In 2011 Copa Libertadores holders Corinthians grossed 34 per cent of the revenues UEFA Champions League winners Chelsea took in over the same period.
That may seem a significant gap, but as Paulo Cobos pointed out in his Monday column for ESPN Estadão—the Portuguese-language ESPN syndicate that services Brazil—it’s a chasm that has never been smaller, and one that continues to narrow.
“The difference between the Brazilians and Europeans in the Club World Cup has always been much higher,” he writes, adding that 12 months ago Santos arrived in Japan with only 9.6 per cent of Barcelona’s 2010 revenues.
There are some obvious shortcomings if you take these maths as accounting gospel. Corinthians are considered a much bigger club than Santos and have often had considerably more financial muscle at their disposal while Barcelona are simply on another level, both in finances and reputation, than Chelsea.
But that’s not how these numbers are meant to be interpreted.
These are vitalizing times for Brazilian club football. A vibrant and growing economy has seen sponsorship and television money escalate sharply in recent years, and the reverse migration of star Brazilian players coupled with the decisions of high-profile youngsters to stay in their home country a bit longer has contributed to a sense of triumphalism.
Plus, Cobos notes, Chelsea’s revenue grew at a rate of 13 per cent over the previous fiscal year, and while that would represent exceptionally good business for many organisations it pales in comparison to the 37 per cent growth Corinthians enjoyed in 2011.
Of course, what really matters to Brazilian fans and their media outlets who are covering the Club World Cup with Kate Middleton-like obsession is that Corinthians win the tournament, preferably beating Chelsea in the final. And they’re supremely confident they can do that, too.
Mazembe Factor: Corinthians manager Tite has warned his players to be wary of what he has called the “Mazembe Factor”—a reference to the 2010 Club World Cup semifinal where African champions TP Mazembe, representing the Democratic Republic of Congo, ousted Copa Libertadores holders Internacional.
“Everyone expects us to reach the final, and so do we—with all due respect to our opponents,” remarked midfielder Paulinho in a Monday press conference. “We know that we will have trouble, we will face an experienced team, but we know the first step is to advance with a result.”
Playmaking midfielder Oscar, now with Chelsea, was a part of that Internacional side that lost to TP Mazembe in the United Arab Emirates. “We were all expecting to get to the final and it was such a big surprise when we lost,” he told World Soccer Digest recently. “I’m pleased to have this second opportunity.”
Corinthians will face current African champions Al-Ahly on Wednesday (kickoff 5:30am ET; 10:30 am GMT) while Chelsea will go up against CONCACAF representative Monterrey at the same time on Thursday.
Football for hope, not Palmeiras: Each side at the 2012 Club World Cup is required to wear a badge recognising FIFA’s Football for Hope initiative—a scheme the sport’s governing body says is “to promote education, public health and football” in disadvantaged communities.
Corinthians, however, got rather queasy when they saw the badge design and noticed a shade of green that resembled the primary colour of arch-rivals Palmeiras. There is a fierce dislike between the two São Paulo sides and Corinthians have never sported green, of any shade, on their uniforms at any time during their history.
“We all know this traditional rivalry with Palmeiras,” acknowledged Corinthians director of football Edu Gaspar when questioned by reporters. “Thus, we politely asked FIFA to remove the logo from our shirt, but they responded that it is not possible to do so. For the first time in our history we have the colour green on our shirt.”
Talk about taking rivalry to another, wholly inappropriate, level.
Benitez not feeling pressure: On Monday Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez and several of his players participated in the club’s first press conference since arriving in Japan for the Club World Cup. The Blues have never before been involved in the world’s premiere intercontinental competition and Benitez reiterated his desire to lift the trophy, adding it “doesn’t matter if we are in the Champions League or not.”
“It’s a massive competition. Everybody here has the same idea as me—to win every trophy,” remarked the Spaniard. “It’s a great opportunity and we’re here to win. We won our last two games and we’re playing well.”
About Fernando Torres, who has bagged a brace in each of his last two matches, Benitez underlined his belief that the team has been “creating more chances” and that his teammates have been “playing well.”
Peter Cech also took questions from reporters and once again stated the importance of the competition, saying, “You can only play in this competition if you win the Champions League, and I’ve had to wait eight years to get here.”
Ahly’s remarkable year continues: Egyptian side Al-Ahly has not played a competitive, domestic match since the country’s top flight was suspended in February following the Port Said riots, but a successful African Champions League campaign was followed on Sunday by a 2-1 win over hosts Sanfrecce Hiroshima—a win that set up Wednesday’s showdown with Corinthians.
“I’ve not had much time yet to really study Corinthians, but my team put in a really good performance against Sanfrecce and we’ve now got to turn our focus to the Brazilian side,” Ahly manager Hossam El Badry told FIFA.com. “We’re in a special situation and I’m sure every Egyptian is pleased with our opening result. The Egyptian people have made many sacrifices.”
Mohamed Aboutrika—widely regarded as one of the finest Africa-based players never to ply his trade in Europe—scored the winner in the quarterfinal against Sanfrecce after coming on as a first-half substitute for the injured Hossam Ghaly. It was the fourth Club World Cup goal of his career, tying the all-time record held by Denilson and Lionel Messi.