players will miss a large chunk of the season away on duty with Brazil's Olympic team.

It is amazing that the clubs put up with such a situation. And even more incredible that they put up with a calendar that embarks on a long league season with no pause beforehand. For the last few months they have been engaged in the state championships, one for each of the 27 states that make up this giant country. Those clubs which did not win their state title are branded failures even before the leagues season starts. It was for this reason that the game I was at on Sunday, Botafogo against Sao Paulo, attracted fewer than 5,000 paying supporters.

The home side came from behind to win 4-2 in an excellent game, one that deserved a much bigger audience. The fact that it did not get one is a symbol of a league operating below its potential.

Send your questions on South American football to and I'll pick out a couple for next week.

From last week's postbag:

Just wondering whether you think Universidad de Chile's manager Jorge Sampaoli will leave the club at the end of their Copa Libertadores run and, if so, where is he likely to end up? Is it possible we could eventually see him picked up by a European side? The way his team so confidently despatched of Deportivo Quito 6-0 in the last-16 second leg having lost the first game 4-1 was breathtaking to watch. Stewart Hogarth

His side have been breathtaking to watch over the last 12 months. La U are so good to watch because the team play with such dynamism. The man on the ball has five options to give a pass.

Will they win the Libertadores? I don't think they're as defensively solid as last year, and if they can't stop the counter-attack at source they can have problems. But if they do win it he'll surely want to be around for the World Club Cup. Long term, I'm sure he'll be thinking of Europe. Sampaoli is a Marcelo Bielsa-disciple and the success Bielsa has enjoyed at Bilboa will surely open up doors for Sampaoli on that side of the Atlantic.

Higuita amused us, Chilavert we praised. Dida almost joined the list but somehow came short, by what criteria, I don't know. What is your take about home-grown goalkeepers in South America and who would be some of your picks? Kenneth Kolo

I think you have left Dida a little bit short because he wasn't (at all) a character goalkeeper like the other two. But, occasional slip apart, he was safer, bigger and better in a more orthodox interpretation of the position.

His performances shed light on the fact that Brazil has become a fine producer of keepers. Huge credit must go to Taffarel, a pioneer in the sense that he was the first one to gain the confidence of an international audience. To play three World Cups with hardly an error is also a massive achievement, a real test of character.

Other favourites? Jose Francisco Cevallos made his mistakes, but his contribution is undeniable in the first Ecuadorian national team to play in a World Cup and the first club from the country to win the Libertadores.


  • Comment number 1.

    Have to mention that the fact is the Brazilian championship is also unpredictable in large part for the wrong reasons not the right ones. Brazilian clubs including the top ones from Sao Paulo and Rio traditionally struggle to hold on to successful teams (Santos 2003 is a great example with Robinho/Elano/Renato/Diego/Alex/Andre Luiz all moving to Europe straight after). While there there is evidence to suggest this is happening less these days, the fact is, that until they are able to keep and develop their successful teams, the championship will ultimately produce unpredictable outcomes. Whether this is a good or bad thing I'm not sure, but a better explanation than perhaps geographical....

  • Comment number 2.

    In excitement and suspense--football played with slightly differing styles and identities, I rate the Brazilian league as second to the Premiership.

    Great blog, Tim. Keep it up.

  • Comment number 3.

    One player that would light up the Brazilian League for the next 5 years is a familiar face. If your looking for dazzling skill, pace like a roadrunner, technical ability that is second to none and agility to step past the very best, there is only one candidate. Titus Bramble - Brazil's next superstar.

  • Comment number 4.

    Great blog Tim,

    What's your thoughts on the story about Seedorf agreeing terms with Botafogo?
    Do you think we'll see more European players going to Brazil now that the clubs can afford to pay the wages for them?
    How do the Brazilians view foreign players in their domestic league?

  • Comment number 5.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 6.

    Football is the sport of the city -- I agree, Tim (unfortunately!). But wasn't it great this season to see Athletico Bilbao do so well in the admittedly-not-very-good Europa League! The night when they humbled Man Utd with their intricate passing and nimble movement will live in my memory for ages. It's proof that a club from a smaller town can aspire to the kind of football that we're told isn't possible without huge sums of money. The writer V.S. Pritchett once argued that, whatever bullfighting is (maybe theatre?), it certainly isn't a sport. To Pritchett's mind, sport was characterised by its unpredictability. But in bullfighting the bull can never win, so the activity isn't a sport! I was thinking of that when I watched Bilbao run rings round the so-called superstars. Without unpredictability, we may as well pack up and take our bags home. Viva Bilbao!

  • Comment number 7.

    @6 I agree with you that Bilbao was a great story, but I think what Tim alludes to this the fact that next year their best players will have been poached by the bigger and richer teams. The same has happened in England over teh years with teams like Spurs, Newcastle and Everton all losing major stars which stop them ever mounting a serious challenge for the title. Hence the big teams keep their positions and get more money and so can pay more for the better players from the other teams. It's a closed shop and every year they get richer and stronger. FFP allowed other teams like City and Chelsea to break in, but that won't happen if it's properly implemented so it will be even more of a monopoly.

    Football has historically always been the most unpredictable sport but I read recently that that mantle has passed to baseball which interestingly in terms of money share gate receipts into a common pool. Of course you still get big teams and small teams but the gap between them are nowhere near as big if the money isn't.

    I seem to remember that the year Derby won it as mentioned by Tim was the year that 4 or 5 teams could have won it on the final match but everyone of them lost to give Derby the title. Makes you realise that although we had a fantastic finish to the season this year it was surely no where near as exciting as the old days when 5 teams could have won it on the last match!

  • Comment number 8.

    Afternoon Tim,

    Great blog as usual... I come here every monday for quite some time now to get an update on football from around the world, other than the usual European heavyweights.

    My question to my fellow bloggers is where and when can we watch South American football here in the UK? Seems to me to be very undercovered here!

    I would love

  • Comment number 9.


    I believe that ESPN have started to cover matches on a Sunday night and they showed the Botafogo - São Paulo game that Tim went to yesterday. Next week it's Atletico Mineiro v Corinthians.

    Of course if you don't want to subscribe to ESPN, there are plenty of ways to watch via the internet....

  • Comment number 10.

    Great Blog, i moved to Brazil 18 months ago and find the Brasileirao exciting and unpredictable, but a shame to see some of the games so poorly attended. They realy need to sort out the calendar and the marketing. The start of the season this weekend almost seemed to go under the radar. Compare that to England and the excitement the start of a new season brings. The problem is people here love these local championships at the start of the year wheras to the outsider looking in they seem ridiculous. Players play many games starting in January, and with the Libertadores and Copa do Brasil too, the start of the season proper seems like an anti-climax.

    I live in Fortaleza which is hardly a football stronghold but has potential with 2 well supported teams and the reconstruction of the castellao stadium going well. Ceara spent 2 years in the top flight recently but were relegated last year which was a shame for the City, especially with WC and Conf Cup games to be held here. I support Fortaleza who desperately need to escape the regionalised Serie C, but sometimes the club and fans seem more concerned with the local championship and have given a lot of effort already by the time Serie C starts. I guess fortaleza is one of the North East Cities you refer to that could become a power, Ceara drew crowds of 60,000 for some of their games in the old Castellao.

  • Comment number 11.

    @Kenneth Kolo

    No list of South American keepers would be complete without Rogério Ceni of São Paulo. More than a hundred goals and counting.

    Here's the first 100!

  • Comment number 12.

    @5 I think one of the main reasons Seedorf is looking at a move to Brazil is that he has a Brazilian wife and they already onw an apartment in Rio I believe.

    @8 You can watch some south american football on Premier Sports for about £8 per month. They show the Libetadores and also the Brazilian and Argentian leagues. Some of the games are sometimes on a little late, which can lead to some bleary eyed work days, but it's usually worth it!

  • Comment number 13.


    Agreed, Bilbao is a very good story this year, but perhaps an even better one is that of Montpelier who have just claimed the French title despite the vast amounts of money thrown at it by PSG. A relatively small provincial town from what is largely a rugby playing area.

    Agree with RoyaltyinThePremiership though, they will probably be stripped of their best players by the aforementioned PSG and other elite European clubs as is the case with second tier clubs in the English Premiership.

    This will mean that they probably won't be able to compete in real terms in the Champions League and probably won't get beyond the group stages, which in turn may affect Franc'e coefficient in the competition.

  • Comment number 14.

    The championship used to be far more unpredictable before. I remember several stories of small clubs going deep - Brasil de Pelotas and America of Rio reached the semifinals in the 1980's. The 1985 final was between Coritiba and Bangu of Rio.

    A good deal of that unpredictability has been lost already, and the main reasons are listed by Tim above:

    - the short season.
    - the format of the competition.

    Brazil's championship became far less unpredictable the moment it switched from a play-off to a league format.

  • Comment number 15.

    Clearly other competitions have a big bearing on the quality of the teams sent out in the league, which I suppose is the big difference between the leading european leagues and the Brazil league.

    I was a little dissapointed to see some of the clubs fielding 2nd string teams on the opening day. Fluminense x Corinthians had the all the hallmarks of a great fixture with the both sides having such a strong campaign least year. However, both fielded weakended teams due to both having big games in the Libatadores this week. Can't really blame the coaches as success in the Libatadores is important for both, but it does show a little bit of how the league is viewed.

    From what I've seen Santos fans are already hoping they can get off to a strong start as they are likely to struggle when they lose Neymar & Ganso for the Olympics. Makes for an unpredicatbale league for sure, but I'd much rather have a competition where you see full strength sides and every team seeing it as a premier competition.

  • Comment number 16.

    What I think is interesting, in these days of financial meltdown in europe, is the fact that Brazil seems to be booming. I guess, rather like the story of iceland, it's 'good news' and nothing stinks up the ratings like good news LoL! I digress, do you think the interest in south american football is a natural swing back to 'la juga bonita'? Is it because european football has become over coached, that people want to see the game played with more flair now? For example, Chelsea's performance against Barca in the champions' league semi finals. DEspite them going on to win the game and despite two lovely goals (scored by two players with latin blood, Ramires and Torres) it was more attrition than flair. Do our eyes long for skill and beauty on the field again? Is it a general shift or is it down to exceptional talents like Neymar and Ganso grabbing our attention?

  • Comment number 17.

    The Brazilian penchant for mixing league and cup formats within the same competition is perhaps worth examinining more deeply Tim. Fortunately, I believe most people realise that the league format is the best way to determine the best team over an entire season, and the run-ins have been sufficiently exciting to sustain the interest. But there are still some who feel 'saudades' for the old mixed format, even though Brazil has its own national cup competition as well (which Libertadores qualifiers are excluded from, to avoid serious overload). The Paulista state championship retains that and given that in the league part teams play each other only once it is perhaps only fair that clubs get a second bite with the top 8 cup play offs.
    When it comes to South American goalies, my own personal favourite was Rodolfo Rodrigues, who shone for Santos in the 80s (reminded me a bit of Pat Jennings). I was also a big Dida fan and there was a time when he seemed to have the edge over strikers even when it came to penalties. I agree with No.11 that Rogério Ceni is a stand out, for various reasons: one-club man when players switch allegiance at the drop of a hat; and how many keepers have scored more than 100 officially recorded goals? I agree with you that Taffarel was the pioneer who succeeded in changing the image of Brazilian keepers, which had previously been poor in Europe (often unfairly so). British keepers, meanwhile, seemed to have been going in the opposite direction until Joe Hart came along.

  • Comment number 18.

    Interesting views on South American goalkeepers.

    For the record, I rated Jose Chilavert very highly. Not just for his ability to score penalties and free kicks a la Rogerio Ceni, but also for the fact that as a goalkeeper I thought he was outstanding- commanded his area well, was an intimidating presence and before he put on weight he had great reflexes. In fact during the 1990s, I think only Peter Schmeichel and Oliver Kahn were more consistent than him in world football.

    However, I didn't rate Claudio Taffarel as highly- I don't think he was commanding at all in his penalty area and he made a lot of mistakes. He lost his place at club level in Italy Serie A with Parma because of his errors. Julio Cesar, Dida and Marcos, Brazil's keeper in 2002, were all better than Taffarel in my opinion.

  • Comment number 19.


    Thank you very much... hope i' not chancing my arm but any idea on game days and showtimes GMT?

  • Comment number 20.

    @12 I've not heard of Premier Sports, They don't seem to be on any Virgin packages?

    Thanks for the info

  • Comment number 21.

    nice blog. i agree with the main points ref brazilian club football and it's strengths/weaknesses.

    i found the finney remark interesting 'denied the chance of finding a stage more fitting for his talents'. what could have been more fitting than challenging for the title with his hometown club? i take the general point, that the lack of player freedom in those days was scandalous, but i think it has to be said that the aspirational mentality of always needing to move to a bigger and better project/having to win trophies to justify your existence, is something from today's game and mentality. hope that doesn't sound too stroppy or pernickety, really enjoy your blogs.

  • Comment number 22.

    @1 Santos did win 2005 with Robinho still at the helm, but you are correct Santos had virtually 3 teams in 3 seasons.

    Great blog Tim as always. That unpredicability is right through the league. It is very rare to reach October where less if not more than 8 teams could still win the league and in some cases I´ve seen the situation where the same team could easily go down. Imagine a league where 15 of the teams do a Blackpool every year in a positive or negative way.

    I hate this reserves fixtures too, it really distroys the quality of the championship. Its the Calander as is often discussed here. Even moving the Brasil Cup and Libertadores dates would improve the quality of the league.

  • Comment number 23.

    19 - The libetadores games are usually Wednesday / Thursday around mindnight GMT, depending on where it's being held. I think Flu x Boca is on this wednesday at 11.30pm for example. The brazil / argentinian games are on saturday / sunday evenings, sometimes a little earlier, but again depends.

    Not sure if it's on Virgin yet as I get it through Sky. Hope this helps, more info on there website

  • Comment number 24.

    I think we should be careful when analyzing the league format. the title went just ONCE to a northeast team (and two to the so-called smaller clubs, although Coritiba has now cemented itself as a competitive club) before that, when minnows reached the final (Vitória in 1993, Portuguesa in 1996, São Caetano in 2000 and 2001) they lost more than won. the first division was much more diverse than the Brasileirão ever was (although being more than half a century older certainly helps). and even though La Liga aberration of TV rights has also made its way here in Brazil, disparity in England seems to be more influenced by owner investments and a Champions League place (the latter seems to be some sort of vicious cycle), while here in Brazil we had decades of mismanagement and huge debts (even today most of the big clubs struggle with internal politics and old debts).
    also, while not being in direct contention for the title, we still have some surprises now and then (Figueirense last year, and before that it was Avaí, Juventude, Paraná, Goiás - interestingly all of them now out of the Serie A)

  • Comment number 25.

    What about the Bundesliga where there have been 5 different winners in the last 8 years

  • Comment number 26.

    Tim great blog,
    I always thought the Brazilian championship, Argentina and Germany played dificult the most in the world, I have to praise the 2012 edition of Premiere League was exciting in the end the teams alternated as champions manchester.
    analyzing a general European football and South America, have the opnion that European football has changed considerably since 1992 with the creation of the Premier League, not only by foreigners but mostly by common players, those who are only part of the cast, in Europe that his football players have evolved considerably, leading to difficulties superstars that have always existed in Europe, today a player like Fletcher can be as important as the team that rooney is one of the best in the world, here in south america with the interest other countries for football players that could reach the level evolution of the fletcher has his way stopped because they are contracted by teams of northern europe, asia and the Middle East, some returned home and play at a level below what came out but with four years over the years that you can not recover. Brazilians who are already good and go to Portugal, italy, france, spain and germany evoluiem considerably and to countries ranging from minor leagues back worse than when they left, it confuses even the renewal of the selection. I have england would champion sub-sub-17 or 20 young players would be much more respected. I doubt that it arose as a young giuliano or carlos eduardo would be sold to the minor leagues, think also of the entire team that has only shaktar donetski potêncial Brazilian and 70% never developed it because there are only three good teams in Ukraine, it hurts the lovers of football since most of Argentinean and Brazilian players who have mastered basic football between 2000 and 2010, did not progress because they were taken away their chance at a professional level. I believe that if Brazil is interssasse in advancing young players and not to buy back 27 years to a level below the left "Thiago Neves" can dramatically improve the level of the championship in the eyes of viewers. I hope someone comment on my post!

  • Comment number 27.

    @Ian Blasdale: however, the brazilian league was ALREADY unpredictable long before brazilian clubs could not hold on to their star players (70s and early 80s...)

  • Comment number 28.

    Brazil: 6 different champions in the last 9 years and 3 runner-ups that are not any of those 6 champions.

    Champion and Runner-up
    2003 - Cruzeiro and Santos
    2004 - Santos, and Atlético Paranaense
    2005 - Corinthians and Internacional
    2006 - São Paulo and Internacional
    2007 - São Paulo and Santos
    2008 - São Paulo and Grêmio
    2009 - Flamengo and Internacional
    2010 - Fluminense and Cruzeiro
    2011 - Corinthians and Vasco da Gama.

    10 different clubs, in the last 9 years, being winner of runner-ups.

    and the most impressive stats: of the 10 different winners and runner-ups in the last 9 years, 4 of them have been in the second division in the last 9 years! And Fluminense played Serie C in 1999!!
    Cruzeiro (-)
    Santos (-)
    Atletico Paranaense (2012)
    Corinthians (2008)
    Inter (-)
    São Paulo (-)
    Grêmio (2005)
    Flamengo (-)
    Fluminense (-)
    Vasco da Gama (2009)

    But its worth checking out the standings of each club in different years. Flamengo for example, was almost relegated in the next year after it was champion. And Fluminense heroically escaped relegation (it had 1% of chance of escaping relegation... had to win ALL its remaining 10 games and root for different results) and was champion in the following year. Grêmio returned from 2nd division and was 3rd place of Serie A. Etc

  • Comment number 29.


    Im already looking forward to it!

    You are a true gentleman... Thank you

  • Comment number 30.

    @28 You are forgetting that from 1971 to 2002 the championship was decided based on the "mata mata" (knock-out) concept. This very method was partly introduced in order to make the championship more open and less predictable. It's interesting if you compare that to the 60s prior to the introduction of this method, in which Santos dominated Brazilian football rather like Liverpool of the 80s.... There is also no escaping the fact that the constant selling of players DOES contribute to the unpredictable nature of the championship. It may not be the only reason of course, but it's certainly a factor in which many Santos, Coxa, Internacional fans would surely agree...

  • Comment number 31.

    Oops - my post was @27 (sorry 28)

  • Comment number 32.


    I actually thought the same when reading Tim's piece, notwithstanding the point about what can only be described as a restriction of labour. There was less of a draw to 'bigger and better' things in those days.
    It also didn't do his England career too much harm with nearly a goal every other game.

  • Comment number 33.

    great blog tim. always an enjoyable read.

    you mentioned the economic boom that is happening brazil over the last few yrs is there concerns to would what happen if there was a financial collapse like the usa, uk, the eurozone have seen since 2008? also would it do to the brazilian domestic football could it see the smaller teams returning to the top or everything carrying go as normal like in the premier league except the massive transfer fees which man city and chelsea can afford.

    i would put Taffarel in the category of one of the best keepers in football. if you dont have a decent keeper nowadays you wont win many games.

  • Comment number 34.

    Tim: great blog...

    In digressing a bit, and in next articles please look south a bit to what is happening in the top two divisions in Argentina: the huge and renewed interest in the Nacional B championship which is coming to a close with four teams jockeying to go straight up or play the promotion playoffs (all of this interest after River Plate went down last season and everyone is looking at them with a bit of morbid sadism...) all the Nacional B games involving these 4 teams are shown on open air TV and the gate receipts are setting records.

    And then you have the Primera A with the leads changing every week, some teams like you mentioned (Velez and Boca) playing deep into the Libertadores and a frantic fight at the bottom to avoid relegation. I really think this is full of drama as 8 teams are struggling to keep their three-year 'promedios' above the waterline, truly engrossing stuff... with four games to go even the dead last team, Olimpo has a mathematical chance and one of the big five, San Lorenzo is about to drop should they not win everything to the end.

  • Comment number 35.

    I live in Brazil, but I have to admit, I rarely bother watching Brazilian league football, it just doesn't interest me. With upwards of 50 fouls a game, the ref is blowing the whistle every two minutes and the games never flow as they do in Europe. The quality is very mixed as well. If I remember correctly, last year's winner of the Brazilian league, won with only 71 points in a 20 team league and normally any one of 10 teams can be relegated right up until the last few games.

  • Comment number 36.

    36 - with the closing stages of the Libertadores and the coming set of World Cup qualfiers it's going to be hard to find space for domestic football in Argentina, thougn there are 3 stories there of great interest to me
    1 - you highlighted - will River Plate (and Rosario Central) make it back up - chances of a play off with San Lorenzo.
    2 - last few games of Veron, a wonderful player and a role model for South Americans in terms of coming back from Europe and making an impression.
    3 - Tigre fighting to win the title and to avoid relegation at the same time

  • Comment number 37.

    I find the Brazilian champinship quite exciting to follow. Yes, the style of play, number of free kicks and low crowds (in some games) make some matches a non-event... However, after some getting used to I now find it more pleasing to the eye than the 100mph kick and rush of the premiership!

    Again, impossible to pick a winner this year... anyone of Sao Paulo, Fla, Flu, Corinthians, Vasco, Santos or even Internacional in with a shout...

    One of the North East giants that your thinking of, and previous champions themselves, are Sport Recife who had over 28,000 at the opening game versus Flamengo...

  • Comment number 38.

    I don't really agree that Sport are former champions. They won the title in 1987, when the big clubs broke away and formed their own league (an idea that badly needs reactivating now). Essentially what Sport won was the second division, and they are folling themslves if they pretend otherwise.
    Apart from that they have never been higher than 5th. Another team from the North East, Bahia, did win the title in 1988, but that's the only time they've ever been in the top 3. These clubs, and others in the region, can draw big crowds on a regular basis. It's a mystery to me why we so rarely see this strength translated into performances on the pitch. Any explanations?

  • Comment number 39.

    Great blog Tim.

    Always good to read of Sir Tom and Brazilian flair in the same article!

  • Comment number 40.

    Umm. First up the old minimum wage was not 'low' it was 'realistic'. Players like Finney earned around three times as much as the men watching him on the terraces not 3000 as much as is the case today.

    Second,'more money means more quality'. Does it indeed? I think the proof of that particular pudding will be had at the next World Cup which Brazil of course host and which,I venture to suggest,they have little chance of winning not least because the abandonment of the play-off system means that fewer Brazillians will actually get to play under pressure as often as they once did. This notion that Brazil managed to produce such brilliant players because they all played beach football as kids is and always was fanciful. They learned the professional rigours of the game in tough championship play-off games where losing meant failure everytime. Dead rubbers were as rare as one-sided fixtures. Yes they could play but they could mix it too.

  • Comment number 41.

    Regarding the 1987 championship, you should read this:

    As it turns out, there was an agreement to arrange playoff matches between the top 2 of the two championships, but this agreement was signed after the tournaments got under way. Anyway, it is a funny read.

    Why do northern/northeastern clubs fail? One reason is that their gate receipts are much smaller than gate receipts for southeastern clubs. A 60 000 crowd in Recife brings in much less money than a 60 000 crowd in Rio or Sao Paulo.

    What is the size of Bahias budget? I assume it is just a fraction of Corinthians' budget.

    Honestly speaking, I believe that only one club outside Rio/Sao Paulo will have any chance of winning the title: Internacional of Porto Alegre. Cruzeiro may struggle to avoid relegation and Atletico Mineiro/Gremio seem to be out of sorts.

  • Comment number 42.

    It seems to a bit different in Ecuador where teams from the large metropolises of Quito and Guayquil are being threatened by the smaller provincial teams.

    Current leaders Independiente have a plethora of young players that seem ready to claim the Serie A for the first time. Unfortunatley, all these young starlets will probably be poached by the bigger Ecuadorian and European teams (Spurs have a youth link with Independiente and are already looking to buy the best of the bunch).

    I'm looking forward to next batch of CONMEBAL qualifiers next week. Hopefully some of the bigger teams will get a shock.

    Argentina will play at home against Ecuador and usually be heavy favourites. However a previous draw against bogey team Bolivia will give Ecuador hope of an upset.

  • Comment number 43.

    I can't remember a time when I wasn't interested in football, but finally decided on a favourite team in 1966, the year Liverpool were champions. Over the next 6 seasons, 6 other clubs won the title! Great times ... never to be repeated. I know it's the way of the modern game, but I feel something has been lost, and if I were a Brazilian I'd be wary of the same thing happening there (although it does seem that the fixture scheduling needs some work).

  • Comment number 44.

    40 - I don't think that what happens in domestic Brazilian football will prove much one way or the other re. the 2014 World Cup. Many of the players will still be with European clubs, and those still in Brazil will have had plenty of serious play-off experience in the Libertadores, etc.

    The notion that Tom Finney's pay was 'realistic' is extremely fanciful verging on the malicious. Palermo were prepared to make him rich - as Juventus did with John Charles. If they could pay much, much more, it's obvious that the English clubs could have as well. Remember that Finney even worked as a plumber during the close season. For me it is one of the great untold stories - what happened to all that money from the supposed good old days, when the stadiums were full and yet there was so little investment in the playing staff, the pitch or the stadium.

  • Comment number 45.

    These clubs, and others in the region, can draw big crowds on a regular basis. It's a mystery to me why we so rarely see this strength translated into performances on the pitch. Any explanations?

    In short: lack of $$$$$$ though the bums on seats isn´t a problem lack of investment, marleting, sponsorship etc... is. The North East is a very poor part of Brazil...

  • Comment number 46.

    44.At 00:03 23rd May 2012, Tim Vickery - BBC Sport wrote:
    what happened to all that money from the supposed good old days, when the stadiums were full and yet there was so little investment in the playing staff, the pitch or the stadium.

    I would imagine a large share of the "income" would have gone to the owners of the club. However you have to consider that whilst the stadiums were full, the ticket prices would have been a fraction of what they are now.

    Ticket sales would have been the only stream of revenue the club would receive. There were no trips to the far east, big money tv deals or sponsorship contracts or even replica t-shirts. The commercial side of football only began to take off late 70s, hence the increase in wages and transfer fees.

  • Comment number 47.

    Yep premier league is predictable, only a handful of winners in 20 years.

    Interesting point about football being a game for the cities. However isnt it interesting that the most successfull region in England is the North West where Liverpool and Man Utd dominate. Maybe we could class the relatively low trophy haul of the London and Midlands clubs (particularly Birmingham) as under-achievers!!

  • Comment number 48.

    the unpredictability of Brazilian football is also compounded by the lack of international breaks... this week for example Santos will host Sport Recife without Neymar, Ganso & Co who are away on international duty... Can you imagone this in the premier league??? Fergie would be going nuts!!!

    What happens is that a bit like the cricket county championship in England... the sides with no international players actually have an advantage...

    international call ups, involvement in Copa Libertadores and losing your best players to Europe actually puts you at a disadvantage against the average side who are together week in week out!


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