Monday 29 June 2020

The Alexandre Pato conundrum

Alexandre Pato is still only 30 years old.

It is really not difficult to conjure an alternate timeline in which he has racked up hundreds of goals for a Champions League team and is gearing up for a fourth World Cup as Brazil’s No 9.

Instead, he is toiling away for São Paulo, his best run of form in the last decade having come not in Europe but in the Chinese Super League. He dreams of a return to Milan, but that possibility looks well beyond him now. He last played for his country seven years ago.

It is a dizzying contrast. And so the question persists: What on earth happened?

I tried to answer that question, with the help of James Horncastle, for The Athletic. 

Thursday 25 June 2020

The feud that overshadowed Brazil's greatest football song

Football and music have never collided as beautifully as they did in the song “Fio Maravilha”, Jorge Ben's nimble tribute to the Flamengo striker of the same name. I

t was the final cut on Side A of “Ben,” one of Jorge Ben’s most beloved albums. Almost 50 years later, it remains a staple of his live show, its sparkle undimmed.

Yet the story of Brazil’s greatest football song also contains its share of shade. It is a tale of opportunism and idiocy, of good intentions undone by bad judgment. It forced Jorge Ben, one of his country’s great lyricists, into a hasty rewrite and left a bitter taste in his mouth. It turned Fio Maravilha from a folk hero into a pariah.

Read my piece on the song and the story behind it on The Athletic. 

Monday 8 June 2020

Sandro Orlandelli talked a doorman into letting him into Highbury. He became Arsenal’s South American scout

Sandro Orlandelli, who spent a decade as Arsenal’s man in South America and later reprised that role for Manchester United, is under no illusion that his path into top-level European football would be almost impossible to follow.

It is a tale of pluck and persistance, bad English and fuzzy logic, the cogs oiled by the goodwill of strangers. This might also be the only Premier League interview you read this month that references a night spent shivering in a central London shopfront.

Now technical coordinator at Red Bull Bragantino back in his homeland, Orlandelli laughs heartily as he tells the story of his big break. “Sometimes I couldn’t believe it was reality,” he says, and for good reason. If it had not actually happened, you would struggle to make it up.

Read my interview with him on The Athletic. 

Thursday 4 June 2020

Yaya Toure and Botafogo: a soap opera story that reveals much about Brazilian football's jumbled priorities

“Botafogo is no place for cowards,” said Ricardo Rotenberg, pointedly.

The flirtation between the club and Yaya Touré lasted three months, but that was the end of it. Touré had pledged his future to Vasco da Gama, then turned his back on them, too.

But the most interesting part of this twisted novela was not what it says about Touré's career choices, but what it says about the Brazilian game. (Spoiler: nothing good.)

Read my piece on the affair on The Athletic.