Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Lost legacies: One year on from the World Cup, Brazil's stadiums are not being put to proper use

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Alexandre Pato starting to shine for São Paulo after stating desire to play out wide

Like so many other ill-fated schemes, it began with Silvio Berlusconi.

Alexandre Pato had begun his Milan career in stunning style, scoring 24 Serie A goals in goals in his first two seasons and cementing his reputation as one of the best prospects in the game. World domination - both at club level and for Brazil - had seemed inevitable.

Then along came Silvio. A master tactician in his own mind, the three-time Italian prime minister thought Pato – by that point fast becoming the Rossoneri's most marketable asset – was drifting wide too much, wasting energy that could be used in the box. So Berlusconi called on the youngster to play through the middle.

Or at least that is how Pato himself recalls it. In an enlightening interview last week, the forward claimed that the tweak to his role was partly to blame for his subsequent travails at the San Siro and the premature end to his time in Europe.

Read my latest article for WhoScored here.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Porto (Mais) Alegre: Roger Machado brings the joy back to Grêmio after the drudgery of Luiz Felipe Scolari's reign

There was a moment during Sunday's game against Santos that, more than any other, underlined Grêmio's impressive recent progress. Deep into the second half, striker Yuri Mamute – a substitute, as he has been for much of the season so far – found a bit of space inside the area and slid a finish between the legs of Vanderlei to put his side into a 3-1 lead. To celebrate, he eschewed the now-default group-prayer routine to sprint over to the Grêmio dugout to enjoy the moment - not with his teammates but with his coach.

Roger Machado has been a breath of fresh air at the Porto Alegre club since taking over at the end of May. Under his guidance, the Tricolor players have grown in belief, clawing their way up the Brasileirão table courtesy of a series of impressive results.

It is all a far cry from what went before. Luiz Felipe Scolari's reign had begin in promising fashion after the World Cup, with Grêmio staggeringly frugal in defence and capable of nicking matches with a single goal. But progress slowed in the latter stages of 2014 and ground to a halt earlier this year during an underwhelming Campeonato Gaúcho campaign.

Read my latest article for WhoScored here.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

First the tragedy, then the farce: Brazil in crisis again after listless Copa América campaign in Chile

This time, there was no rout, no scoreline to ring through the ages. There were no tears, no eulogies.

In many ways, that is the most damning thing about the quiet death of Brazil’s Copa América hopes: there was none of the shock and awe of the game known simply as “The 7-1”. On this occasion there was barely a whimper of defiance as the Seleção muddled their way to a draw with Paraguay and – for the second time in four years – came up short in a penalty shootout.

The quarter-final performance was entirely of a piece with the rest of Brazil’s campaign. There was no fluency, no pattern to their play. Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho toiled away but produced nothing. In midfield, Elias and Fernandinho seemed content to play sideways passes and let the full-backs provide what little attacking thrust there was. With Neymar absent, there was simply no spark.

Read my Copa América post-mortem on the Rabona website.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Zito tributes and derby win over Corinthians provide respite for a Santos side in flux

Last Saturday was, by and large, a pretty special day for Santos. That was partly down to the fixture list: the Peixe welcomed Corinthians to the Vila Belmiro. This is one of the standout games of the year for Santos fans, for whom this rivalry is keenly felt. There's always a spark to the San-São games with São Paulo, while Palmeiras are perennial enemies, but no side stands in such stark opposition to the seasiders as the rabble from Parque São Jorge.

But the game was leant extra meaning by the passing, six days earlier, of a club legend. Zito may not be a household name in Europe – not these days, at least – but arguably only Pelé has made a more significant mark on the fortunes of Santos over the years.

Against Corinthians, the Santos players wore special jerseys with ‘Obrigado Zito’ on the back and his face lovingly emblazoned on the front. The captain’s armband bore not the letter ‘C’ but a ‘Z’, a nice, subtle touch that the club say will become a permanent tribute to their former skipper. All it needed was a victory to round off a memorable day and the current crop of players obliged with a 1-0 win.

In truth, this was, to some extent, a welcome distraction for Santos, for whom the last few months have been fairly fraught. Read my latest for WhoScored here.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Liverpool new boy Roberto Firmino used to borrow money to get to games. Now he wants to emulate Ronaldinho

The scramble for information about Roberto Firmino since his name first popped up in the gossip columns will have come as no surprise to those accustomed to the sound and fury of the summer transfer window in Europe.

The creative midfielder, who is heading to Liverpool in a deal worth £28million, is hardly a household name, even if the internet would have you believe that every third football fan out there has spent weeks poring over the intricacies of Hoffenheim's attacking system over the last couple of seasons.

But there has also been a huge surge in interest in Brazil over a player who, although well on his way to becoming a regular for the Seleção, remains something of an unknown quantity in his homeland.

While it says plenty about the shifting dynamic of football culture in Brazil that it takes transfer interest from the Premier League to shed some light on such a promising talent, the 23-year-old left a relatively light footprint in the domestic game before making the switch to the Bundesliga.

Read my Roberto Firmino profile on the Mirror website.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Brazil struggle at the Copa América as 'Neymardependência' rears its head once more

Much of the talk in the run-up to last summer’s World Cup was of Brazil’s ‘Neymardependência’ – their over-reliance on their one true superstar of this generation. Those worries have only intensified in the months since and the striker's petulance after (and during) the game against Colombia means that Brazil's hopes of winning the Copa América are hanging by a thread.

While there have been signs of life from Dunga’s other attackers, there can be no doubt that the 23-year-old’s absence leaves Brazil looking toothless. The response is likely to a renewed focus on defensive solidity: the Seleção ended the 2-1 win over Venezuela with four centre-backs on the pitch.

Read my take on the group stage of the Copa América for Rabona magazine.
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