It seems appropriate that on the day before Christmas I’m writing about yet another Neymar transfer rumour. Despite his oft-repeated intention to stay at Santos—at least for the time being—the 20-year-old nevertheless remains atop the wishlist of almost every European club that can afford him.
For three years talent scouts have been dispatched to the Vila with care, in hopes that Neymar soon would be theirs.
Manchester City’s Txiki Begiristain is just the latest club official to have made the pilgrimage to Santos, where he is thought to have spent two days making overtures to the São Paulo side and the player’s other rights-holders regarding a move to Eastlands at the end of the Premier League season.
City are by no means the only club with designs on prying Neymar from the Vila Belmiro before the 2014 World Cup, which is widely understood to be the point in time when the world’s best footballer not currently playing in Europe will most seriously entertain offers from the other side of the Atlantic. But their interest did find its way into the English press, and while that in and of itself doesn’t make such rumours worth addressing, the resulting commotion and potential misunderstanding of the situation probably warrants a brief response.
A few notable items from the wide, wonderful world of non-European football. Not surprisingly, Club World Cup champions Corinthians are at the top of the heap.
Less than two days after winning an international title, the São Paulo giants are already thinking ahead to their Copa Libertadores defense and the 2013 Campeonato Brasileiro. Given the financial difficulties at Vasco da Gama that led to Juninho Pernambucano’s move to New York Red Bulls (more on that below), Corinthians are one of several Brazilian sides mulling a move for 24-year-old defender Dedé.
Widely regarded as one of the best centre-backs in the country, Dedé has played only three full seasons of top-flight football but has nevertheless become something of a club icon at Vasco. The Rio de Janeiro side would no doubt hate to lose him, but his reputation and ability (he’s been capped six times for Brazil) likely mean they’ll entertain offers for him while his value is high. And it’s high now.
Also being heavily linked to Corinthians is oft-injured and out-of-favour AC Milan striker Alexandre Pato, and given Monday’s developments it looks as though the 23-year-old could be making his competitive bow for Timão as soon as next month.
Some interesting financial numbers ahead of this week’s Club World Cup semifinals:
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.
One of the things about the World Cup I find most compelling is that, over the course of 90 minutes, opposing sides with little or no familiarity with one another will create a football match that converges varying playing styles and philosophies.
I realise I may be guilty over-romanticising this, and that uniformity of coaching methods and the fact that many elite players ply their trade in Europe regardless of which nation they represent combine to water down what used to be noticeably different variations of the world’s game, but I still like to think the World Cup does bring together elements of international character that can be noticed in dribbles, feints, tackles and tempo—that it’s still a special thing to see Japan play Cameroon, or Paraguay face Italy.
I also happen to find it fascinating when the template of international football is transferred to club level, as is best represented in the annual FIFA Club World Cup.
The process of selecting a national team manager is more fascinating, more politicised in Brazil than almost anywhere else.
It is a truly national argument, and before the “chosen one” is presented at the headquarters of the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) everyone from former players to club officials to the country’s biggest media outlets will have supported, if not outright campaigned for, a particular candidate.
Of course, the procedure is hardly a democratic one. If anything, the appointment of Brazil’s national team boss resembles the election of a pope. There is backroom manoeuvring, private handshakes, nods and winks and then POOF! A cloud of smoke goes up and the Selecão has a new manager.
So far, Pep Guardiola has attracted some of the loudest support. On Saturday—less than 24 hours after Mano Menezes was sacked by the CBF—iconic striker and 2002 World Cup winner Ronaldo revealed his admiration for the former Barcelona trainer, telling Globo the 41-year-old would be “a great choice for Brazil.”
With three minutes remaining and Palmeiras having fought back from 2-0 down to restore level terms, it looked as though Fluminense would have to wait at least another week to secure a fourth national championship and second in three seasons.
Cometh the hour…
More than six years ago now, following a whopping, €15 million move to French giants Lyon from Cruzeiro (where he had been scoring for fun), Fred finished second in Ligue 1 scoring with 14 goals and lifted the first of the three titles he’d win overseas. He also scored his first goals for Brazil that season and was included in the squad Carlos Alberto Parreira took to the World Cup in Germany.
Those 10 months represented what was the high point of Fred’s career until Sunday, when he scored twice and had a hand in the Mauricio Ramos own-goal to secure the Campeonato Brasileiro for Fluminense. He required only the briefest of touches for the 87th-minute winner, slamming Jean’s accurate cross from the flank past a helpless Bruno with his right foot.
The goal took the 29-year-old’s 2012 haul to 26—a total that includes the seven he bagged as Fluminense began the calendar year by winning their first Carioca state championship since 2005. (With 31 Carioca titles, Fluminense are now just one back of Flamengo on the all-time chart.) With an additional 19 goals in the league he leads Sao Paulo marksman Luis Fabiano by three and will almost certainly finish top-scorer.
But rather claim the moment of victory for himself, Fred praised the unity and team spirit of the Tricolor, telling his teammates as they celebrated in the centre of the pitch that “this is the most united team I’ve ever played in.”
His statement struck a chord with manager Abel Braga, who succeeded Muricy Ramalho at the helm of a rather more disjointed outfit 17 months ago.
“What [Fred] said is the most important thing,” he remarked. “This statement of our captain is more important than the title.”
Adriano’s latest comeback came to its inevitable, boozy end last week—put out of its misery by a series of Facebook photos and a video that showed the Flamengo striker partying in a Rio de Janeiro discothèque, microphone in hand and dancers by his side. He made a much better striker than he does a rapper, but these days it’s hard to even believe the now-30-year-old was once one of the most formidable forwards on the planet.
In a statement released by his press agency on Monday, Adriano confirmed what he really had no choice but to confirm, and what those of us who have followed his career—it’s euphoric highs and extreme lows—have heard time and again: that he will be taking yet another break from football, to be followed by yet another comeback.
“I thought a lot, talked to my family and friends and came to the conclusion that the best thing to do is return [to football] in 2013,” he said. “[Flamengo] have to concentrate on their final stretch of matches and I have to regain 100 per cent of my fitness…I’ll keep training with even more vigour…Believe me: this decision was made taking everything into consideration,” he said.
I’ll provide a rather more in-depth look at Adriano’s situation in this space on Friday, but this piece by writer/actor/director Rodrigo Beilfuss (written 20 months ago amid dishearteningly similar circumstances) is a good primer if you’ve happened to have lost track of Adriano, both the player and the person.