Football: Hard times for working-class heroes

A tough challenge awaits Brazil's champions.

CORINTHIANS LAUNCH their bid to win the Copa Libertadores, South America's Champions' League, for the first time on Friday. But, less than two months after winning the Brazilian Championship, clouds are gathering and it is financial problems that are taking their toll.

Corinthians were Pele's favourite victim; 49 of his goals came against the most popular team from the city of Sao Paulo. "I had nothing against Corinthians," Pele says. "It was just that I had to silence those incredible fans - and do it quickly. I knew that those supporters would win the game for Corinthians."

A tour by the famous English amateur club inspired the creation of Corinthians in 1910. But right from the start there was nothing casual about playing for or supporting the Timdo (Big Team). The club's fans are known as the Fiel (Faithful) and are the most devoted in Brazil. Their values are those of the factory workers who formed the club and needed a whipround to buy the first ball. Stars don't always get an easy ride - Rivelino, one of the great players in the club's history, was hounded out in the mid-Seventies after a barren run.

The Fiel's strongest affection is reserved for the honest trier who loves his shirt with the same passion as the supporters. "Corinthians are a symbol of the people who never make it," wrote a Sao Paulo cardinal. "They are a humble people who suffer all kinds of disappointments and at times feel defeated. But they know they have to get up and start again."

Last year held less suffering than usual. Under the new Brazil coach Vanderley Luxemburgo, Corinthians won the Brazilian Championship with a team who brought some interesting variations to a tactically stagnant league. It was indigenous football but there were some imported touches.

Their defence was built around the impeccable Paraguayan centre-back Gamarra, and in central midfield, where Brazil's clubs have recently fielded two markers, Luxemburgo chose all-rounders. The Colombian Freddy Rincon played some of the best football of his career, and alongside him Vampeta was, in Pele's eyes, the best player in the championship.

Luxemburgo was enchanted with the World Cup performances of Holland, and in particular the versatility of Philip Cocu. So both with Corinthians and with Brazil, Luxemburgo gave a key role to Vampeta, the young midfielder who developed his game alongside Cocu at PSV Eindhoven. Vampeta recently caused a storm in the macho world of Brazilian football by posing nude for a gay magazine. The surprise was that he can make money from his looks - his nickname derives from his unorthodox appearance in his youth, mixing vampire (vam-pira) with the devil (cap-eta). These days he catches the eye with the bite of his tackling and cunning of his passes.

In front of their splendid midfield, Corinthians decided against a traditional strike pairing, instead using one forward largely as a decoy, while the real danger came from behind. Most opponents never found an answer to the problems posed by the gifted Edilson and Marcelinho running from deep.

But as they launch their Libertadores campaign, Corinthians have reason to ponder the fact that other South American teams can be more tactically sophisticated than the Brazilians. They played poorly in the Copa Mercosur, disputed by 20 of the continent's leading clubs. It was a tournament that Luxemburgo was desperate to do well in - he had just been appointed Brazil coach and was anxious to establish his international credentials. But the team's campaign was a disaster, including a home defeat by Olimpia of Paraguay, who they meet again in the Libertadores.

"The foreign teams were good at denying us space. They tied us up and hit us on the break," said Osvaldo de Oliveira, the former assistant who has taken over as club coach, now that Luxemburgo is working only with the national team. They are looking for a penalty area specialist but their efforts have been hindered by the club's financial crisis. Corinthians are pounds 5m in debt and have yet to pay the players all of their bonuses for winning the championship.

There has been some unrest in the dressing-room. Edilson, thought to be owed around pounds 400,000, had to be persuaded to take the field in a recent game. The Fiel were not amused. The players were accused of being mercenaries, and in a series of pitch invasions supporters scattered bank notes. It has not been easy for Oliveira to take his first steps as coach. Calm and studious, he was an excellent No 2 to the hot tempered Luxemburgo. But his lack of name leaves him vulnerable, and the vultures are gathering.

Corinthians used the Rio-Sao Paulo tournament earlier this month as a warm-up. Their main players were still on holiday when the series began, and lacked match sharpness on their return. With no time to train, the team lost their first four games, and Oliveira had to field endless questions about a possible resignation. A draw and a win in the final two games eased the pressure - but only for a while. "I feel like Bill Clinton," said Oliveira on his promotion, "only without the intern."

Nevertheless, only a flying start in the Copa Libertadores will save this likeable man from impeachment.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
health
News
Jay Z
businessJay-Z's bid for Spotify rival could be blocked
News
The spider makes its break for freedom
VIDEO
Voices
A propaganda video shows Isis forces near Tikrit
voicesAdam Walker: The Koran has violent passages, but it also has others that explicitly tells us how to interpret them
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle v United player ratings
Arts and Entertainment
books
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Mechanical and Electrical Engineer

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of refrig...

Recruitment Genius: Concierge and Porter

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a customer focused, pro...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer / Front-End Designer - City of London

£27000 - £33000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End Devel...

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Customer Support Technician

£15000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Waterlooville based softwa...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot