The Best Of Brazilian Football : February 2012
Rivaldo is back in Brazil. Carlos Alberto kicks a ripping goal. Today on the blog Jack Lang takes us through the highlights (and lowlights) of Brazilian football this past month.
The Team – Santos U19
Youth football isn’t usually deemed particularly newsworthy in most parts of the world, not least because there’s already so many top-level matches to watch (particularly in the internet age). There simply isn’t enough time in the day to justify a decision to watch Manchester United’s U16 side in the way that one might follow, say, Barcelona. We all have jobs and other things to do, after all.
The miracle of good scheduling, though, ensures that the Copa São Paulo de Futebol Júnior (known colloquially as the Copinha) is a pretty big deal in Brazil. Staged in a three-week period during which the state championships are ambling towards their customary sleepy start, the tournament draws the eye of fans who have been starved of football over the Christmas period.
This year’s winners were Santos, who – incredibly, given their reputation for producing young players – had not won the competition since 1984. It was hardly a vintage campaign for the Peixe (they twice snuck through knockout matches on penalties) but the talent displayed by a number of players certainly bodes well for the club’s future.
Central midfielder Leandrinho shone, particularly in the final against Goiás, and could join defender Gustavo Henrique in being fast-tracked into the first team squad. Elsewhere, the dynamic Givanildo impressed in attack, while Jubal looks like a useful centre-back. The player who really shot to fame, however, was Neílton – not just for this fine goal against Palmeiras (which completed a hat-trick, incidentally)...
.....but because of a perceived likeness to his hero, Neymar, (Wait, you didn’t think I’d do one of these round-ups without using the N-word, did you?!)
The Player – Rivaldo
Ask most players where they’ll be at the age of 40 and most will probably reply: “the golf course”. But Rivaldo isn’t like most players. How many footballers, after all, have spells in Uzbekistan and Angola listed alongside a Balon D’Or on their C.Vs?
As he enters his fifth decade, Rivaldo is back in Brazil having signed a one-year deal with São Caetano. His legs may not be as powerful as they once were, but he still has plenty to contribute – as he demonstrated during an impressive spell with São Paulo before his African adventure.
If things go according to plan, the veteran will return to his boyhood club, Santa Cruz, in twelve months’ time, just in time to celebrate their centenary. Another landmark – his 42nd birthday – will then bring the curtain down on a career of no little splendour.
The Goal – Carlos Alberto (Vasco da Gama vs Macaé)
Carlos Alberto’s had a funny old career. Not funny ha ha either. Great promise at Porto gave way to a series of missteps, culminating in his tail-between-the-legs return to Vasco da Gama in 2011. He played a bit-part role for the São Januário club last season, chipping in with the odd goal but never truly hitting the heights of which he is undoubtedly capable.
Things could be different this year, though: with veteran creators Juninho Pernambucano and Felipe having left the club (a double blow that has understandably angered fans), Carlos Alberto looks set to become the fulcrum of the side. He has certainly started the year with a bang; this goal, a neat finish after a slick exchange of passes with Éder Luís, was his third in as many games in the Campeonato Carioca. Could the midfielder, at 28, finally be ripening into a dependable force in the Brazilian game?
The Villains – Brazil U-20
‘Villains’ may be a little unfair (oh, why did I so rashly commit to these subtitles?!), but there can be no doubt who the disappointments of the month were. Brazil’s fine recent tradition in under-20 football (World Cup winners in 2011, winners of three consecutive South American Youth Championship titles heading into this year’s edition) was sullied in Argentina, as Emerson Ávila’s charges fell at the first hurdle.
Admittedly, expectations were a little lower this time around. The likes of Neymar, Lucas and Oscar have all graduated from this age group since the last cluster of tournaments, and their replacements, while capable, are simply not of the same calibre.
Nonetheless, finishing bottom of Group B still ranks as a major failure. Much of the blame lies with Ávila, who never truly settled on a system that suited his players. The tournament also deflated a lot of the hype surrounding YouTube favourites like Adryan and Felipe Anderson, while even towering centre-back Dória – who enjoyed a fine breakthrough season with Botafogo – disappointed.
This, of course, is worrying for the future of the seleção, not least because very few players from the last few title-winning U-20 sides have actually made the step up to the senior squad with any level of conviction; for every Neymar there is a Paulo Henrique Ganso, a Philippe Coutinho and a Walter. One hopes that failure will serve to spur the current crop of youngsters on to better things.
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