Pitacodogringo’s guide to the Campeonato Brasileiro 2011

May 16, 2011 at 10:48 8 comments

Fla fans broke down the gates to get to Ronaldinho when he joined the club. If he doesn't start to perform, they may do that again.

Hello and welcome to my fourth guide to Brazil’s national football championship, the Campeonato Brasileiro.
The 41st Brasileirão gets underway on Saturday. But with most of the local state championships only just finished, we can still expect lots of chopping and changing of coaches and players between now and the kick off.
As well as the arrival of big names such as Ronaldinho Gaúcho, Adriano and Elano, the added bonus in this season’s championship is that the nation’s giants will be fully focused on the league (at least until the Copa Sul Americana starts). This is something to relish as it’s rare that all the potential title contenders (except Santos) have been dumped out the Libertadores or Copa do Brasil at this stage in the Brazilian calendar. The upshot is that the fight for the title and a top four finish will be fiercer than ever in what is already one of the toughest domestic championships in the world.
The basics: The 2011 Campeonato Brasileiro features twenty teams slugging it out over 38 rounds from May 21st to December 4th.
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.
In 2010, Fluminense finished as champions. Cruzeiro, Corinthians and Grêmio took the Libertadores places. Down went Vitória, Guarani, Goiás, Grêmio Prudente. They were replaced by América Mineiro, Bahia, Coritiba and Figueirense. Grêmio’s Jonas (now at Valencia) finished the league’s top scorer with 23.
League position is decided by points and then number of wins. Goal difference comes next.
As well as the usual distractions (Copa do Brasil, Libertadores, Sul Americana, the transfer windows etc), this year there’s also the Copa America in Argentina which runs for the first three weeks of July; plus the Under-20 World Cup in Colombia which comes directly after.
The championship has been played on a points system since 2003 and has been a great success in this format. But there is still a desire in some quarters for a return to the end of season playoffs. This pressure exists even though the destination of the title was decided on the final day for the past three seasons. However, in the run in last year, it was clear that a number of teams with nothing to play for put in some half-hearted performances because winning would have helped one of their local rivals take the league. The Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) has reacted to this and arranged the fixture list so that nearly all the big derbies fall on the final day of the season. Interfering with the fixture list is nothing new. For some reason there’s always been a ‘derby day’ in the calendar and the CBF has simply moved the date. There has been a mixed reaction to this and whether this strategy works remains to be seen.
Background to the Brasileiro: If you’re new to the Brazilian football, and want to know a little more about the history of the Brasileiro, its development and its underlying problems, you may want to take a look the following chunk I’ve pasted in from previous guides. If you’re already familiar, click here And so to 2011
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 Copa do Brasil, the sale of players during the tournament, serial diving, atrocious referees etc.
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, every season there are eight or nine clubs that might be at risk.
Unpredictable since day one: Since its inception in 1971, the Brasileiro changed format every season until 2003 when the league was decided on accumulated points for the first time in its history. Eight years on, the points system is gaining popularity but their remains a large number who would like to see a return to the playoffs simply because they are ‘more exciting’.
What makes the Brasileiro such an intriguing competition is its unpredictability. While it’s true to say there are only a handful of clubs that can mount a serious challenge on the title, the battle for the Libertadores places is a lot more open.
The Brasileiro nearly always has a ‘surprise’ team who struggle one year and then put up a real fight the next. Flamengo and Fluminense have both diced with relegation since the turn of the century but have somehow managed to win the league. Throw in the fact that this there is nearly always one of the big guns in trouble and you can see just how entertaining things can get. Vasco 2008 went down in. Corinthians in 2007, Atlético Mineiro in 2005, Palmeiras and Botafogo in 2002.
Perennial problems: With the removal of the playoffs , the competition is on the right track towards greater stability. But two factors continue to disrupt many of the clubs in the early stages of the Brasileiro. The first is the end of the Libertadores at the beginning of July. Brazil’s representatives in this year’s tournament based their budgets around the Libertadores. That means many of their big earners are only under contract until July. If a Brazilian club wins the competition, they will try to hang on to these players for the World Club Championship in December. But of course they may not be able to as the end of the Libertadores coincides with opening of the European summer transfer window. This second factor can affect all the clubs as the Europeans are moving ever quicker to snap up the latest teenage sensation even before they’ve kicked a ball as a professional.
At some point, the CBF, will have to tackle these issues: and that means bringing Brazil’s football calendar in line with the rest of the major leagues around the world.
Despite these problems, there is one comforting constant; a production line of talent: Alexandre Pato, Hernanes, Neymar, Paulo Henrique Ganso, and Lucas Moura to name but a few from recent seasons.
And so to 2011 After going largely ‘unnoticed’ for so long, suddenly interest in Brazilian domestic football is on the up. 194 countries (a new record for us) are now tuning in to the Brasileiro.
There are a number of reasons for this. First and most obviously, the Confederations Cup is only two years away and the World Cup just three.  Then there’s the recent influx of big name players. The recent trend was started by São Paulo when they took on Adriano in 2008. But things really took off when Corinthians picked up Ronaldo and Santos brought in Robinho (albeit on a loan).  The arrival of Elano (Santos) and Luis Fabiano (São Paulo) indicate the kind of financial muscle that some of the top clubs can muster.
But what has to be borne in mind is that the bulk of the cash is not coming from the clubs but from investors looking for a place to invest their money in Brazil’s growing economy.
According to a recent report, it’s the third year in a row that many clubs have increased revenue through sponsorship and reduced their income from player sales. This is all well and good to a point. Santo would never have been able to hang on to Neymar for so long if it hadn’t been for the huge sponsorship deals the club cobbled together to pay the player’s salary – a package that bettered what he could have got at Chelsea.
The downside is that the pressure is on from investors for clubs to bring in players mostly on the basis that they are a big name rather than for their current footballing prowess.
A case in point is Adriano (Corinthians). This was always going to be a risky signing and one that most clubs wisely choose to avoid. Grossly unfit when he signed, he was being pushed to get back into shape for the start of the Brasileiro. Adriano was so far off match fitness that he managed to pick up an injury during a session that was being supervised by his trainers.
Ronaldinho Gaúcho (Flamengo) arrived with a huge fanfare. A fabulous player five years ago, rather predictably Ronaldinho has done little but ponce about on and off the pitch and has come nowhere near to justifying the expectations and his massive wage at the Rio club. Things have gone so far downhill that Ronaldinho was booed by sections of the Fla fans during his recent performances versus Ceará in the Copa do Brasil. Likewise, former Brazil leftback, Roberto Carlos was no more than average at the Musketeers.
Of course, the big names can produce. Ronaldo paid back the investment in his first year and a half at Corinthians. He then went into ‘semi-retirement’ before making it official in February this year.
While the players being brought in may not be at the top of their game, the situation is far more preferable to the ‘old days’ when Brazilian clubs could neither hang on to their emerging teenage stars or bring in more established names to replace them.
On to the 2011 contenders: Unlike most of Europe’s major leagues, Brasileiro contenders are always difficult to predict and I’ll explain why. Clubs that do well by winning the league or getting into the Libertadores tend to fall into an all too familiar trap. Clubs often sign up their top players on contracts that take them only to the Libertadores finals in July (less than three months into the Brasileiro). Inevitably, the best players almost always move on after this period and usually decent replacements are not brought in fast enough. There then follows a period of instability, which some clubs never recover from. Corinthians won the league in 2005 and then went down two years later. Flamengo were champions in 2009 and then spent most of last season near the drop zone. Conversely, Fluminense survived relegation by one point in 2009 before going on to take the title last season. Though São Paulo bucked the trend by winning three straight Brasileiros in a row between 2006 and 2008 – a feat that is unlikely ever to be repeated.
As for this year’s contenders, let’s start with the current league champions, Fluminense. After leading the Rio de Janeiro outfit to the first league title since 1984, Muricy Ramalho left the club in less than amicable circumstances in April. Éderson Moreira took over and did a decent job until Flu exited the Libertadores. But he has always been regarded as a ‘fill-in’ and experienced coach Abel Braga is expected to take over in mid June when his contract with Al Jazira Sports Club finishes. Flu have kept the bulk of their squad from last season. With names such as Conca, Rafael Moura, Fred and Deco on the books, the Rio club will always be in with a shout but it’s unlikely they’ll repeat the success of 2010. Injuries plagued Fluminense last year. Deco hardly got going and Fred has only managed 34 appearances (and 17 goals) since he arrived at the club in 2009. If these two stay fit a Libertadores spot could be on for the Laranjeiras outfit. On paper Flu still have a decent squad but they will be without striker Emerson Passos has moved on and Washington who has retired.
Cruzeiro finished the 2010 campaign just two points behind winners Fluminense. Cuca’s men still believe that they were robbed of the league by a controversial penalty decision which cost them three points away at Corinthians in the run in. The Foxes are one of the few clubs that can sell good players and yet have still managed to finish in the top five for the last four seasons. Wallyson, Ortigoza and Leandro Guerreiro (an astute signing from Botafogo) have been added to a squad that includes Thiago Ribeiro, Gilberto (ex Tottenham), highly rated keeper Fábio lopes and Argentine Walter Montillo. Key to any success this year will be keeping hold of Montillo and Wallyson who have been in excellent form. Following the shock exit from the Libertadores versus Once Caldas, a question mark hangs over coach Cuca who has bottled it on more than one occasion. Even so, Cruzeiro should be there or thereabouts come December.
Corinthians finished 3rd in 2010. Since then the Musketeers have undergone a change of personnel. Elias, Jucilei, Roberto Carlos, and Ronaldo have left the club. Bruno César is leaving and Dentinho seems to be on his way. Liedson, Willian Gomes and Adriano have come in. Midfielder Alex Raphael Meschini is close to joining from Spartak Moscow, as is Fábio Simplício from Roma. Corinthians have the makings of decent squad but a lack of creative options remains a worry. The coach is another weak point. Tite is the man to turn things round for sides that are struggling at the wrong end of the table. But he isn’t’ the kind of coach who has the tactical nous to deliver the Brasileiro. Following the loss to Santos in the Paulista finals, Tite is now on borrowed time.
Santos delighted us with some refreshingly attacking football under Dorival Júnior last year. This time round, the Vila Belmiro club will be taking a much more pragmatic approach under Muricy Ramalho – a man who has won four Brasileiros in the last five years. On the face of it, the pairing is a marriage of opposites: the futebol arte associated with Santos and the overly defensive style of Ramalho. So far though, it’s been a pleasant surprise and Ramalho seems to be getting the balance right. Santos were leaking goals before his arrival. Since taking over Ramalho has not lost a game and on Sunday added the Campeonato Paulista to his list of silverware. His record is an impressive 3 draws and eight wins including seven clean sheets (three 0-0s). In this period Santos have scored 14 goals and only conceded three.
Under the stricter regime of Ramalho, Neymar has buckled down to work on the pitch. His performances are maturing and while he’s scored fewer goals he’s began providing more for his teammates. Depending on how they progress in the Libertadores, Santos certain to lose Neymar or Paulo Henrique Ganso (or possibly both) in the transfer window. So far the Vila Belmiro side have coped reasonably without the injured the midfielder. They won’t, however, manage so well if Neymar moves on. Also out this year is the underrated Zé Eduardo who will join Genoa in June.
São Paulo finished in a lowly 9th in 2010 – the first time they had dropped out of the top three since 2005. The club has strength in depth. But so far this season they’ve come up empty-handed in two competitions. The Morumbi outfit went out to Santos in the semis of the Paulista. And following their collapse away to Avaí in the Copa do Brasil last week, Paulo Cesar Carpegiani was shown the door. The day after he was suddenly back in a job because São Paulo realized they had to pay him a substantial sum in compensation (something they hadn’t had to do with previous coaches Muricy Ramalho, Ricardo Gomes and Sérgio Baresi). Carpegiani, however, will go within days and whoever comes in will need time to bring São Paulo’s house back in order again.
Luiz Fabiano has been added to Lucas Moura, Casemiro, Dagoberto and Fernandinho. Former Brazil international, Rivaldo, is also there but his contributions and appearances have been minimal. The Tricolor will lose central defenders Miranda to Atlético Madrid and Alex Silva will probably return to Hamburg. Rhodolfo will become the mainstay in the centre of defence but he’ll need some help.  Rogério Ceni is the world’s top scoring keeper. But the São Paulo captain is going into his 18th Brasileiro and the club need to find a permanent replacement for the 38-year-old whose reactions aren’t quite what they were. Forward Fernandão and midfielder Cleber Santana have already gone. Expect more to follow.
International are now led by favourite son and former Brazil and Roma great Paulo Roberto Falcão.  Falcão was a fabulous player but up until his appointment in April he hadn’t coached since the mid 90s. Until last month, the 57-year-old had a very comfortable job commentating on Brazilian football at my employer, TV Globo. His arrival at Inter came out of the blue and from a purely footballing perspective, it was a highly questionable decision. Again, we had the big fanfare and the returning hero routine from the Brazilian press. But after the Libertadores holder’s went out at home to Peñarol, the wheels on the Falcão bandwagon have buckled considerably. D’Alessandro, Rafael Sobis, Kleber, Oscar, and Leandro Damião have been joined by Argentines Fernando Cavenaghi and Mário Bolatti making Inter a competitive outfit once again.
Outsiders: It has taken him more time than he expected but under Luiz Felipe Scolari Palmeiras have become a solid if not remarkable side. Scolari, though, has his hands tied by what is a limited squad (in terms of strength in depth). Even so, the Greens will do much better than their 10th place finish last year. Keeper Deola was outstanding in the Campeonato Paulista helping ensure Palmeiras finished the tournament with the best defence – though it’s likely that Felipão will rotate him with World Cup winner Marcos. Forward Kleber Giacomazzi has to stay clear of suspensions (something he seems incapable of doing) and Valdivia has to stay fit (see previous parenthesis). Their performance in the Group stage of the Paulista showed that Palmeiras are extremely difficult to beat and that they excel in the league format. But their exit from the competition in the semis followed directly by a 6-0 thumping away at Coritiba in the Copa do Brasil made it crystal clear that Felipão’s team need reinforcements if they are to mount a serious challenge on the Brasileiro. Forward Wellington Paulista has been brought in. At Cruzeiro he teamed up with Kleber and the pair put away 50 goals between them in 2009. Maikon Leite will arrive from Santos in June. But Palmeiras are set to lose centerback Danilo to Udinese.
Grêmio had a fabulous second-half to 2010 after the club appointed Renato Gaúcho. He took them from near the bottom of the table to a fourth place finish. Grêmio’s backbone is formed by Brazil internationals Victor and Douglas; plus André Lima and Borges up front. The coach has a big squad to choose from but there are no huge names available to him. The Porto Alegre club lost last year’s Brasileiro top scorer Jonas to Valencia. A lot is expected of 18-year-old forward Weverson Leandro Oliveira Moura (to give him his full name) in his first season in the Brasileirão.
You never know what to expect from Flamengo. Champions one year. Strugglers the next. A team with Felipe in goal and the creative abilities of Thiago Neves and Ronaldinho Gaúcho, should do well.  But in reality, the Rio side have rarely impressed this year. Flamengo fell at the first real hurdle in the Copa do Brasil when they crashed out to Ceará. And even though Vanderlei Luxemburgo is the most successful coach in the history of the Brasileiro the pressure is already on. Vagner Love has been linked with a return to the club ever since the day he left for CSKA Moscow. If the forward does make the comeback, Fla will have all the ingredients to be a force.
This season’s surprise package has to be Coritiba. Although after going on a 24 game winning streak (a new national record) and thrashing Palmeiras 6-0in the Copa do Brasil, the Paraná club can hardly be called ‘surprises’. Coritiba are largely made of ‘rejects’ who had shown early promise at the start of their careers only to disappoint. Léo Gago (Vasco), Davi (São Paulo), Bill (Corinthians) are led by the low profile and largely unknown Marcelo Oliveria and the Estádio Couto Pereira could be one of the places to be this season.
One other side that may cause a few surprises is Avaí. The Santa Catarina side played some very good football to knock out São Paulo in the Copa do Brasil but they probably haven’t got the strength in depth to mount a sustained challenge. One new signing at the weekend was forward Fábio Santos who scored a creditable ten goals for Oeste in this Paulista. Silas is back in charge as an older, wiser coach after terrible spells at Grêmio and Flamengo. Young keeper Renan has the potential to become a Brazil regular. And look out for the classy Colombian Estrada who I’m tipping to impress this year.
Mid-table mediocrity: Atlético Paranaense finished 5th last time round and suffered just one defeat in the Arena da Baixada (Cruzeiro). The Hurricanes directors have declared that the minimum they want this season is a return to the Libertadores. Coach Adílson Batista is solid but a little conservative. Cleber Santana is the latest to join Kleberson, Madson, Guerrón, and Paulo Baier at the Curitiba side.
Vasco look good on paper. Diego Souza, Alecsandro, Felipe, Éder Luís, will be reinforced by Juninho Pernambucano who will arrive in August. Then you see the name of coach Ricardo Gomes, which puts a bit of a dampener on things.
With Richarlyson, Mancini, Renan Oliveira, Neto Berola, Dudu Cearense and Guilherme Gusmão, Atlético Mineiro will not struggle like they did in 2010. The Belo Horizonte club seem to go through sweeping changes every season and this doesn’t help when you’re looking to build a squad to challenge for the title. This year, much will depend on how long they can keep hold of much coveted coach Dorival Júnior who will be continued to be linked to every big club that has a managerial vacancy.
I normally tip Botafogo as one of the candidates for Série B. Last year they finished in 6th place (their best position since 1995 when they won the league) but they’ll be without the underrated coach Joel Santana. Botafogo have a half-decent squad. Uruguay international Sebastian Abreu, Brazil keeper Jefferson, midfielders Marcelo Mattos and Maicosuel, plus Argentine forward Herrera should keep Botafogo out of trouble. Coach Caio Júnior may have other ideas.
Now to the strugglers. New boys América Mineiro are back in Série A for the first time since 2001 and look very weak on paper. Without any cash in the bank, the Rabbits are relying on old boys Euller and Fábio Júnior  (top scorer in the Campeonato Mineiro with 13 goals) to do the business up front.
Last year, Atlético Goianiense survived the drop to the second division only on numbers of wins. Going straight from Série C in 2008 to the first division in 2010 was a big jump for the Dragons who clearly suffered at the highest level. The Serra Dourada side have not made and huge signings and experienced coach PC Gusmão will have his work cut out keeping the club in the first division.
Bahia make a return to the top after a spell of eight years away. The northeast team are hardly a byword for consistency and are already on their fourth coach of the year – how long Renê Simões will last is anybody’s guess. The Salvador team is made of many loan signings – a stack of which are from Corinthians. Though it will interesting to watch Bahia as the squad includes Lulinha (linked with a whole load of giant clubs when he started his career at Corinthians as a 16-year-old in 2007), Zezinho (once linked with Arsenal), and Dodô (‘a cert’ to join Manchester United just over 12 months ago).
In 2010, Ceará made it back to the first division following a long sixteen year spell out of the lime light and The Fortaleza club finished in a creditable 12th. Ceará will be buoyant after seeing off Flamengo in the Copa do Brasil. But the distraction of the cup may prove a double-edged sword for Vágner Mancini and his men. It will also be interesting to see how former São Paulo midfielder Sérgio Mota gets on if he gets a good run out in the first team.
Figueirense came up from the Second Division as runners up. Forward Lenny is on loan from Palmeiras but with no big names on their books, the Orlando Scarpelli outfit will do well to avoid a quick return from whence they came. The task of keeping Figueira afloat has gone to Dunga’s former assistant, Jorginho campos whose club experience is limited to brief spells at América RJ and Goiás.

We’ll be covering Flamengo versus Avái on the opening day. Followed by Grêmio versus Corinthians on Sunday. Join us if you can for what should be a fabulous Campeonato Brasileiro 2011!

For alternative views on the Brasileiro, check out the previews in Southamericanfootball, and  Football Thoughts 

For more on the teams, check out the CONMEBalls guide here

Opening day’s fixtures in full
Ceará x vasco
Flamengo x Avaí
Santos x Internacional
Figueirense x Cruzeiro
Grêmio x Corinthians
Coritiba x Atlético Goianiense
Palmeiras x Botafogo
Fluminense x São Paulo
América Mineiro x Bahia

Entry filed under: Campeonato Brasileiro 2011, Championship guides. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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Jon Cotterill. Commentator/expert/eyes on South American football. São Paulo/Buenos Aires. Trying to shout more.

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