Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Rotation the name of the game as the Brasileirão returns with a whimper

Before the football season, there is a break during which players rest, clubs dip into the transfer market and managers perfect tactics for the campaign ahead. It is something that European fans take for granted – a central tenet of the entire footballing calendar.

But there is no such off-season in Brazil. Many of the overblown, overlong state championships – which most right-minded players and supporters would love to see pruned back – end only a week before the national championship starts, meaning the majority of sides have only a few days to dust themselves off, say a few Hail Marys and go to work again.

As well as undermining preparations, this lack of a pause means anticipation levels never really hit the heights: without months of longing, fans tend to greet the opening rounds of Série A with a shrug. In Europe, absence makes the heart grow fonder; in Brazil, the big kick-off has all the romance of a fumble in a nightclub car park.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Brasileirão 2015 season preview

The major European leagues may be reaching their climax, but for those troubled souls who like their football blurrily streamed and late at night, there is only one show in town this weekend.

The Campeonato Brasileiro – Brazil’s top flight – returns on Saturday after a five-month hiatus, promising its usual blend of madcap stories, patchy action, young stars, bobbly pitches and aggro fans. And if that doesn’t sound like the recipe for a party, well son, best go running back to La Liga.

Read my preview for WhoScored here.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Philippe Coutinho's subtle genius could reinvigorate Brazil – but he may have to bide his time a while longer

Brendan Rodgers has rarely been shy in praising the development of young players under his tutelage, but this felt different. More genuine. Fanboyish, almost.

“He is a joy to work with and a joy to watch,” swooned the Liverpool manager after watching Philippe Coutinho dismantle Manchester City last weekend. “He is a kid who has so much ahead of him in the game. He is a sensational footballer.” Anyone who has watched the Reds over the last couple of years would be hard pressed to disagree.

Coutinho’s talent has largely gone untapped at international level, however. Indeed, it remains a damning indictment of the direction the Brazil team has taken that a player so gifted should only have five caps to his name. That could be about to change, however. Coutinho was brought back into the fold by Dunga in the wake of the 2014 World Cup debacle and has been an ever-present in the squad since.

Yet the midfielder may still have to bide his time before flourishing for his country. Find out why in my new blog for Yahoo! Eurosport. 

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Fluminense starlet Kenedy has plenty of potential – but is he ready for Europe?

His name may be an amusing spelling mistake, but don't let that detail define Fluminense starlet Kenedy (catchy full name: Robert Kenedy Nunes do Nascimento) in your mind. For the 19-year-old has plenty to offer besides the potential for cheap JFK jokes.

Kenedy is the latest Brazilian youngster to catch the eye of European clubs, with Manchester United rumoured to be keeping tabs on him.

With interest likely to grow in the months ahead, I have profiled the Flu forward for MirrorFootball. Have a read here.

Friday, 16 January 2015

From the ashes: Breno looking to get career back on track in Brazil after prison sentence for arson

He calls it an accident but that was not how the court in Germany saw it in July of 2012. Nine months earlier, the luxury villa he rented in a suburb of Munich had burnt to the ground. A grave error, surely, but not unintentional, according to judge Rosi Datzman, who handed him a sentence of three years and nine months in prison. Prosecutors had pushed for more.

So it was that Breno, once viewed as one of the most promising young defenders in world football, arrived at his lowest ebb. A career that had promised so much – the Brazilian was snapped up by Bayern Munich while still in his teens and was seen as a future Seleção stalwart – lay in tatters, his name destined to become little more than a bizarre footnote or the answer to a pub quiz question.

Or so it appeared. For against all odds, Breno is working towards a footballing renaissance back in his homeland.

Read the rest of this piece over at ESPN FC.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Continuity the key for Cruzeiro, Brazilian champions for the second year running

The Campeonato Brasileiro, to bastardise that neat Gary Lineker aphorism, is a simple championship. 20 teams slog away for the best part of a year and in the end, Cruzeiro win.

It wasn’t always thus, of course: the Belo Horizonte side’s dominance is a relatively unusual phenomenon for a league that usually prides itself on the fact that pretty much any one of 12 or so teams could take the title in any given year. Yet for the first time since São Paulo’s reign of terror between 2006 and 2008, one side looks to be establishing something of a dynasty.

Key to Cruzeiro’s success this term was that most rare of commodities in Brazilian football: continuity. Forward-thinking coach Marcelo Oliveira stayed put following the 2013 title, as did the vast majority of his key players: Éverton Ribeiro, last season’s player of the year, resisted overtures from Europe, while Lucas Silva and Ricardo Goulart also stuck around.

Read the rest of this article on the WhoScored site.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The Golden Boy's final act: Former Fenerbahçe playmaker Alex gets emotional send-off from Coritiba fans

Days before the game, they filled the streets, lighting flares and chanting his name. The words "thank you, captain," rang around the city like a mantra.

The game was always going to be a sellout; there had been queues to reach the ticket booths at the Couto Pereira. Coritiba had done just about enough to avoid relegation from Brazil's top flight, meaning there was nothing much to play for, but that mattered little. He would be there, for the final time. 25,550 people flooded the stands. It was their highest attendance of the season.

This was a party, certainly, but one tinged with sadness. Coritiba, one of Brazil's most historic clubs, were bidding farewell to perhaps their biggest idol of the modern era.

As kick-off approached, he made his big entrance. The reception was huge but there were to be no real histrionics on his part. Not that that surprised anyone familiar with him. For Alexsandro de Souza – better known as Alex – has always been one to shy away from the fanfare when possible.

Read the rest of this piece on the Mirror website.
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