Congested and backwards calendar holding the Brazilian league back

Santos striker NeymarThe Brazilian national league has seen great improvements in recent years. An economic boom has enabled clubs to hold onto their best players whilst also increasing financial fluidity in the game through means of sponsorship. However any future progression will be limited as the footballing calendar is holding the league back from reaching its full potential.

Perhaps the largest issue for the top clubs comes at the start of the year. It is the state championships. High quality, well-paid players have to play a low standard of opposition from the surrounding state. These tournaments occur all over the country and tend to run from February to April/May. Most competitions require around 20 games to be played, possibly even more, before the official season even starts. It is the equivalent to the two Manchester clubs spending two/three months before the season competing with the likes of Rochdale, Stockport and Oldham for a meaningless title which only serves to congest the calendar.

Changes to this format are unlikely though as instead of having a singular association in control of the national game, Brazil has a confederation made of individual FAs representing the individual states. From a political standpoint, eliminating the state championships would be hugely unpopular as it would starve the more numerous poorer teams of a primary source of income. While a number of finals being played across the country almost simultaneously can be very exciting, the fact remains that this is by and large an enormous waste of time for many players.

One suggestion for facilitating change would be to alter the Copa do Brasil (the national cup). This currently runs alongside the state championships but many of the top clubs do not compete due to Copa Libertadores commitments. The competition also finishes early in the season so a club can qualify for continental competition and have little motivation for the rest of the season.

This could be the case with this year’s winners, Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Palmeiras, who may secured continental qualification for 2013 but have little to motivate them for the rest of the season and currently remain in the relegation zone. Similarly, the culmination of the Libertadores coincided with the start of the Brasileiro in May and thus meant clubs with involvement in the tournament fielded reserve sides in the opening weeks.

Running from May to December throws the league out of sync with Europe and means that many of the tournament’s best players will be linked to transfers during the middle of the season. Some will eventually leave, as with Oscar from Internacional to Chelsea, and it makes it difficult to find a replacement of equivalent quality.

Furthermore, major international tournaments through the June and July months can rob a team of some of their best players. Due to the state championships their is no space in the calendar to halt the national league for anything and so clubs are left short. Due to his involvement with the national team at the Copa America and many subsequent friendlies, Neymar was only able to compete in 21 league games for Santos last season, just over half of their games. It looks to be a similar situation this year as with the mercurial striker competing in the Olympic Games he has only played three of his side’s 13 games so far this season. Should Brazil go all the way, Neymar may not be available for his domestic until Round 17.

However, it was not such a big issue for the Peixe last season. They won the 2011 Copa Libertadores and so automatically qualified for the following edition as holders. This year they could not repeat that feat and having been ineligible for the Copa do Brasil, they now face the enormous task of finishing in the top four if they are to qualify for the South American showpiece. And they have to do it without their star players such as Rafael Cabral, Ganso and Neymar. For those not in the Libertadores, the Copa Sudamericana soon starts which ends in tandem with the Brazilian league and so teams will tend to only commit to one of the tournaments.

It creates a hugely unlevel playing field and can frequently make potentially exciting affairs turn out to be dead rubbers, namely Internacional and Santos’ recent meeting at the Beira-Rio. Of course it does add to the unpredictability which can often make the league so exciting, but for avid fans it can be a awfully frustrating.

There is a huge amount of potential in the Brasileiro as the recent signings of Clarence Seedorf, Diego Forlan, Nicolas Lodeiro and Jose Paolo Guerrero indicate. But the sheer number of games that these men are expected to play is ridiculous in a calendar that rarely offers a moments respite.

The backwards nature of Brazil’s footballing calendar is holding the lead back from reaching its full potential. Changes are needed to reduce congestion and bring the league in line with the other major powers in Europe, but the likelihood of such drastic measures being taken is small.

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