Game's great artists still prospering despite domestic chaos

By Tim Vickery
Saturday 11 January 2014 05:38
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Juninho knows all about the chaotic state of Brazilian football. Before he joined Middlesbrough, the midfield magician even played two matches in different competitions on the same night for São Paulo. In July 2000 he went back across the Atlantic to join Vasco da Gama. "I was away for five years," he said, "and I thought that while I was in Europe the organisation of Brazilian football would have improved. It hasn't."

It is one of the curious paradoxes of sport that, while Brazil are one of the biggest names in international football, their domestic game is a shambles. Although the country continues to produce wonderful footballers – including the likes of Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Roberto Carlos and Cafu in the present team – the conveyor belt of talent trundles along despite, rather than because of, the way the game is organised here.

On the field, the roots of the current national team can be traced back to Carlos Alberto Parreira's winning side at the 1994 World Cup in the United States. While the twin strikers Romario and Bebeto lit up the competition, the rest of the team was solid rather than inspired, with the duo of Dunga and Mauro Silva forming a thick, yellow line in front of the defence.

Winners are always copied, and Parreira's cautious 4-4-2 system became the template for the Brazilian club game. However, there are only so many Dungas and Mauro Silvas to go round. Most clubs filled the two defensive midfield positions with athletes rather than skilful footballers – big, strong players to protect the defence by fair means or foul.

In Brazil's edgy victory over Belgium yesterday, the consequences were clear. The midfielders have forgotten how to pass the ball, while the centre-backs, having grown used to protection in front of them, have lost the art of defending man on man against opposing strikers.

In their defence, Brazil's coaches often say that the 4-4-2 system is the only option available to them. They have no time to experiment with new tactical systems. Domestic Brazilian football, with its insane organisation, contains a plethora of competitions. Teams are constantly playing matches, and never working on the training ground. Even while all eyes are currently on the World Cup, there are still club games going on here – meaningless encounters between mediocre sides in crumbling grounds.

The central problem is that the national championship has yet to fulfil its potential. Introduced in 1971, it has suffered rule changes in every subsequent year. And the competition is crammed into the last five months of the year.

The first semestre has historically belonged to the state championships, one for each of the 27 states that make up the country. These tournaments are a farce. It would be all very well for the tropical equivalents of Arsenal and Stevenage Borough to meet in a cup competition, but such a match is hardly worthwhile in a league format.

The state championships make no financial or football sense, but resistance is strong. The competitions provide power to the state federations, who, in turn, are the bedrock of political support for the Brazilian football federation, the CBF.

Late last year a Brazilian Congress inquiry concluded that "lack of control, disorganisation and bad management reign in the CBF". Singled out for special attention was the CBF's president, Ricardo Teixeira, who "is directly responsible for creating an environment which is ripe for administrative disaster".

It was not merely a case of incompetence. Teixeira was accused of "illegal appropriation of funds" and fraudulent foreign exchange operations. Despite the influx of money from the sponsors, the CBF accumulated massive debts – helped by the fact that the organisation made lavish political donations and paid for a plane-load of judges to go to the World Cup.

Armed with this report, the clubs would have been justified in breaking away from the official structure. However, there was a merely a brief stand-off before they agreed to let the CBF organise this year's championship. Setting up efficient competitions is clearly not the No 1 priority for most club directors, many of whom are looking to use their visibility to help launch or sustain a political career.

Corruption has been rife, particularly since the opening of the European free market, with many people anxious to line their pockets with the proceeds of selling players to clubs across the Atlantic. As Pele remarked in his time as sports minister: "There are a lot of rich ex-presidents and a lot of poor clubs."

In the last few months, however, there have been signs of improvement, both on and off the field. Clubs such as Gremio and Corinthians have experimented with new tactical systems. Yet the most important change came when the President of Brazil, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, signed an emergency measure which could indeed help the national side in future.

Brazil's clubs will now be covered by commercial legislation. They will have to publish their financial statements, their books will have to be audited, and their directors will be legally responsible for their actions. It could mean that investors will feel encouraged to return, since the hope is now that clubs will be forced to be efficient.

Fortunately for England, there is no chance of the measure taking effect in time to strengthen the Brazil defence against Michael Owen and friends on Friday.

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