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Last Updated: Monday, 14 May 2007, 09:23 GMT 10:23 UK
Tim Vickery column
By Tim Vickery
South American football reporter

Lucas Leiva
Leiva will be on his way to Liverpool after agreeing a deal to join the Anfield club

Even before the dramatic end to the Premiership season the build up to the next campaign has already begun.

Articles on this site have speculated about changes in personnel that the teams need to make, squads are being reinforced - and supporters are already dreaming about returning to the stadium in August.

The pause between one season and the next is a vital part of the calendar.

In this three months the phenomenon of fandom works its magic.

Whichever team a person supports, the fan is enthused with the summer spirit of optimism, even if he is the type who would never admit to it in public.

The coming season could be the big one. By August the fan is desperate to be back inside the stadium, where, win, lose or draw, they construct a bond with the team that sustains him through the season.

Sunday belonged to the fans of West Ham and Wigan. The big kick-off in August belongs to all the fans.

It is the real party of the domestic game. Brazilian football urgently needs to learn this basic lesson.

By the time the national championship kicks off the magic of fandom has dissipated

As the English Premiership was coming to a close, Brazil's national championship was kicking off - with a whimper.

I was at two games, Fluminense against Cruzeiro and Flamengo against Palmeiras.

These are huge clubs, with glorious traditions, who count their supporters in the millions.

The first game attracted a crowd of 12,132, the second 7,801. No buzz, no sense of occasion, and bearing in mind how the Brazilian calendar is organised, no wonder.

That pause - the three month build up that is so important to the European season, does not exist.

Just a week before the national championship gets underway, the state tournaments - one for each of the 27 states that make up Brazil - come to a conclusion.

These state championships are played from mid-January to early May.

With a better organised structure the domestic Brazilian game could be much healthier

Before this giant country had a national infrastructure they were the bread and butter of the Brazilian game.

But now they are, quite frankly, utterly absurd and obsolete competitions that break one of the fundamental rules of championship organisation; they put big clubs against tiny teams in a league basis.

They make no football or financial sense - but, for two reasons, they are important in political terms.

Firstly because they facilitate the task of politicians searching for votes in remote areas.

Secondly because the heads of the various state federations cast the decisive votes in the election for president of the Brazilian FA.

Without the state championship to administer these federations could barely justify their own existence.

So a typically Brazilian elite carve up takes place. The state championships remain, and the federations form a block that perpetuates the reign of the Brazilian FA boss.

So the first few months of the year are wasted. By the time the national championship kicks off the magic of fandom has dissipated.

The supporter is well aware of his team and its defects. And disinterest on the terraces is matched by incompetence in the boardroom.

The teams who have failed in the state tournaments have in many cases responded by sacking their coach and hurriedly installing a replacement - a thoroughly inept way to prepare for a competition that goes on for seven months.

It gets worse. Staging the national championship from May to December has an obvious flaw.

In the middle of the action the transfer window opens and the European clubs swoop on the best players - Lucas will be leaving Gremio for Liverpool, and many others will follow him across the Atlantic.

Teams are torn apart in mid-competition. Brazil's leading football magazine Placar publishes a guide to the campaign with photos and statistics of the players.

By the second half of the competition it has to publish another one because the line-ups have changed so much.

The loss of major stars to Europe appears unavoidable. It will happen however Brazilian football is organised.

But it is hard to escape the conclusion that with a better organised structure, one that respects the magic of the big kick-off and has its calendar in harmony with the rest of the world, the domestic Brazilian game could be much healthier.

YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED

Got a question about South American football for Tim Vickery? Email him at vickerycolumn@hotmail.com


Who is Lucas Leiva? What is his true position? And based on a previous article about South American youngsters leaving too early, eg. Gabriel Paletta, is Lucas ready to come to the Premiership just yet?
Mark Williams, Leamington Spa (and many others)

These moves are always a gamble, but I think this is a good one.

He's an exciting player of a type that Brazilian football hasn't produced too many of recently. Of late their central midfielders have tended to be 'holders' who sit and allow the full-backs to push forward.

Lucas is different. He's a big, blonde figure whose power and physical strength comes with attacking ability.

He can pass well and loves to rumble forward. He gets on the scoresheet both with blistering shots from range and from bursting beyond the strikers.

You can certainly imagine him playing alongside Javier Mascherano, for example.

I don't have the same fears for him as I did with Paletta. He's had two full seasons behind him - one helping Gremio win promotion from the second division, and then last year's success when he was chosen as the player of the championship.

In a perfect world you might want him to stay another year before moving on, but (a) Gremio need to sell to balance the books and (b) with Liverpool's strength in depth in central midfield it looks as if his first campaign will be a bedding in season.

With the growing economy of Brazil and the slow eradication of poverty, will Brazilian football suffer because it's generally accepted that most Brazilian footballers, the Ronaldos of this world for example, decide to get into football because of the amount of money involved?
Jayesh Patel

I think you've been reading some very optimistic articles on the Brazilian economy!

Possibly written by the banks, who, with the highest interest rates in the world, are sitting very pretty.

Social programmes may be reducing hunger, but growth is sluggish, there is mass unemployment and millions earn derisory salaries with little perspective of improvement.

So the financial side of things will continue to be a massive incentive.

Indeed, the increased rewards on offer from football widen the pool of those interested in a career in the game.

Thirty years ago someone like Kaka would probably have become an engineer rather than a footballer.

Some 55 years ago, when the economy was really growing, even a poor kid like Pele had to overcome furious maternal resistance to the idea of becoming a footballer.

So two things - decreased job prospects and increased potential rewards from football - combine to make a career in the game more attractive than ever.



SEE ALSO
Benitez swoops for Brazilian star
11 May 07 |  Liverpool


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