Lack of continuity continues to plague Brazilian football
The Copa Libertadores quarterfinals kicked off on Wednesday night with an all-Brazilian tie between Sao Paulo and Atletico Mineiro, which proved to be a poor advert for the country's domestic game.
The match was abrasive and spiteful, constantly interrupted by fouls, generating plenty of heat but precious little light. There was little free-flowing football; the only goal came in the only manner it looked possible, from a Sao Paulo set piece. And even this set a new low point; in the celebrations a fence collapsed and some 25 fans fell into the moat that surrounds the pitch. It was a night that did nothing to whet the appetite for the Brazilian Championship, which kicks off on Saturday.
With the size of Brazil and the importance of football in the country, the domestic league really should be one of the most attractive in the world. But it is operating massively short of its potential -- and one of the main reasons is the fact that it starts now. The action goes on straight through to early December, with a fixture list drawn up as if the rest of the world did not exist. This has several negative consequences.
One is that it undermines the beginning. A league competition needs a pause beforehand. It is when the anticipation rises for the giant party that should be the big kick-off -- the biggest nationwide party of football, involving fans from every club. But the national league gets going less than a week after the dismal, antiquated State Championships have come to an end, meaning that the fan is already acquainted with his team and its limitations.
The magic of the big kick-off dissipates -- all the more so as it coincides with such a decisive stage of the Copa Libertadores. Sao Paulo and Atletico may well field weakened sides this weekend, saving their gunpowder for next Wednesday's second leg. And it could have been four teams instead of two -- Corinthians and Gremio were knocked out of the Copa Libertadores last week.
And there will be plenty of times during the campaign when many sides will be without their best players. Next month, of course, the Copa America is played in the United States. There is no pause in the domestic championship. So, probably for over a month, Santos, one of the favourites, will be without their three attacking stars, Ricardo Oliveira, Gabriel Barbosa and Lucas Lima. Plenty of other teams will suffer similar losses -- and not only during the Copa America. The Olympics in August will also lead to absences of players.
By then, of course, some of the best players may well have checked out anyway. Transfer windows are about to open up around the world -- in Europe and, of course, in China as well. In January the Chinese clubs bought in bulk from the Brazilian league. Who will they be after this time? Some players will also come back -- Brazilians who have served their time in Europe, for example.
There is little continuity. During the course of the competition team lineups go through massive changes. Brazilian magazine "Placar" publishes a guide to the championship at the start of the season, with details on all of the players. Usually it comes out with a completely fresh guide for the second half of the season -- necessary to reflect all the alterations in personnel.
In such circumstances it is clearly difficult for coaches to establish a set pattern of play, especially as they live in perpetual fear of losing their job. The coach is always a fall guy, and as we have seen in Brazil, there is plenty to fall for. Turnover is dazzlingly fast. Last year only champions Corinthians kept the same coach for the entire campaign.
Taking all of this together, it is small wonder why the Brazilian league is falling so short of its potential. Perhaps the good news belongs to the long term -- at least that potential exists.
Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.