Thursday, 15 December 2016

Brasileirão 2016 end-of-season awards

The delayed final round of the Brazilian season was a touching, tearful affair. Up and down the country, tributes were paid to the victims of the tragic plane crash that claimed the lives of 19 Chapecoense players, plus other club employees and members of the press, in Colombia last month.

Most teams wore special kits bearing Chape's logo; some even broke with tradition and wore green for the occasion. In every stadium, the stands were full of flags and banners showing support for the stricken Santa Catarina club.

It was a heartening display of solidarity and understandably overshadowed events on the pitch. In the longer term, 2016 will always be remembered as Chapecoense's year.

It feels slightly vulgar to dish out awards in the wake of such events, but that's what I've done for WhoScored, choosing my player of the year, breakout star and so on. 

Friday, 25 November 2016

Inter the abyss: Struggling Internacional in need of a miracle as first ever relegation beckons

It wasn't meant to be this way for Internacional. Their opening eight matches of the Brasileirão season yielded 19 points – enough to take them to head of the table, three points clear of the chasing pack. A good season looked in prospect.

Since then, however... well, you could only really call it a disaster. Inter went on a 14-game winless run, sacked three managers and, with two seasons of the season remaining, find themselves in the relegation zone.

They have never been relegated from Brazil's top flight, but the Colorado now need a miracle – or a couple of them – if they're to avoid demotion on the weeks ahead. Read about their situation in my latest for WhoScored.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Job security? You've come to the wrong place! Why Brazil's sacking culture is holding coaches back

Levir Culpi wasn't going to go quietly. The coach, axed by Brazilian giants Fluminense, had a few things he wanted to get off his chest first.

"I'm pissed off," he wrote in an open letter to the club. "I'm grateful for the opportunity to be part of Fluminense's history. To work for nine months at a club famous for being the best in the world at sacking coaches is no mean feat."

His ire was understandable. True, Flu had gone six games without a win – a run marked by some fairly miserable football. But Levir had brought stability to a club rocked by behind-the-scenes turmoil and the sale of star player Fred, even guiding the Tricolor to glory in the inaugural edition of the Primeira Liga.

Unfortunately, this kind of thing is all too common in Brazil. While Levir's claim that Flu are the worst offenders is up for debate, there can be little doubt that Brazilian clubs on the whole are world-class sackers of football managers.

Read my latest for FourFourTwo here.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Back to the scene of the crime: Brazil return to the Mineirão looking to exorcise ghosts of Germany thrashing

Even two years on, the memories remain fresh. It was a harrowing, indelible night, one that continues to be spoken about with a vague sense of disbelief. There are defeats and then there are defeats, and Brazil's World Cup capitulation at the hands of Germany – 'the 7-1', as it has come to be known – will forever merit the italics.

On Thursday, the Seleção return to the scene of the criminal defending for the first time, looking to exorcise some of the demons that have taken up residence at the Mineirão. Brazil vs Argentina: it's a match that doesn't really need subplots, but by God, we've got one.

Read my match preview for WhoScored here.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Diary of an unlikely hero: Meet Botafogo cult favourite Camilo, the best player in Brazil at the moment

He doesn't look like a hero. He's short, stumpy, has a scrunched-up face and the kind of haircut that should have been left in the last millennium.

He doesn't sound like a star. He's 30 and has never played for his country. His CV is that of a ten-a-penny Brazilian journeyman, elevated above the mundane only by spells in China and Saudi Arabia. They didn't go very well. He has all the global cachet of the salt shaker in your cupboard.

Appearances can be deceiving, though, for this is the best player in Brazil at the moment. Meet Fernando Camilo Farias (Camilo to his friends),  full-time cult figure and the creative force behind Botafogo's unlikely ascent to the upper echelons of the Campeonato Brasileiro.

Read the rest of this piece on the WhoScored website.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Ronaldo, Romário and Denílson run riot at the airport: Nike's classic Brazil advert in excruciating detail

For football fans of a certain generation, adverts – sports-related or otherwise – will never, ever reach the heights achieved by Nike's airport spot, which aired before the 1998 World Cup.

There was Ronaldo, the star of the moment. There was Romário, ageing but still cool as hell. There was Denílson, a man who thought nothing of doing, oh, 34 consecutive stepovers during a match. There were flicks, tricks and moments of humour.

But if you're anything like me, you probably don't recall all of the little touches that further elevate the ad. But fear not! Help is at hand.

Join me on this Proustian rollercoaster ride on the Unibet blog.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Like a pneumatic drill through butter: Five great Ronaldo goals you've probably never seen before

Ronaldo – the original Ronaldo – turned 40 last week, prompting a fresh wave of appreciation for one of the icons of the modern game.

Ronaldo was also the master of reinvention, battling past a string of serious knee injuries that forced him to continuously adapt to diminishing physical capabilities, yet always remaining vital – both to his clubs and country.

We all know some of Ronaldo's great goals by heart. But there are plenty of lesser-known gems in the back catalogue.

Here are five – plus the stories behind them – I picked out for Unibet.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Flamengo may be homeless, but they can smell another Brazilian title with 'Ricardiola' at the helm

They haven't been able to play matches at the Maracanã all year, due to the Olympics and Paralympics. But that has not stopped Flamengo feeling right at home wherever they have travelled this term.

For with brilliant former youth team coach Zé Ricardo in the dugout, the Rubro-Negro have captured the hearts and minds of Fla fans throughout Brazil, many of whom have flocked to see them in 'home' games in São Paulo, Brasília and Natal.

Palmeiras continue to set the pace in Série A but there is a growing feeling that the Rio giants might just be able to overhaul them to secure an unexpected title. As their supporters would have it, the 'cheirinho de hepta' is in the air.

In my latest for WhoScored, I take a look at Flamengo's surge and Zé Ricardo's ability to squeeze performances out of previously unloved players.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Golden prospects: Why Brazil's Olympic summer could prompt an upturn in fortunes for the Seleção

For some, the excitement that attended Brazil's success at the Olympic Games was just one more symbol of the decline of this once-great football nation. 

Questions abounded: Why were Brazil going wild about success in an under-23 tournament as if it was the moon landing? Had they forgotten what happened at the World Cup? They don't expect this to mask the corruption and incompetency of those who organise the domestic game, do they?

There was an element of straw-man assassination to these missives; few if any experts were making blanket proclamations about the overall health of the Brazilian game. The buzz about the success was for the most part more modest, more measured.

You can read my take on Brazil's victory at the 2016 Olympics in the latest edition of When Saturday Comes Magazine. It's available in newsagents, can be ordered here and read online (with a subscription) here

Oh and I didn't get paid extra for the Vine. 

Monday, 22 August 2016

Gold soundz: Making sense of Brazil's Olympic football success, with help from Andy Murray

Andy Murray entered the London Olympic Games at a fairly low ebb four years ago. Earlier in the summer, he had come up short against Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final. Murray must have wondered whether the Grand Slam glory he had pursued for so long would ever arrive.

The Olympics provided a salve for his wounds. Murray breezed to the gold medal match and nonchalantly dispatched Federer. It wasn't Wimbledon (although it was staged there) and it did not make up for the previous defeat. But as Murray thanked a partisan Centre Court crowd, it was hard not to feel that a weight had been lifted off his shoulders.

A month later, he won the US Open.

The comparison between Murray's watershed moment and Brazil's Olympic football breakthrough on Saturday night is an imperfect one for a number of reasons (the Scot's success was not set against a wider story of decline, for one). But when the dust settles on a dramatic night in Rio de Janeiro, those seeking to contextualise and measure Brazil's 5-4 victory over Germany in a penalty shootout (following a 1-1 stalemate) may find instructive – and inspiring – echoes here.

Read my take on Brazil's Olympic success at ESPN FC.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Four is the magic number as Robinho, Fred, Maicosuel and Pratto drag Atlético Mineiro into title contention

Someone in Brazilian football needs to put a call in to De La Soul and break the news: the results are in and – for now at least – four, not three, is very much the magic number.

That's certainly the case for the Brazil men's team at the Olympics. After watching his charges slump to back-to-back goalless draws against South Africa and Iraq, coach Rogério Micale decided that enough was enough and decided to play all of his forwards – Neymar, Gabriel Jésus, Luan and Gabriel 'Gabigol' Barbosa – against Denmark, Colombia and Honduras. The outcome? Three victories and 12 goals scored, some of them stunners.

But it's not just at international level that four is the law. In the Brasileirão, which naturally hasn't paused for the Olympics, Atlético Mineiro have rocketed up the standings courtesy of their storied fantastic four: Fred, Robinho, Maicosuel and Lucas Pratto.

Read my latest for WhoScored here.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Neymar under fire as Brazil start Olympics on back foot – but win over Denmark eases pressure

"Resuscitated," read the front page of sports daily Lance! on Thursday morning, which seemed just about right. After the choking tedium of the games against South Africa and Iraq, Brazil breathed life into their Olympic campaign with a 4-0 win over Denmark – a result that restores belief, even if it will not fully neutralise doubts.

On the face of it, the key moment of the game was Gabriel Barbosa's scuffed opening goal, which settled the nerves and allowed the hosts to go about their business with a renewed sense of conviction. But of greater long-term significance may be the third goal, scored by Luan, not because it was an especially memorable finish but because its construction suggested that Brazil's most potent attacking force might be awaking from his slumber.

In my latest for ESPN FC, I look at a tough couple of weeks for Neymar and explain why his critics should be careful what they wish for.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Paulo Henrique Ganso is finally ready to show what he can do in Europe. What took him so long?

Even in the early days, before the hype and the hardship, he was different. Otherworldly, almost, drifting nonchalantly through matches and through life. While others scurried around making work for themselves, everything looked so easy for Paulo Henrique Ganso.

He was a first-team player at 17; a year later, his contract at Santos included a €50million buyout clause. Soon there were trophies, awards and Brazil caps. Ganso took it all in his languid stride, collecting assists as though they were going out of fashion, yet rarely operating at anything beyond walking pace.

Brazilian midfields can be battlegrounds, all sound and fury. Ganso, though, played as if he had exclusive access to a pause button, floating into space and spinning intricate webs of passes from behind the strikers. Tall and impossibly elegant, he was a throwback to golden age of the playmaker, a Gérson or a Sócrates refracted through Juan Román Riquelme's wonky Technicolor lens.

But things would not turn out to be as simple as expected for the man nicknamed 'Goose'. Read my piece on the rise, fall and resurrection of Ganso on the FourFourTwo website.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

10 reasons to think Brazil will win gold in the Olympic football tournament this summer

The opening ceremony for Rio 2016 may not take place until Friday, but one sport clearly has no time for administrative niceties: the women's Olympic football tournament kicked off on Wednesday, with Sweden and Brazil among the winners.

The men have just got underway as I type, with the hosts playing South Africa in Brasília. Brazil are massive favourites to win gold, having named a strong squad for the tournament.

For Unibet, I pick out ten reasons to think they can win gold this summer.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Gabriel Jésus profile: Why Brazil's brightest young star is set to take football by storm in the years ahead

It's not every day that a 19-year-old footballer gets a phone call from one of the game's great coaches, but that's just what happened to Gabriel Jésus a couple of weeks ago.

The Brazilian starlet, who has been at the centre of an transfer scramble between Manchester City, Barcelona and Man United in recent weeks was minding his own business when an unknown number flashed up on his screen. At the other end of the line was none other than Pep Guardiola.

The Palmeiras striker, understandably starstruck, is believed to have been swayed to the extent that City shot to the top of his list of preferred destinations. But just who is Gabriel Jésus? And what will he bring to the Premier League?

Read my scouting report on the MirrorFootball website.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Meet Brazil's Olympic football hopefuls, including 'Big Daddy' and the midfielder who once lived in a sex motel

Football tends to take a back seat during the Olympic Games – both because there are so many other sports vying for attention and because the major nations do not regard it as a priority. The under-23 tournament has produced some memorable moments in the past, but the reality is that, in this era of soaring bank balances and packed schedules, the Games are viewed by many as an inconvenience.

The exception that proves the rule is Brazil, who are taking the competition very seriously indeed. Their priorities for the summer were established early in the year when it was decided Neymar would be left out of the squad for the Copa América Centenario so that he could appear at Rio 2016. He is, by some margin, the biggest star present at the tournament, but by no means will this be a one-man show; Brazil's squad boasts plenty of other talent, especially in attacking areas.

My player-by-player guide to Brazil's Olympic football squad can be found at ESPN FC.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Pace, pressing and pig emojis: Palmeiras setting the pace in Série A thanks to Cuca's modern methods

It was the morning after World Emoji Day, so the headline was rather more oblique than usual.

Beneath a photo of a jubilant Erik, sports daily Lance! had printed a number of symbols that told the story of Sunday's Internacional vs Palmeiras match. Some – a Brazilian flag, a thumbs-up, a smiley face – did not require Columbo-level acts of decryption: even those not versed in the local football scene would have been able to work out that the away side had picked up a useful victory.

It was the remaining pictures that really spelt out the significance of the result, however. There was the number 32, representing Palmeiras' points tally after 15 games of the Brasileirão season. That is three more than anyone else in the division; they have now been at the summit at the end of the last seven rounds. Early days these may be, but the trophy emoji could be getting a few more outings in these circles over the next few months.

Then there was the number 19 with a cross through it, which – investigative journalism alert – isn't actually an existing emoji. But we should probably allow some artistic licence here to mark the end of one of Brazilian football's most dogged hoodoos: this was the first time the São Paulo giants had beaten Inter at the Beira-Rio since 1997. No wonder the little pig emoji (an allusion to a once-pejorative nickname that Palmeiras fans have made their own) looked especially pleased with itself.

The rest of this article, about Palmeiras and their excellent campaign so far, is on the WhoScored blog. Have a read here.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Colin Kazim-Richards in Brazil: The Coca-Cola Kid starts latest leg of world tour with a bang at Coritiba

63 minutes on the clock. The scoreline locked at 0-0. Fans getting anxious. Then, a cheer. Movement on the bench. The fourth official's board comes out.

This is Coritiba vs Atletico Paranaense in Brazil. The Couto Pereira stadium is... well, it's not actually full, but you wouldn't know it from the noise. Giant flags swing back and forth in the stands, the home supporters urging their side on.

They need a goal. The season is only 11 games old, but Coritiba are in the relegation zone. On strides the substitute, the hero-in-waiting. 17 minutes later, the moment arrives. A corner comes in from the left and gets flicked on. He cannot miss and he doesn't.

He wheels away to celebrate with his team-mates before kissing the lens of a television camera. They love doing that in Brazil. They also love a number ten and that's the shirt he's wearing.

But this is no home-town favourite and no rising star. He's a new signing. He's not even Brazilian.
The man who has just settled one of the most heated rivalries in South America is Colin Kazim-Richards.

Read more on the MirrorFootball website.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Sonic youth: Five breakthrough Série A stars who could be playing their way into Brazil contention

After Brazil's embarrassing early Copa América elimination and the subsequent sacking of Dunga, there have been calls for a new approach and fresh blood in the Seleção set-up. Tite has taken the reins after an impressive spell with Corinthians and will be charged with dragging Brazil into the modern era after the drudgery of the last decade.

The task starts at the Rio Olympics, where Brazil will be able to test some of the players who, it is hoped, will form the spine of future sides. The likes of Gabriel Barbosa, Walace and Rodrigo Caio were drafted into the squad for the Copa and should play a major role in the campaign, but Tite will be well aware that there is a whole crop of youngsters doing the business in Série A this season.

For WhoScored, I pick out five who have impressed so far this term.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Unwanted, unloved, underwhelming: Brazil sack Dunga for a second time after latest embarrassment

Say what you will about Dunga; he was no quitter.

Even on Wednesday evening, 48 hours after Brazil's latest embarrassment at a major tournament and as speculation about his future swirled, there was a bullish – some would say foolhardy – conviction emanating from his camp.

Gilmar Rinaldi, Dunga's affable right-hand man, insisted that Dunga would be around to guide the Seleção at the Rio Olympics, the second major appointment in what is now already looking like a nightmare summer for this great football nation. He spoke of their plans and insisted they were "on the right path".

It was a masterpiece of delusion and it was hard not to believe that somewhere, holed up in a bunker surrounded by all his advisors and allies, Dunga really did believe that he would be able to turn things around. Now, though, the curtain has closed on his second reign in charge.

Read my Dunga post mortem on the ESPN FC blog.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Philippe Coutinho finds his stride to give Brazil reason for optimism at the Copa América

Two summers ago, while Brazil were busy stinking out their own World Cup, Philippe Coutinho was at home, watching the action on television. Despite a series of eye-catching displays for Liverpool in the 18 months prior, there had been no place for him in Luiz Felipe Scolari's workaday squad. Nor, in truth, had there been any great deal of clamour for his inclusion, an excitable Merseyside lobby notwithstanding.

You would have forgiven him for feeling a little raw about it: a player of such obvious natural talent sat on his sofa while Paulinho, Bernard and Jo were on duty for Brazil. Age was on his side, but still, it must have hurt.

Now, though, the 23-year-old has his chance. After an injury to Douglas Costa, Coutinho has been drafted into the starting XI for the Copa America Centenario and seems intent on grasping his opportunity.

Read the rest of my latest for ESPN FC here.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Copa America preview: 5 questions Brazil need to answer as a summer of reckoning begins

Brazil face a summer of reckoning.

Just a year on from their mediocre showing at the 2015 Copa América in Chile, the Seleção will attempt to redeem themselves at the special centenary edition of the competition. It's an opportunity to restore some much-needed belief at a major tournament after recent disappointments and to build momentum ahead of crucial World Cup qualifiers in September.

Yet circumstances have contrived to complicate things. The Copa is competing for attention with the Olympic football tournament, which kicks off in August, and injuries and other personnel issues are threatening to derail Dunga's plans ahead of his side's opener against Ecuador on June 4.

For ESPN FC, I have picked out five questions that need answering as Brazil head into the gauntlet.

Friday, 13 May 2016

2016 Brasileirão preview

Is it really that time again?

It seems like only yesterday that we were ushering the 2015 Brasileirão into the sweet hereafter, yet here we are, plunging headlong towards the watering hole once more.

The 2016 version gets underway this weekend, promising the usual blend of thrills, spills and financial ills. Sure, there are two major international tournaments and the Europan transfer window right in the middle of the season, but we can work around that, right? Right?!

I've previewed the Série A season for WhoScored, roughly separating the likely title contenders, midtable cloggers and relegation scrappers. Remember, you can my read match previews and features on the WhoScored site throughout the campaign.

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Dilma and futebol: How Rousseff's impeachment could have consequences for the club game in Brazil

If you've had even half an eye on the political situation in Brazil over the last few months, you'll know that things are messy in the extreme. From a rumbling corruption scandal to members of the country's powerful elite calling for a return to military rule (no, really), barely an hour seems to go by without some reason to sink one's head into one's hands.

When the fog of war clears, history suggests that the fall gal will be Dilma Rousseff, Brazil's first female president, whose approval ratings have tumbled steadily since she was re-elected. Impeachment (at the time of writing at least... the situation seems to change every few minutes) is imminent and the chances of her surviving in the hot seat look ever slimmer.

In the latest issue of When Saturday Comes magazine, I take a look at Dilma's efforts to modernise club football in Brazil. I argue that she has taken reform far more seriously than her predecessors and that the game stands to lose an important ally in the fight for transparency.

Order a copy or get a digital version here.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

The great migration: Why Brazilian clubs are losing their best players to China

Football fans in Brazil are used to seeing top players leave the domestic league but at the start of 2016, there's a growing trend to worry about. The country's best players are being snapped up with ever-increasing regularity – and no longer just by the grand old clubs of Europe, but by the rising powerhouses of Asia. For supporters, it is concerning.

Since the end of Brazil's national championship in December, a clutch of the 2015 season's standout performers have joined the exodus to China, with champions Corinthians hit hardest.

Read more about Brazilian football's great migration over at ESPN FC.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Lucas Lima, Malcom and more: 5 young Brazilians who could soon be in the transfer spotlight

With the European transfer window open, many of the world's top sides are looking to strengthen their squads.

This, of course, means there will be plenty of interest in the best Brazil has to offer: from established stars who could be tempted into one last adventure to up-and-coming players.

I have picked out five potential transfer targets from the Brasileirão, from Santos playmaker Lucas Lima to flying forward Malcom of Corinthians.

Have a read on the Mirror website.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Meet Wendell Lira, Brazil's surprise winner of the Puskas Award for best goal of 2015

You know you've made it when Pelé knows your name.

"I was delighted that Wendell Lira won the Puskas Award for goal of the year," said the Brazil icon after Monday night's Ballon d'Or ceremony.

He was not alone: in seeing off competition from some of football's biggest stars – Lionel Messi, Carlos Tevez, Carli Lloyd – the Vila Nova forward struck a blow for the underdog, capturing hearts and minds around the globe.

Indeed, only Wendell stood between Messi and a clean sweep of awards on the night, succeeding where Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar, failed. Not bad for a guy who, until a couple of years ago, worked part-time in his mum's cafe to help pay the bills.

To call Wendell an undiscovered star would be to overplay his standing somewhat. In his homeland, as in Europe, few had heard of him at all before his nomination for the award. Fame has arrived swiftly and unexpectedly, like overnight snow.

Read my full profile of Wendell on the Mirror website.