It was with only the faintest of hope that Palmeiras kicked off Sunday’s match against Flamengo in Rio de Janeiro. Needing a win in order to retain any chance of surviving the drop, they got a lift just after the hour-mark when Vinicius beat Flamengo ‘keeper Paulo Victor from all of 25 yards.
Even if it had been enough on this day—even if they had managed to cling to their top-flight status for another week—they would have been cornered by destiny eventually. Palmeiras were psychologically relegated long ago, but it was somewhat fitting that it was Vagner Love, a former Verdão striker from happier times, who applied the coup de grâce with just two minutes left on the clock.
And so, 10 years on from their last relegation, Palmeiras—widely regarded as Brazil’s best club team of the 20th Century—are headed back to Serie B. As respected Brazilian outlet Globo proclaimed on Monday: a lost decade.
It could also be described as mishandled, or squandered.
Since Palmeiras went careening into the second division in 2002 São Paulo rivals Corinthians, Santos and São Paulo Football Club have won everything in sight. Each has won the Copa Libertadores; each has won at least two Brasileiro titles. These are halcyon days for Brazil’s biggest clubs—repatriating former stars and producing new ones while sponsorship and television money leaves them swimming in cash—and Palmeiras should have been able thrive in them with minimal effort.
Instead, the money earmarked for squad renewal following the sales of Vagner Love and Edmilson went up in smoke and the club’s academy produced nothing of note. Twenty-two managers, including the likes of Vanderlai Luxemburgo (twice), Tite, Muricy Ramalho and Luiz Felipe Scolari, went through the revolving door at the Palestra Itália, and the club’s penchant for going to administrational war with itself (they’ve had four presidents since earning promotion in 2004) has meant that no one has taken responsibility for failures past and present.
Even on Sunday, in the moments after the latest relegation, current president Arnaldo Tirone absolved himself of any blame, opting instead to criticise his predecessors and throw his manager under the bus.
“I do not feel guilty about this situation,” he told reporters. “My board worked and fought…Our current coach has some portion of the blame. Many factors hindered us.”
“We are on the right track,” he continued, “We did not deserve to go through this. I know the fans are sad and crying, but they will smile soon. And those who are smiling at our situation will cry.”
If this, indeed, is the right track, one can only shudder to think where Palmeiras are headed in the coming years. They bring only a few young players of any promise into the second division and are also saddled with a debt-load of 500 million Reals, or £150 million.
Following the draw in Rio the club’s website posted a message to supporters insisting that “love has no division.” It seems longwinded emotional fluff is all a club with the stature and history of Palmeiras has to comfort it in its darkest hour.
Ganso returns: Back in São Paulo, far away from Palmeiras’ last stand in Rio, a much happier story: Paulo Henrique Ganso made his debut for São Paulo Football Club and, more importantly, his return to competitive football.
I’ve covered both Ganso’s injury problems and transfer ordeal in some detail in this space, and it goes without saying that admirers of futebol-arte will be heartened by the 23-year-old playmaker’s comeback. A thigh injury had kept him out of action since August, at which time he was still contracted to Santos and in the middle of a messy transfer saga that eventually ended with his move to São Paulo.
Ganso played 38 minutes as a second-half substitute against Nautico on Sunday—a match São Paulo won 2-1, cementing their place in the first stage of the 2013 Libertadores. The player would like to be included in the squad for Thursday’s Copa Sudamericana match against Universidad Católica in Chile, but manager Ney Franco is still unsure about Ganso’s status, saying it might be more beneficial for the midfielder to stay in São Paulo and continue his training regimen.