Pitacodogringo’s guide to the Campeonato Brasileiro 2009
The dust has barely settled on the major state championships, but already it’s time to focus on Brazil’s national league – the Campeonato Brasileiro.
The 2008 competition was one of the closest for years but this season could be even tighter. Once again there’s no outright favourite for the title. Internacional, Palmeiras, Cruzeiro, Corinthians and Grêmio could all be in the running and who would bet against São Paulo making it four in a row?
Adding to the spectacle this year are super stars Ronaldo and Adriano. Their participation is guaranteed to bump up the numbers watching both in Brazil and around the world and the signs are that we look set for a fabulous tournament.
The Brasileiro is undoubtedly the most unpredictable league championship on earth. The reasons behind this are manifold but there are fundamental problems that make the Brasileiro so chaotic and so enjoyable. For starters there’s the poor infrastructure, a lack of long-term planning, the start date of the season, the Libertadores, the detestable Copa do Brasil, the sale of players during the tournament, serial diving, atrocious referees etc. I discussed these issues in some detail in my guide to the Brasileiro 2008 and don’t wish to go over them again. But, if you’re new to the competition and want to learn a little more about the background of the Brasileiro (or just want to remind yourself why the league can be so chaotic) take a look here.
So, to 2009 and the basics. The format is the same as it has been since 2006 with twenty teams slugging it out over 38 rounds from 9th May to 6th December. The top four go into the Copa Libertadores, the next eight sides will play in the Copa Sul Americana; four go down, and four will come up from Série B. League position is decided by points and then number of wins. Goal difference comes next.
Many Brazilians will tell you that the Brasileiro is one of the most open in the world and that any one of eleven sides could win it. This is partly true as there’s not that much to choose between most teams. With a bit of investment and some proper planning, it would not be a great shock to see someone like Atlético Mineiro (who haven’t’ won the league since 1971) make a decent challenge. However, the reality today is that only a handful of teams have any real chance of winning the title. But having five or six clubs out of twenty that could make a real go at the championship is not a bad number.
What is really open about the Brasileiro is the large number of sides that could face the drop to Série B. Arguably; there are eight or nine clubs that might be at risk. Saying that, any one of these teams could just as easily get their act together and push for a top four finish. That’s the beauty of the Brasileiro.
In order to have an idea of what might be in store for us this season; it’s probably worth taking a quick look at what happened in 2008.*
On the face of it, we couldn’t have asked for much more from a championship. The league title, two Libertadores places and two relegation places were decided on the final day.
With just three points between them, the championship was heading to either São Paulo or Grêmio. But this particular duel turned out to be a major anticlimax. Grêmio were at home to Atlético Mineiro. São Paulo were away but had the good fortune to be facing a Goiás side who had nothing to play for and had also been banned from their own stadium: the Serra Dourada. An apathetic Goiás went through the motions (but only just), and São Paulo were never in any danger of coming away empty-handed.
Goiás’ indifference infuriated many fans and provided a lot of ammunition for the still significant number of supporters who want to see the playoff system return. In reality, São Paulo should never have been in a position to win the title. It could be argued that the championship was thrown away by the likes of Grêmio, Flamengo and Cruzeiro rather than won by São Paulo who only went top for the final six games of the campaign. Grêmio led for 17 rounds, Flamengo 9 (not including round one), Cruzeiro were in the top four all season except for one round. São Paulo, on the other hand, were not ensconced in the top four until round 29.
There was very little to choose from between the top four at home. Cruzeiro were the best with 15 wins, 2 draws, and 2 losses. São Paulo and Grêmio had an equal record of 14 wins, 4 draws, 1 loss. Palmeiras also managed 14 wins but drew 2 and lost 3. The crucial difference came away. Champions São Paulo picked up 29 points (7W, 8D, 4L); Grêmio got 26 (7W, 5D, 7L); Cruzeiro managed 20 points (6W, 2D, 11L); and Palmeiras scrambled 21 points (5W, 6D, 8L). For those of you interested in more stats from last year, take a look here.
The 2009 contenders
The past three seasons have proved that competency rather than flair was the key. Grinding out away results made all the difference and the teams that excel in this department this year will be the ones that are going to be at the top come December. For this reason, there is no better place to start than current league champions, São Paulo.
As you’d expect, the Morumbi outfit have stuck with the coach that has clocked up three championship wins in a row. So, with Muricy Ramalho in charge we’re in for more containment football both at home and away.
While the titles have come under Ramalho, the side has not developed. Players have come and gone but the defensive ethos and long-ball strategies remain – so much so that you’d be hard pushed to spot the difference between the team that São Paulo were putting out in 2006 and the one of today.
Ramalho’s one and only tactic of booting the ball forward to a big frontman may be predictable but it has served his side well. Taking the lead and sitting back has also been very effective. The problem comes when São Paulo concede first. The coach has shown time and time again that if his game plan fails, he struggles to make meaningful changes. The most recent example came in the second leg of the semi-finals of the Paulista in the Morumbi. Corinthians struck early through Douglas, which left São Paulo needing to score at least twice. Ramalho made one ineffectual change and looked totally stumped. While his team capitulated, Ramalho’s only reaction was to intensify his prancing up and down the touchline continuously raising his arms like some kind of wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube man.
Because of his three consecutive league titles, Ramalho has made it into Mauricio Noriega’s recent book ‘Os 11 maiores técnicos do futebol Brasileiro’ (the 11 best coaches of Brazilian football) but his inclusion was not universally popular.
Ramalho’s buying policy is also being called in to question. Since his arrival, São Paulo have brought in a stack of attacking wingbacks only for the coach to deploy them as defensive midfielders. This is a role most of them are not suited for. Éder, Jancarlos, Joílson (who could be joining Grêmio), Wagner Diniz, and Júnior César’s careers all suffered after signing for São Paulo. At the same time, Ramalho has bought defensive midfielders, such as Zé Luís, and uses them at rightback.
Ramalho came in for a lot of flak after the defeat to Corinthians. But the coach has been in similar situations before. For the past three years after São Paulo have crashed out of the Paulista or Libertadores, Ramalho has had to deal with a large section of the fans calling for his head. So, far he’s survived. But another failure in the Libertadores and his position may become untenable.
São Paulo will start the defence of their title without their captain, Rogério Ceni. The world’s top scoring keeper was going through another dodgy period before breaking his ankle in training a couple of weeks ago. There are still plenty of positives in the squad though. Hernanes, André Dias, Miranda, Arouca, Jorge Wagner, Borges and Washington provide a good backbone. But São Paulo lack creative players and that needs addressing.
The club directors have grandiose plans to turn the Tricolor Paulista into the best-supported side in Brazil. But even though they’ve won the title three years in a row, their style of football has failed to attract the crowds. In 2008, São Paulo’s average gate was an unimpressive 21,331 (4th best in the league).
If anyone can wrest the title away from São Paulo, neighbours Corinthians have the best shot. Until last week, Corinthians were the only unbeaten side in the country this year. But last Wednesday, they went down 3-2 away at Atlético Paranaense in the Copa do Brasil. Prior to this their last defeat was versus América de Natal in the final round of Série B in November 2008. Before this they’d gone 21 games unbeaten in the second division and that outstanding record is an excellent base from which to build a championship winning campaign.
Under Mano Menezes, the Parque São Jorge outfit have developed into a solid defensive unit. Corinthians are unbeaten at home in the Pacaembu since July 2008 when they lost to Bahia 1-0 in Série B. The Musketeer’s have just won Brazil’s toughest state competition – the Campeonato Paulista – and pulled it off without losing a game. Corinthians win rate was not that impressive but they are difficult to break down and demonstrated on numerous occasions that they can turn impending defeats into draws. It’s this ability to carve out something from nothing that will make Corinthians a force in the Brasileiro. If they can convert a few more draws into wins, a top four finish is the absolute minimum we can expect from last year’s Série B champions.
Menezes clearly prioritizes the defensive aspect of Corinthians game and is as obsessed with buying defensive midfielders as Muricy Ramalho is. But with Douglas, André Santos, Dentinho, Elias, Jorge Henrique and Chicão there’s plenty of creative ability in the squad. And the luxury of having Ronaldo means that his side will always have that bit extra when they break forward. The former Brazil man has not yet returned to full fitness but he is getting there and when he does it would be no surprise to see him finish as the league’s top scorer – assuming he avoids any serious injury.
Like São Paulo, Corinthians don’t create many chances. But just like São Paulo, Menezes’ men have a very high conversion rate and that makes all the difference.
Cruzeiro are also one of Brazil’s form clubs. In their 24 outings this season (Libertadores and Mineiro), the Foxes have scored an average of approximately three per game. During this period, they’ve lost just once (0-4 at Argentina’s Estudiantes).
The Belo Horizonte outfit are solid at home and haven’t lost since September 2008 when they went down 1-0 vs Palmeiras. Last season, their Achilles’ heel was their away form. Any team that loses 11 times on the road is never going to win the title and Cruzeiro will have to tighten things up considerably on their travels.
This will be Adílson Batista’s second season in charge of Cruzeiro. Under his command, the Foxes finished 3rd in 2008. This time, though, they seem to have more steel about them. The bulk of last year’s squad have remained and frontman Kléber was an excellent acquisition. The ex Dynamo Kiev player is a regular goal-scorer who also has the knack of intimidating opponents. But Kléber too often crosses the line between aggressive and violent play and must learn to stop getting himself sent off.
With Ramires, Wagner and Fabrício, Cruzeiro have some excellent midfielders. Throw in Wellington Paulista and Thiago Ribeiro up front and Cruzeiro could mount a serious challenge.
Cruzeiro’s major problem remains the club directors who are more than willing to settle for a top four finish. Selling key personnel has scuppered Cruzeiro’s chances of winning the league in recent seasons but the directors and won’t think twice about offloading any of their key assets if the price is right.
Much was expected of Palmeiras last time out. Vanderlei Luxemburgo’s team were widely tipped to win the competition. As it was, the greens rarely looked like true championship contenders and in the end Palmeiras only just pipped Flamengo into 4th place.
Luxemburgo has strengthened his squad once again. In all, eleven new faces have been drafted in. Earlier this year, it appeared that he’d got the balance just right. But Palmeiras’ short-comings were exposed in the early rounds of the Libertadores and their central defence remains a cause of concern. The Palestra Itália outfit have never found an adequate replacement for Henrique. But with Edmilson and Maurício Ramos looking very shaky at times, the coach is going to have to bring in someone to shore up the defence.
While the goals have been flying in, Palmeiras are physically quite lightweight and fairly inexperienced up front. Keirrison will not be able to sustain his remarkable scoring record and Lenny is still no more than an auxiliary striker. Luxemburgo doesn’t normally go for big target men but a player with a more muscular approach would give Palmeiras an extra dimension against physical defenders.
Palmeiras are at risk of losing the likes of Keirrison, Cleiton Xavier and Diego Souza when the European transfer window reopens. The latter is also facing a considerable ban after attempting to launch Santos’ Domingos into orbit in the controversial Paulista semi-final match vs Santos in April.
Mozart has arrived from Spartak Moscow. But Edmilson and Sandro Silva will miss the first part of the season through injury
While São Paulo clubs have dominated the league since the millennium, many people are now looking south to Porto Alegre and Internacional and Grêmio to break this strangle hold. Inter were a massive disappointment in 2008 finishing in 6th but 21 points behind São Paulo. The Beira-Rio side outfit are another club that can’t seem to hang on to their stars. Fernandão was let go at the start of last year’s campaign and Alex and Renan were sold off during the season. The man most likely to go soon is Nilmar and if that happens, Inter’s chances will be greatly reduced.
On paper, Inter have a powerful looking first team that includes Guiñazu, D’Alessandro, Alecsandro, Nilmar and the youngster Taison who scored 15 times in Sul the Campeonato Gaúcho. With respect to the sides in the Rio Grande do Sul competition that really does not count for too much. But if Taison can make the step up, then Inter should score more than the 48 they put away last time out. The downside is their coach. While Tite has brought success in the Copa Sul-Americana and the Gaúcho, he is more adept at saving teams that are in relegation trouble than turning them into league champions.
Inter managed 13 home wins last year – only the top four fared better. But Tite will have to address Inter’s appalling away record that saw them pick up just 2 away wins (plus 5 draws and 12 losses), if his troops are to have a real say on the title in the club’s centenary year.
Grêmio were a huge surprise last year. Celso Roth welded together a limited squad into a very effective unit. For a long spell it looked as if the title was heading south. But injuries, particularly, to Colombian striker Perea, took their toll and cost the Tricolor the championship.
Before he got the chop last month, Celso Roth had made some good signings and Grêmio have a better squad than a year ago. Paulo Autuori is expected to take over when his contract with Qatar’s, Al-Rayyan, ends. But if that falls through, caretaker Marcelo Rospide has a 100% record and he just might be worth sticking with. Whoever comes in will have the likes of Maxi López, Herrera and Alex Mineiro at his disposal. Despite the lack of a permanent coach, the Olímpico side are still buying players. Túlio was drafted in from Corinthians and Joílson could be on his way from São Paulo.
Grêmio are going great guns in the Libertadores and this is clearly their priority. But club vice-president, André Krieger, has said that they do not intend to send out complete reserve sides in the Brasileiro.
Will it be another year without a serious challenge from one of the Rio clubs? Flamengo looked like they might do something in 2008 – that is until they sold Souza, Marcinho, Renato Augusto and it was all downhill from that point. Cuca is now in charge but his managerial career appears to be on the wane and he needs to do something to prove himself. Cuca has base of last year’s squad to work with. But there’s nothing to suggest that Flamengo will come anywhere near the top four this time round. Of course, that may change if Adriano does in fact put pen to paper. But it’s only a month ago that the former Internazionale man said he was tired of football and needed time to think about his life. The frontman was very successful in his last stint in Brazil when he went on loan to São Paulo in 2008. If he does join Flamengo, it would be a major psychological boost for the Rubro Negros. And if Adriano can recapture some of the form he showed at São Paulo, Brazil’s biggest club could be in with a shout.
Fluminense won their only Brasileiro with Carlos Alberto Parreira way back in 1984. Parreira is another conservative manager and flamboyant football is just not his thing. The 66-year-old has a wealth of experience but Flu have not performed particularly well under the former Brazil coach.
The Laranjeiras outfit lost a big chunk of the team that reached the finals of the Libertadores (and then nearly got relegated in the Brasileiro) a year ago.
They have hired ex Lyon man, Fred, and Thiago Neves is back on loan but only until July. Conca’s still with the side but it’s hard to imagine Flu really making an impact this season unless they reinvest.
Santos have come on leaps and bounds since the arrival of Vagner Mancini in February. The coach has a reasonable first team at his disposal but the squad needs beefing up. Santos are in desperate need of another regular goal scorer to take some of the burden off Kléber Pereira. Neymar is not yet ready to take on this role. The teenager has the ability and confidence to make a difference in some games but no one should expect the 17-year-old to able to turn it on every match.
Sport Recife had a triumphant 2008 winning the Copa do Brasil. This year they’re in the Libertadores and looking good, which is something of a surprise as there’s not a single big name in the team. Coach Nelsinho Baptista has cobbled together a mixture of veterans such as Paulo Baier, Fumagalli and Sandro Goiano, with youngsters Ciro and Moacir, and it seems to be working.
Predicting who is for the chop is always tricky. In 2008, 14 different clubs (including São Paulo and Palmeiras) spent time in the bottom four. In 2009, newly-promoted Avaí, Barueri, and Santo André could be in for a testing time. With small crowds and limited resources, these clubs will be more than happy with any finish that keeps them out of the bottom four. The season will be especially difficult for São Paulo side, Barueri, who are making their Série A debut. However, they might be saved by Pedrão who knocked in 13 in Série B and 15 in this Paulista.
Vitória, Náutico, and Goiás are three more potential strugglers. However, it’s very difficult to predict how the latter is likely to perform. Goiás looked dead and buried for most of the season in 2008. Coach Hélio dos Anjos arrived, signed up Iarley from Internacional and Goiás’ fortunes improved dramatically. Both are still at the Goiânia club.
Big clubs such as Palmeiras, Grêmio, Corinthians and Vasco have crashed into Série B in recent seasons. This year though, there doesn’t appear to be an obvious struggler. However, if I were going to plumb for anyone, I’d say Botafogo, Atlético Mineiro, and Atlético Paranaense might be at risk. Botafogo are in financial trouble and had to offload just about their entire first team at the end of last year. Atlético Mineiro may have Emerson Leão* at the helm but they’re an unstable club that never seems to have a long-term strategy. Atlético Paranaense have some decent young players such as Wallyson and Chico on their books but have finished in the wrong half of the table for the past three seasons. *Leão got the chop on Sunday after the 1-1 draw with Cruzeiro – Celso Roth is now in charge
On the eve of the championship last year, I wrote that the 2008 Brasileiro 2008 had all the potential to be the hardest fought and one of the most exciting for years – and that’s the way it turned out. With São Paulo, Corinthians, Internacional, Palmeiras, Cruzeiro and Grêmio all capable of taking the title; and with players such as Ronaldo, Adriano, Nilmar, D’Alessandro, Neymar, Keirrison, Hernanes, Claiton Xavier and Herrera out on the pitch, 2009 could well become the best Campeonato Brasileiro ever.
The Campeonato Brasileiro kicks off on May 9th and we’ll have all the very best action all the way to the final round on December 7th.
If you can’t see the games on TV, you can watch them here at Omnisport
09/05 – 18h30 – Palmeiras x Coritiba – Palestra Itália (São Paulo)
10/05 – 16h00 – Fluminense x São Paulo – Maracanã (Rio de Janeiro)
16/05 – 18h30 – Atlético Mineiro x Grêmio – Mineirão (Belo Horizonte)
17/05 – 16h00 – Internacional x Palmeiras – Beira-Rio
23/05 – 18h30 – Corinthians x Barueri – Pacaembu (São Paulo)
24/05 – 16h00 – Fluminense x Santos – Maracanã (Rio de Janeiro)
30/05 – 18h30 – Flamengo x Atlético Paranaense – Maracanã (Rio de Janeiro)
31/05 – 16h00 – Santos x Corinthians – Vila Belmiro (Santos)
06/06 – 16h10 – Avaí x São Paulo – Ressacada (Florianópolis)
07/06 – no game – world cup qualifiers
13/06 – 18h30 – Internacional x Vitória – Beira-Rio (Porto Alegre)
14/06 – 16h00 – Goiás x Corinthians – Serra Dourada (Goiânia)
20/06 – 18h30 – Grêmio x Goiás – Olímpico (Porto Alegre)
21/06 – 16h00 – Corinthians x São Paulo – Pacaembu (São Paulo)
27/06 – 18h30 – Cruzeiro x Avaí – Mineirão (Belo Horizonte)
28/06 – 16h00 – Atlético Paranaense x Corinthians – Arena da Baixada
** Fixtures and kick off times subject to change
*If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you may have seen some of this section before in my End of season review 2008.
Entry filed under: Championship guides. Tags: Adriano, André Santos, Atlético Paranaense, Atletico Mineiro, Avaí, Barueri, Botafogo, Brazilian football, Brazilian football on TV and the net, Campeonato Brasileiro 2009, Campeonato Brasileiro lve, Campeonato Brasileiro on TV and the net, Carlos Alberto Parreira, Celso Roth, Chicão, Chico, Ciro, Claiton Xavier, Corinthians, Cruzeiro, Cuca, D'Alessandro, Dentinho, Diego Souza, Flamengo, fluminense, Fred, Goiás, Grêmio, Hernanes, Herrera, Internacional, Keirrison, Kléber, Kléber Pereira, Lenny, Mano Menezes, Maxi López, Miranda, muricy ramalho, Nelsinho Baptista, Neymar, Nilmar, Palestra Itália, Palmeiras, Paulo Autori, Ramires, Santo André, Santos, São Paulo, Sport Recife, Thiago Neves, Tite, Vagner Mancini, Vanderlei Luxemburgo, Vitória, Wallyson.