Brazilian Championship or “Brasileirão”, as it is better known, approaches its end after the 36th round with league leaders Fluminense carrying a meagre 60% overall performance so far. Can it be identified as a sign of balance or a proof that the league itself is far poorer technically than it could be?
Fluminense, one of the four Rio de Janeiro big teams, last won the Brazilian League 26 years ago and is the leader of the tournament two rounds before its end. Its last national trophy, the Brazilian Cup, happened in 2007 and took the team to Libertadores in the following year for the first time since the eighties, when the team crashed in the cruel final home defeat in the completely crowded Maracanã stadium. The post-defeat crisis dragged itself until the last round of the 2009 season, when the club, which is bankrolled by a medical firm owned by a die hard fan, saved itself from relegation, promising to improve in 2010.
The result was a millionaire investment in transfers with two former Chelsea players (Deco and Belletti) landing in Laranjeiras, plus the three-times-in-a-row-champion manager Muricy Ramalho accepting the task to give “Nense” its first Brazilian title within the new league format adopted in 2003. Further reinforcements came along the league where the team form convinced the president of the Brazilian FA to invite Ramalho to take over the National Squad.
Surprisingly, Ramalho declined after handing the decision to Fluminense directors as he had a two year contract with the club. Actually, the manoeuvre from the FA president, the obnoxious Ricardo Teixeira, was clearly to damage Fluminense as the Rio de Janeiro club do not support him in his manic quest for total control of Brazilian football. Ramalho stayed at Fluminense opening doors for Mano Menezes to take over Brazil “Seleção”.
Fluminense form, however suffered a major dip after the World Cup pause and the team dilapidated its advantage and saw Corinthians get closer. Corinthians, one of the most popular teams in the country, compensated the little-more-than average side with a fanatic help from the supporters during its home matches and the enormous (physically and psychologically) presence of veteran striker Ronaldo. Weighing around 100kg, Ronaldo is the living proof of the technical poverty of the league as he still can decide matches and, if he was ten kg lighter, would have scored 30 season goals easily.
In October, when the club and supporters celebrated its first century, Corinthians dipped into a crisis after manager Adilson Batista was sacked due to his disciplinary demands forbidding smoking and gambling within the squad training camps. After six winless rounds, Ronaldo, still injured, vowed to return in the following weeks and conquer the league, even with leadership seven points away. After his comeback, Corinthians reached the 1st place with Ronaldo boosting the morale of the squad and with some help from referees, which were credited to the strict collaboration of the club’s president with the Brazilian FA.
In the last two rounds, the leadership changed hands twice and there are no signs pointing that it would not happen again. The predictions point to a champion with less than 60% efficiency, the worst since Brazil adopted the home-away league format in 2003. Regrettably, as the FA hands refereeing as a political tool, the whole tournament does not hold full credibility and after every round the referees are seen as villains. Despite exciting due to uncertainty, the final sprint of the league doesn’t promise to crown the best team – only the less incompetent.