Celtic’s Champions League Prospects look good

Friday's Champions League Draw should hold no fears for Celtic

The recent troubles of  domestic rivals Rangers, while absorbing, have diverted attention from Celtic’s hard earned right to pursue further European adventures. However the good news is that as the well deserved Scottish champions, Celtic’s route towards the 2012-13 Champions League Group Stages will be through the rather easier Champions Route rather than the Non Champions Route they were forced to pursue in recent years as Scottish runners-up. This means they no longer run the risk of being drawn against a top club from one of the Big Five European Leagues. Instead they will face opposition only from the Champion clubs of the other 41 European Leagues.

The combination of Scotland’s National  Coefficient ranking and Celtic’s own still high club coefficient ranking, mean that Celtic were able to sit out the First and Second Rounds of this qualification process. The First Round saw 6 champions from Europe lowest ranked leagues compete for 3 places in the Second Round. The 3 winners, including Linfield, then joined another 31 Champions in a Second Qualification Round to produce 17 ties. The first legs of this round were played on the 17th and 18th July with the second legs due on 24th and 25th  July. The 17 successful clubs will be joined by Celtic, Anderlecht and CFR Cluj from Romania in the draw for the Third Qualifying Round which takes place this Friday, 20th July 2012 with the games due on July31st/1st August and 7th/ 8th August.

Slask Wroclaw the main one to avoid but still beatable

GGW has previously described how a degree in advanced mathematics plus a qualification in nuclear physics is required to cope with the complexities of the Champions League Qualifying draws. For the Third Qualifying Round there will be ten seeded teams and ten unseeded teams. Celtic are guaranteed to be seeded in this round so they will definitely avoid the main dangers like Anderlecht, Basel, Partizan Belgrade and Salzburg. However predicting who they might face is more complicated. After this week’s first leg games it looks as if all seven of the seeded teams who had to play in the Second Qualifying Round will get through, thus avoiding Celtic. However several of the teams seeded in the Second Round draw but unseeded for the Third Round look unlikely to qualify after poor first leg results. Most notably Ventspils of Latvia who were beaten 3-0 in Norway by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Molde. It looks like Solskjaer will be a top class manager of the future. More disappointingly Zestafoni of Georgia who would have been the easiest of the ten unseeded options for Celtic to face, also lost 3-0 away to Neftchi Baku of Azerbajan.

Ekranas the one to hope for on Friday

While their recent European form offers no grounds for complacency, Celtic should certainly be good enough to see off even the best of the remaining ten unseeded clubs, like Slask Wroclaw(Poland), Slovan Liberec(Czech Republic), Debrecen (Hungary),  and AEL Limassol(Cyprus). Apart from Molde and Neftchi Baku, the other 4 teams are likely to be Sheriff Tiripol of Moldova, Maribor from Slovenia, HJK Helsinki from Finland and Ekranas from Lithuania. None of these 6 should cause Celtic any great problems although Rangers supporters might argue that Maribor from Slovenia are a team to beware.

So the worst case scenario would be a beatable Slask Wroclaw or Slovan Liberec, at best a highly beatable  Ekranas from Lithuania.

If Celtic negotiate this first hurdle successfully they will take part in the 4th Qualifying Round, the PlayOff Round, victory in which carries with it a definite place in the Group Stages of the 2012-2013 Champions League. Even defeat in this Round guarantees  inclusion in the Europa League Group Stages. The Draw for this 4th Round takes place on   10th August 2012   with the first legs on 21st/22nd August and 2nd legs on 28th/29th August.

Partizan Belgrade the main danger in the 4th Round

Once again Celtic are certain to be seeded for this 4th Qualifying Round ensuring they would avoid the other 4 top ranked clubs, Anderlecht, Basel, Salsburg and Bate Borissov(Bulgaria). If the previous round went as anticipated according to the rankings, Celtic’s 5 potential opponents would be Dinamo Zagreb, Partizan Belgrade, CFR Cluj, MSK Zilinia(Slovakia) or Helsingborg (Sweden). After what Malmo did to Rangers last year, Celtic should be advised not to underestimate Helsingborg. Of the Eastern European alternatives, none of them are mugs. Both Dinamo Zagreb and Partizan Belgrade have European histories nearly as glorious as Celtic’s even if their current status is much lowlier. CFR Cluj are a stuffy team, hard to beat but MSK Zilinia are probably the weakest of the quintet and so should be Celtic’s preferred option.

Zilinia, the one to hope for in the 4th Round Draw

So it is likely that either the Swedish champions or a quartet of beatable Eastern European champions represent the barrier between Celtic and a resumption of what most Celtic fans consider  their rightful location, the Group Stages of the world’s premier Club competition.

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As for Motherwell, they will have to pursue the harder Non Champions Route  unseeded, indeed they are the lowest ranked of all the teams involved. In the Third Round they will have to face one of four seasoned European teams, Dynamo Kiev, Panathinaikos, FC Copenhagen and Fenerbahce. In the unlikely event Motherwell beat one of them, their 4th round potential opponents would include the other 3 plus Spartak Moscow and Braga. So it is unlikely Motherwell will be able to help Celtic by adding positively to Scotland’s club coefficient.

It is one of the less fortunate by-products of Rangers removal from Europe in disgrace that Celtic will have to carry that burden on their own and will almost certainly need a long Champions League run to avoid a situation whereby next year as almost certain Scottish Champions they will no longer be exempt from the Second Qualifying Round, meaning European action as soon as mid July 2013.

So while recent memories of opponents like Braga and Utrecht should prevent any complacency, it should be well within the capabilities of Neil Lennon’s current squad to overcome moderate opposition and qualify once more for the big time, the group Stages of the Champions League.


GreenGreenWorld is back after holiday ready for the new season

GreenGreenWorld(GGW) is back after its summer holidays and will be even more dedicated to bringing Celtic fans the football news and analysis from around the world likely to be of most interest to them in the new season to come.

Tomorrow. Celtic and the CL Draw

Tomorrow an article will be posted on GGW explaining the likely opposition Celtic will face in the two Qualifying Rounds of the Champions League as they seek to regain their rightful place in Europe’s elite by reaching the Group Stages.

Then will come articles bringing Celtic fans up to date with the fortunes of their favourite foreign clubs particularly Villarreal and St Pauli. After the disappointing events of season 2011-2012, both these favourite clubs will be facing critical campaigns in their respective Second Divisions. GGW will seek to explain why this unfortunate state of affairs came about and how well preparations are going to allow both clubs to reclaim their rightful place in their domestic top flights.

GGW will continue to provide regular reports from the Spanish Scene, with a focus on how a Guardiola-less Barcelona respond to losing their place at the top of the Spanish tree to Mourinho’s more cynical Real Madrid.

There will also be regular Letters from South America bringing Celtic fans up to date on the Copa Libertadores, recently won by Corinthians, and the Brazilian and Argentinian club scenes.

GGW can be followed on Twitter  at  @GGWCeltic  Please sign up to follow GGW to get all updates, news and analysis


Santos claim hat-trick of State titles as Neymar shines brightly

Santos players celebrate their SaoPaulo League success

Under the inspired leadership of Neymar, Scotland’s favourite Brazilian footballer, Santos have just completed a hat-trick of Sao Paulo State Championships. Pele was the shining star the last time Santos achieved this feat in the 1960s and it seems young Neymar is fast approaching that level. Neymar scored twice in the 4-2 second leg of the Final against Guarani, adding to the double he scored in the away first leg 4-0 rout. After the match coach Muricy Ramalho, normally a man parsimonious with his praise, said  “Neymar has no limits. No-one knows what he can achieve. He is a sensational player and will continue to improve, so goodness knows what heights he will reach in the years ahead.”

Neymar four goals in the Final confirm his superstar status

So do Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have a legitimate challenger to their status as the two best players in the world? It is only 6 months since Santos, the Copa Libertadores holders and best team in South America, were humiliated by being totally outclassed in the World Club Cup Final. Neymar was anonymous that day as were all his team-mates as the gap between the Old and New World champions proved wider than the insulting odds of 14-1 against the Brazilian club might have  suggested. Neymar had hoped to use the World Club Cup Final to send a message to Barcelona that he was as god as Messi and should be signed to play alongside him in a dream partnership. On the day his team were so outclassed and starved of possession that he never featured, other than one sublime glimmer of skill. It looks like the deal to keep him at Santos until after the World Cup Final in 2014 will hold, but then he will be off to Spain, and both Real Madrid and Barcelona seem to think they have an agreement he will sign for them. Watch this space.

Neymar is not Santos’s only star player. Regular readers of LSA will know all about Paulo Henrique Ganso, the hugely talented midfielder who fortunately seems finally to have recovered from the injuries that have restricted his brilliance in the past 18 months. The Santos midfield also includes international stars Elano, late of Manchester City, and Ibson back from Russia, while another midfield international player Henrique seems to have solved the right back problem. Captain Edu Dracena is also well-known to European football fans after his time in Turkey. His centre back partner Durval is less well known but with this most recent State title he has completed the incredible achievement of winning his 10th State title, won across several states.

While Santos were clinching the Sao Paulo crown, the most prestigious by far of the 27 State Leagues that form the first 4 months of the Brazilian football year,  over in Rio De Janeiro Fluminense  were establishing themselves as the 2012 Rio champions with a 1-0 second leg victory away to Botafogo on top of their 4-1 first leg triumph. The Fluminense success was led by ex Porto, Barcelona and Chelsea super star Deco, well aided in the creative department by Thiago Neves returned home to the club of his heart after a bizarre interlude at deadly rivals Flamengo. Star striker Fred missed the second leg but his replacement Rafael Moura, know in Brazil as He-Man ,lived up to his billing by scoring the only goal.

Internacional Porto Alegre won the Rio Grande de Sol Championship scraping an unsatisfactory 2-1 victory over a stuffy Caxias side that threatened to spoil the IPA party by leading 1-0 at half-time, but led by Leandro Damiao who gained his first cap against Scotland last year, Inter ground out a narrowly deserved win with Leandro scoring the second goal.

Bahia under Falcao clinch State title

In Bahia State, new manager  ex IPA legend and world superstar Falcao led Bahia to their first state title in some while in a tightly fought 2 leg final against bitter local rivals Vitoria. The other state title of any significance, that of Minas Gerais was won by Atletico Mineiro.

With all the State competitions now finished, the serious football can finally begin in Brazil with the start next week of the 2012 Brazilian Championship. The best of the State Champions, Santos, Fluminense and Inter will hope to carry their winning form into the new League, while existing Champions Corinthians and the Rio trio of Flamengo, Botafogo and Vasco da Gama are likely to provide the most likely opposition along with Cruzeiro. With Santos, Fluminense, Corinthians and Vasco still involved in the 2012 Copa Libertadores, then maybe Inter and Flamengo can seek to build an early lead.

LSA will provide regular reports on both the Copa Libertadores and the Brazilian Championship over the next few months.


Hodgson, not Redknapp – A Scottish Perspective

An article by Stephen O’Donnell

Hodgson the right man for England?

First up, I’m not an England fan. But then neither is Rafael Hönigstein an England fan, and he wrote an entire book on the travails and peculiarities of the football in that country, ‘Englischer Fussball’, so I’m hoping that will allow me some scope to crave the reader’s indulgence for a thousand words or so on the subject, at least they will have the virtue of being in English. I suppose neither Hönigstein nor me could really care less who the F.A. appoint as the next England manager, but while Rafa’s lofty, dispassionate equanimity on the subject would be Teutonic in origin, mine is of an even older, more traditional footballing rival, being Caledonian in its nature.

Yes I know Scotland have a rubbish manager too, who thinks it’s clever to experiment in a competitive game with no strikers in his formation against a decent, but nowhere near as good as they once were Czech team, ( a costly error that will surely haunt Craig Levein for what’s left of his managerial career). And it’s true, we have a poor team too, which hasn’t even managed to qualify for a major tournament since Craig Brown took us to the World Cup in France back in `98, a tournament that, if at all, is dimly remembered by our present crop of players alongside short trousers and their four times table.  At least I can’t be accused of gloating at the latest misfortune to affect the English game, because in Scotland we’d give our left foot to have their problems right now. Nevertheless, here is the basis of my contention and the purpose behind this article: Harry Redknapp, sorry I just don’t see it.

Let’s backtrack a wee minute so we can remind ourselves how we came to be in this situation. It’s said that most plane crashes are a series of mistakes, a chain of avoidable errors, any one of which, had they been spotted in time, could have prevented the accident. Let’s take these errors in turn then: John Terry, the England captain, (allegedly) racially abuses a black player, using the unutterable ‘N’ word (allegedly, allegedly, I must stress allegedly), and not just any old black player. But Anton Ferdinand, the brother of his erstwhile international central defensive partner, Rio Ferdinand, his sometime rival for the armband itself – calamity number one. Calamity number two: a court date has been pencilled in for March, but guess what, Terry’s club don’t want it interfering with their challenge for honours (what honours?), so the date of the hearing is put back. A lot of people don’t find it convenient to come to court, protests the judge, while at the same time agreeing to the delay – July, we hear, is when the case will be heard. But wait, here comes calamity number three, because the European Championships are being held this summer, and doesn’t that mean that the tournament will take place with a potentially divisive charge of racial abuse hanging over the man who will not only lead the team onto the field but wear the armband as well? This is England remember, where the captaincy matters, it’s not just passed around amongst the senior pros willy-nilly. This is the land of upstanding leaders, of fairness and justice and of absolutely zero tolerance to anything untoward in a racial context, where Sepp Blatter is battered from pillar to post for his injudicious words on the subject and where Luis Suarez is given an eight game ban for calling a man a ‘negro’, nothing other than a bit of jocular, if somewhat politically incorrect, banter back in his homeland, he contends. Sorry son, zero tolerance here, this is England, you’re barred. Calamity number four, panic engulfs the F.A. Think of the press reaction. Forget innocent until proven guilty, the media will be all over this, and the media are the ones who pay the bills in England, so we can’t be doing with that. We have to keep our paymasters onside, which leads neatly on to calamity number five: somewhere in the F.A. statutes it says the board have the right determine if the England captain continues in his job. So in a panic they fire him, without telling Capello, who promptly takes the huff and walks out.

At this point in the writing of this article, I feel I need to go back and reread what I’ve written so far, just to make sure that I haven’t made it all up. I’m really not gloating, honest, because Scotland has a far shiter team than England will ever have, and at least the English are going to Poland and Ukraine, unlike the Scots who need to broaden the tournament to twenty-four teams to give themselves half a chance of even qualifying, but if these events seem to have a strangely familiar ring to them, it must be because it’s déjà vu all over again. There’s another brilliant book about English football called ‘Why England lose’ by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, but as far as I’m concerned this sorry series of calamities will tell you everything you need to know on the subject. Inevitably Capello’s departure was followed by clamourings to ensure that the next manager was an Englishman, an echo of Gordon Brown’s ill-fated (and frankly illegal) call for ‘British jobs for British workers’. Be careful what you wish for; the last time a foreigner left the England post he was also followed by the same demands. Felipe Scolari was in contention after Eriksson left, a man who had won a World Cup, but in the end the job went to Englishman Steve McClaren, a man who’d won a League Cup. McClaren failed to qualify England for the Euros in 2008; in contrast his successor Capello has a record in competitive matches that is unsurpassed by any England manager in history.

Thanks lad, these days any criticism from Scotland helps

The problem seems to me to be twofold: there don’t seem to be too many good English managers out there. The Premier League is full of Scotsmen (Glaswegians in fact, unlike the SPL which is currently being taken over by Irishmen). Coaching even at the very top level is about teaching, and there just don’t appear to be a lot of good English football teachers about. The best seems quite demonstrably to be Roy Hodgson, and if this were any other top European footballing nation, I think Hodgson would probably already have the job by now. They’re a funny bunch, these Europeans, they seem to have an oddly simple way of doing things, including the appointment of national team bosses: generally, they find the guy with the best track record and experience, and on that basis, subject of course to negotiation and availability, they offer him the job. International players are expected to be self-motivated and disciplined, and intelligent enough to be able to follow the coach’s instructions. Redknapp’s record is little better than McClaren’s (an FA Cup rather than a League Cup), despite the advantage of a far longer managerial career. Hodgson’s career is equally extensive and he’s worked abroad a lot, something that, dare I say, might be advantageous when it comes to understanding the motives and mentalities of England’s international rivals. But here we are told that there’s nothing more important than team spirit, and there’s nobody better than Harry Redknapp at engendering that. He’s become a kind of mythical folk hero, fans are wheeled out from God knows where to declare that he’s the only possible choice. The players want him, everybody wants him, but the real people who want him are the media because he fits their template and the media call the shots in England, whether it’s good for the team or not. England’s traditional failing, relying on a kind of mythical English team spirit, while cleverer and better organised foreigners run rings round them will be in evidence again. As I think I’ve mentioned already, I’m not an England fan so I don’t really care, but if you want to know why England lose, you can throw away Kuper and Szymanski’s book, it can all be seen in this whole sorry episode, in glorious technicolour.

This article was written for GGW by Stephen O’ Donnell. His novel “The Road to Paradise – Not the Celtic Story” which will of enormous attraction to all literate Celtic supporters, is to be published in a few months by Ringwood Publishing


Celtic Submari keep on giving

Three Kings from Villarreal CF give presents

For the 7th year in a row the Christmas and New Year holiday period saw the Celtic Submari hold its annual Children’s Party where the visiting Three Kings gave presents to hundreds of excited children. The numbers involved were such that the location had to be changed from the Celtic Submari club in main street Vila-real to the more spacious premises available in the Francesc Tarrega School. Named after the talented musician who is the most famous ever citizen of little Vila-real, the school is well known in the West of Scotland for its regular exchange visits with the local John Ogilvie High. Spanish children are usually much more polite and closer to the Victorian ideal of being seen but not heard than similar groups of Scottish children. However as on the six previous occasions, this time the noise generated by the excited children, a mix of children of Celtic Submari members and children associated with the charities supported by the Celtic Submari, was of the higher decibel levels normally generated by wilder Scottish weans.

As always, Villarreal CF fully supported the work of the Celtic Submari and sent three first team players, Spanish internationalist Bruno, Paraguayan internationalist Hernan Perez and Javier Camunas. All three players enthusiastically joined in the activities and were a great hit when it came to dishing out presents top every child present.

As in previous years, the principal beneficiary of the Celtic Submari generosity was ASPANION (the association of parents of children with cancer) who received yet another cheque for 3,000 euros.

The background to the Celtic Submari commitment to ASPANION and other children’s charities is contained in the book “Celtic Submari – a New Model of football relationships” recently published by Ringwood Publishing in Glasgow. Copies of this book, which is being very well received by Celtic supporters throughout the world can be obtained from this website by clicking on the photo on the right hand side, or by going to www.ringwoodpublishing.com .

The book is also available from the Kindle Book Store as an e-book as is the companion volume “Yellow Submarine – the miracle of Villarreal CF”

Next week GGW will offer a major update to the Yellow Submarine story in a post entitled “The Yellow Submarine sinks to the bottom depths of La Liga” which will explain why things have gone disastrously wrong this season.  Watch this space.


“Celtic Submari” The perfect Christmas Present for all Celtic Supporters

Ideal Xmas present for all Celtic supporters

Buying a Christmas Present for a Celtic supporter? Look no further! “Celtic Submari” is a positive and uplifting book that will delight any Celtic supporter. It tells how an invasion of Vila-real, a small town in Spain, by 10,000 Celtic supporters in 2004 led to a friendship that is unique in world football, and to the development of a New Model of football relationships based on affection and respect rather than hatred or bitterness. Celtic supporters everywhere can take great pride in how their example of camaraderie and good behaviour inspired the formation of the Villarreal Celtic Submari who have put their motto “Rivals for 90 minutes, Friends for Ever” into practice in Spain, Scotland and throughout Europe. The Celtic Submari have proved that football can harness the power of goodness, decency, integrity and friendship to help others and make a positive difference.

The book offers a unique and fascinating explanation for the undeniable reality that Celtic supporters have a much better record of behaviour abroad than Rangers supporters.

It examines how some of the lessons from the Celtic Submari model can be applied in Scotland to help move away from the sectarian bitterness that too often mars Scottish football towards a more healthy model based on Celtic Submari principles.

While the book will primarily appeal to Celtic supporters, this element will also make the book of interest to everyone of any football affiliation or none, who has despaired of the current Scottish model marred by sectarian hatred.

Fuller details of the book can be obtained by clicking on the cover  on the right hand side below.

Individual copies of “Celtic Submari”, all signed by the author Sandy Jamieson, can be purchased from this website through the cover link on the right hand side below or directly by going to the publishers website www.ringwoodpublishing.com

Bulk orders, at generous discounts, can be negotiated by email at mail@ringwoodpublishing.com .

“Celtic Submari” will be available as an ebook from the Kindle Store from 13th December

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“Yellow Submarine” the perfect Christmas present for all football lovers

“Yellow Submarine”      The ideal Christmas present for all football lovers

If you’re looking for a Christmas Present for anyone interested in football, GGW has the perfect solution.  Almost all football fans are Romantic Dreamers (although they often hide it well). They fervently hope and believe their club, no matter how big or small, can and will do better. “Yellow Submarine- the Miracle of Villarreal CF” is the inspiring story of how  a wee club from a small town of under 50,000 population rose from the lower depths of Spanish football  to establish themselves in just over 10 years as one of the top clubs not just in Spain but in Europe. (Full details of the book can be found via the link below right).

“Yellow Submarine” is a book that offers hope to all supporters of clubs both big and small that their club too can “Live the Dream”. Based on Community and Integrity, it offers a morally superior alternative to reliance on American or Russian Billionaires or Arab Dynasties.

Individual copies of Yellow Submarine, all signed by the author Sandy Jamieson, can be purchased via the link below right, or direct from www.ringwoodpublishing.com

Bulk orders at generous discounts, can be negotiated by email at mail@ringwoodpublishing.com .

Yellow Submarine is also available as an ebook from the Kindle Store at the bargain price of £8.04


Adriano The Emperor strikes back, in time to secure invite for title winning party, to sit on the bench.

Adriano a new Fat Boy for Corinthians?

“He’s fat, he’s round, he’s worth a million pound” was the chant of praise sung by Clyde supporters open-mouthed in awe at stout Steve Clarke’s prime. Nowadays it is more likely to be applied insultingly to faded Brazilian superstars. The great Ronaldo, probably the world’s finest forward of the thirty years preceeding Messi and Ronaldo, set the standard, returning to Corinthians looking a physical parody of his once lithe self. Even with the extra weight, he still managed to do some good business for Corinthians (see LSA Post “The Fat Boy does Good”), helping them to a Sao Paulo League title and a Copa Brazil. However when it came to the tournament that Corinthians really wanted to win, the Copa Libertadores, Ronaldo and his rotund fellow legend Roberto Carlos were just not fit enough to help, and both left Corinthians within weeks of the club’s exit from the premier South American trophy, with the boos and jeers of the fans ringing in their ears. Ronaldo sensibly, hung up his boots for good. Roberto Carlos, with a different kind of good sense, set sail for one last overseas adventure with the mega rich Russians of Anzhi Makhachkalia.

The vacated Fat Boy title was quickly claimed by Adriano who arrived in Sao Paulo in March 2011 to take over Ronaldo’s mantle as the Great Hope who would lead Corinthians to title glory.

Adriano came with a great deal of history. On the positive side, his good days, in Italy with Inter Milan and with Brazil, had shown him to be as good as any centre forward in the world, a world class finisher with surprising silky skills for such a big man. Known in Brazil as the Emperor for his imperious play. But, and it is quite a but, he has a long history of off-field problems that have always prevented him sustaining his best form over any consistent period. In the last LSA mention was made of Ronaldinho’s fondness for the nightlife, in some ways quite understandable for a young male, but Adriano’s problems are of a darker hue. He has a sad history of depression linked to drinking to alleviate it, drinking at a level sufficient to count as serious alcoholism. Inter Milan were surprisingly tolerant of the increased absences from training that became linked to such a threatening pattern of drinking and depression, but eventually their tolerance ran out and in November  2007 he was sent back on loan to Sao Paulo. There in the sun and less intense pressure he played quite well and was recalled to Inter for season 2008-2009. The then Inter manager, a certain Jose Mourinho, initially coaxed some good performances out of Adriano but it did not last, and the tears, the depression and the drinking returned. In April 2009 Adriano announced he was quitting football for good. Initially he blamed it on a breakdown of his relationship with his fiancée, but slowly deeper truths emerged including an inability to come to terms with the death of his father, shot in dubious circumstances in a crime spot in Rio.

Adriano confessed that he felt very unhappy in Italy and that he had lost all pleasure in playing football. He returned to Brazil where he described himself as happy, “with my friends and my family”. His exile from first class football lasted only 26 days, before he signed a contract with his previous Brazilian club, Flamengo. With three weeks training under his belt he made a scoring debut for Flamengo and went onto to become the league’s top scorer as he helped lead Flamengo to a surprise title triumph in December 2009.

Not a great Roman Emperor

Adriano had a different approach to night life than Ronaldinho whose happy relaxed personality led him in constant search of good company and good times. Adriano linked up socially with what any sensible manager would call the wrong crowd, many of whom remembered him from his younger Rio days. By summer 2010 after increasing amounts of bad publicity around his lifestyle and especially his association with men known to be drug barons, Adriano ignored the lessons of his European past and signed up again with an Italian club, this time Roma, in a setting not known for its tranquillity. He never really managed to settle in either the team or the city. The contract he signed with Roma had a number of get-out clauses related to his performance and his behaviour, and by early March 2011 a frustrated management decided to exercise these clauses and cut their losses. Once again the supposed retirement was brief. This time it took 20 days before Adriano was revealed as a Corinthians player, with the man himself explaining in passing how Sao Paulo will be a safer place for him socially than a return to Rio would have been. Corinthians fans were delighted, most fervently believing that at just 29, Adriano had more to offer their club than the very fat Ronaldo.

However the initial enthusiasm and excitement soon turned to frustration as the obviously overweight and unfit Adriano struggled against a series of niggling injuries to get himself fit enough to finally make his trumpeted debut. Without access to their new superstar the goalscoring burden at title favourite Corinthians fell on Leidson the other top class repatriated forward. Leidson rose to the challenge and without Adriano Corinthians still looked the team most likely to win the league. Incredibly it was to be October, in the 28th round of a 38 game league, before Adriano was finally to make his competitive debut for Corinthians. He came on for the last 11 minutes. However a series of minor injuries prevented him from building on this late start and coming up to the middle of November there had been only two more substitute appearances, with no goals. On 16th November Adriano declared himself fully fit again at last and he was named as a substitute for the away trip to Ceara. Despite the game being scoreless, Adriano was not given a chance by the cautious manager Tite and when Leidson was pulled off, it was a midfielder Morais that was brought on rather than Adriano. Eventually Corinthians snatched a 1-0 win.

From Emperor to supersub. Adriano at last makes his debut

Four days later, at home to Atletico Mineiro Adriano again started the match on the bench. This time however he was eventually brought on  in the 67th minute with Corinthians 1-0 down and facing a defeat that would hand the title initiative to Vasco da Gama with only two games to go. The substitution energerised the crowd, the noise generated was stupendous and somehow all the energy and excitement flowed into the Corinthians team. Adriano’s first major contribution was a brilliant assist to allow Leidson to equalise. Yet it appeared that all the energy and all the effort would not be enough as Atletico hung on desperately. Then in the very last minute Adriano struck to score a goal, taking a half chance with class and cool control to win the game for his team. As any normal football supporter would expect Adriano celebrated this first goal after so long in the most joyous fashion. That he was booked for this celebration says something about the soulless direction of the modern game. LSA would urge readers to google “Adriano goal for Corinthians” and see his impressive contribution, making one, scoring one and winning a game for his new club that surely clinched the league, leaving Corinthians two points ahead with two games to go.

Tite, in his usual pragmatic way, avoided getting caught up in the hype and come the next game, away to high-flying Figueirense, Adriano found himself back on the bench. A goal in the 66th minute by Leidson gave Corinthians the decisive advantage and when centre forward Emerson was substituted with 11 minutes to go it was not Adriano but a midfielder who was brought on. To his credit Adriano avoided any temper tantrums about his lack of action and seemed delighted just to be part of it all. A late winner by second placed Vasco da Gama over third placed Fluminense guaranteed that the title race would go down to the last day. Corinthians at home to old rivals Palmeiras only need a draw to guarantee them their 5th Brazilian Championship. It will be interesting to see what role if any Tite allows Adriano to play in the final game, but even if he spends the whole game on the bench, that dramatic last minute winner against Atletico will mean that Adriano will always be part of the story of that title win, even if he doesn’t add a single second to the 73 minutes that is currently his total contribution for the whole season.

But perhaps more importantly, he would appear to have coped with the frustration and inactivity of the past 6 months without triggering off returns to the black places that have haunted him in the past. In the week Gary Speed hung himself, and a book about Robert Enke a goalkeeper who committed suicide, deservedly won the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award, perhaps we should all just be grateful that Adriano, who displayed a similar depression more openly than these other two, seems to have found some contentment even in a secondary role. Let us all hope that whatever contribution he can make to Corinthians almost certain title triumph will bring him some inner peace.

With one round to go in the Brazilian Championship, there are several other issues still to be decided as well as the destination of the title. Fluminense and Flamengo would appear destined to join Corinthians and Vasco da Gama as Brazil’s representatives in the 2012 Copa Libertadores, but the 5th slot is still up for grabs with Coritiba and Figueirense competing with Inter PA, Sao Paulo and Botofogo. .If Inter beat local rivals Gremio in their last game that would probably be enough to give them, winners in 2006 and 2010, another crack at the Libertadores. And mighty Cruzeiro need a home win against local rivals Atletico Mineiro to be absolutely sure of avoiding the relegation with which they have been flirting dangerously over the last few weeks. LSA regular readers will be pleased that Bahia the carnival club from Salvador have finished their first season back in the top league safe from relegation.

The next LSA will report on the final resolution of the Brazilian season next weekend.


Flamengo reborn but stumble just before the line. Ronaldinho recrosses his own line and is smiling again, for football rather than nocturnal reasons.

Flamengo - the best supported club in the world

Flamengo are the Brazilian club with the most supporters. An estimated 40 million of them in Rio and spread throughout Brazil make the Mengao truly the club of the people. They traditionally draw their support from the lower reaches of Brazilian society while their Rio rivals Fluminense, Vasco de Gama and Botafogo tend to be better supported by the middle classes and the power elites. Flamengo supporters tend to think of their club as the biggest and the best in the world, a claim not really validated since 1981 when they hammered Liverpool 3-0 to win the World Club Cup.

Since these glories days of Zico, Junior and company, with 3 Brazilian championships in 4 years as well as the Copa Libertadores and World Club Cup wins, Flamengo have never again threatened to lead the world elite, and in the mid years of this first decade of the 21st century, gross mismanagement by incompetent directors lead them perilously close to relegation from the Brazilian top division, a disaster which did actually happen to the other Brazilian club of the people, Corinthians of Sao Paulo, in 2007, as well as to all three of their posher Rio rivals.

Even the winning of the Brazilian League Championship in 2009 came out of the blue, with a mediocre Flamengo team being in the bottom half of the league in mid-season, until one of the 1981 team Andrade emerged as the coach to lead them to an unexpected Championship, their first since 1992. The momentum generated by Andrade’s success could not be maintained into the 2010 Copa Libertadores and Flamengo were eliminated in the quarter finals by a Chilean team, despite having put out Ronaldo’s Corinthians in the last 16 round. Andrade was rewarded for his miracle work by being summarily dismissed and then Flamengo reverted to more typical league form finishing 14th in the 2010 Brazilian League won by their deadly rivals Fluminense.

However new Directors took over the club, with a powerful woman President Patricia Amorim, slowly brought a more professional approach and determined to restore Flamengo to their due position as the pre-eminent Brazilian club.

Ronaldinho Now a Flamego player

The corner stone of their approach was to gazump Gremio’s almost sealed deal to bring Ronaldinho back from Europe to Porto Alegre, and persuade him to sign instead for Flamengo. At one level this seemed an inspired move, Ronaldinho having been the best player in the world for the mid years of the first decade, winning World Footballer of the Year awards in 2004 and 2005. When Flamengo signed him in January 2011 he was only 30 years old and should have several years of top class football left in him. However serious question marks existed over his character and discipline, which made the transfer less obviously brilliant than it might otherwise have appeared.

In his last season with Barcelona, Ronaldinho had displayed a lack of dedicated professionalism. He rejected the authority of the coach Frank Rijkaard and led a cabal of players including Deco, Thiago Motta and Messi, astray in a series of drunken night time escapades. It took another of the Barcelona South Americans, Edmilson, to courageously denounce this situation, claiming there were black sheep aloose in the Camp Nou. Old President Juan Laporta and new Manager Guardiola agreed to slaughter all the black sheep, except for Messi, to cure the club of the sickness and indiscipline that had crept in. Removed from Ronaldinho’s malign social influence, Messi stabilised himself and reverted to being the model professional his personality is more suited to, the results of which have been enjoyed by Barcelona fans and football supporters everywhere over the past three years as he has clearly inherited Ronalidinho’s old role as “best player in the world”.

Ronaldinho sad lonely figure on the field at Milan

Ronaldinho spent a largely miserable 30 months in Milan. Or more accurately he spent a brilliant 30months in Milan, partying almost nightly and single-handedly introducing Carnival traditions to Milan night life. He totally confirmed the correctness of Guardiola’s determination to get rid of his unprofessional approach from Barcelona. His first season in Milan was a poor one on the field, where his form and attitude lead him to being heavily criticised as an unprofessional freeloader. Things improved slightly in the second season, 2009-10, as Ronaldinho sought to restore enough form and reputation to book his flight to South Africa with the Brazilian squad. But he would spoil every brief run of sustained form with another nocturnal splurge, sometimes missing training, sometimes turning up smelling of alcohol. He did want to go to South Africa and did enough over the second half of the season to make it into Dunga’s provisional squad of 30. But Dunga, a hard player, a hard manager, a hard man, decided at the end that he would not risk the man’s reek of indiscipline contaminating his tightly controlled squad, and omitted a genuinely devastated Ronaldinho from the final 23 along with his Milan teammate and occasional dancing partner Pato.

Most Brazilian football supporters were appalled and accused Dunga of betraying the traditions of the beautiful game, in favour of dull conformity. There was much talk that Garrincha, who helped win Brazil two World Cups, was not exactly a model of sober disciplined behaviour even during tournaments. In the event, a rather flat Brazilian team exited the World Cup without distinction even though they had been well-seeded to meet Spain in the Final. They lost in the Quarter Finals to a more spirited Dutch team but it was a game Dunga’s team might well have won and a game where even a couple of minutes of Ronaldinho magic might have proved crucial.

Ronaldinho enjoying the Milan night life too much

The disappointment of missing out on the World Cup did not prompt a disappointed Ronaldinho into a major rethink and season 2010-11 saw him reverting to the worst patterns of his initial season. AC Milan finally decided that he was a liability to them and with Ibrahimovic and Robinho now available to them up front along with a more professional Pato, Ronaldinho drifted out of the first team picture and started partying even more. Allegri the clever and talented new manager made it clear he could do without Ronaldinho and the decision was made to cut their losses and let him leave in the Winter Transfer Window without expecting an enormous fee. They replaced him in their squad with another “bad boy” Antonio Cassano whose indiscipline was of a less nocturnal nature to Ronaldinho’s. With this change settled, AC Milan romped home in the Italian League finishing 6 points ahead of neighbours Inter.

The word was clearly out in European football circles that he was finished as a top class player and even previous suitors Manchester City didn’t want to waste money subsiding the thriving Manchester night life scene.

Several Brazilian clubs, most notably his original club Gremio and fading Palmeiras decided they would like to take a gamble that his charisma and talent could kick-start them into better days again, but in the end it was the new Board at Flamengo who made the most offer, helped no doubt by the fact that Ronaldinho like most poor Brazilian boys had grown up worshipping the Red and Blacks.

While Ronaldinho was naturally the signing that got all the attention, more quietly the Directors engaged in several other repatriations that added much needed depth of quality to the side.  The most talented of this group was Thiago Neves, well known to regular readers of Letters From South America as the player who almost died of a broken heart after scoring 4 goals in a Copa Libertadores Final and still finishing on the losing side, to the worst team ever to win the Copa, LDU Quito. He sought relief from the pain with exile in Europes but his shattered heart prevented him showing his true potential. Eventually he sought a different kind of solace by campaigning for Arab petro dollars and seemingly turning his back on serious football. When Fluminense, his old team, won the 2010 Brazilian Championship they determined to bring their old idol back to lead them into a further attempt on Copa Libertadores glory. For a while it looked as if they had succeeded, but to general surprise he turned up one day to be announced as a new Flamengo signing. Maybe the fact that Flamengo were not playing in the Copa Libertadores tipped the balance for this still haunted man. Also brought back from self-imposed petro dollar semi-retirement was an old Flamengo favourite midfielder Renato Abreu. He had always been a top quality player without ever getting proper international recognition and when he went East aged 30 it seemed his chances of ever playing for Brazil had gone West. They brought experienced forward Deivid back from Turkey to be their main striker. They signed ex-Corinthians goalie Felipe from Braga where he never really settled and to the delight of their younger fans brought back young defensive midfielder Airton on loan from Benfica, who had snapped him up after his starring role in the 2010 Brazilian Title victory but never managed to harnass his tigerish ability. The final addition was not a direct repatriation but class centre back Alex Silva although signed from Sao Paulo actually belonged to Hamburg. Already in the squad were experienced internationalists like Leoardo Moura and Chilean Claudio Maldonado and seasoned professionals like Junior Cesar and Ronaldo Angelim, plus a host of promising youngsters like Welinton, Willian, Diego Mauricio and Negueba.

Vanderlei Luxemburgo the best Brazilian Manager of the past 20 years takes on restoring Flamengo to the top rank

To manage this promising mix of world class superstars, solid internationalists, good professionals and upcoming young players, the Directors turned to the most successful Brazilian manager of the past 20 years, Vanderlei Luxembourg already familiar to regular LSA readers as a great manager and a flawed man. His record over the past 20 years includes 5 Brazilian Championships, 12 State Leagues, and 1 Copa Brazil, as well as a Copa America with the national team. Al;.though he failed to shine in his one year with Real Madrid

True to his record he did not take long to weld all that talent into an effective and attractive, but not reckless, team. He gave Ronaldinho a free role up front behind sole striker Deivid and pushed Thiago Neves and Renato Abreu as wide supports with the centre policed by Airton and Willian standing in brilliantly for the seriously injured Maldonado. Flamengo swept aside all local opposition in the 2011 Rio State League winning both legs of the competition to obviate the need for a grand Final. Ronaldinho played superbly in the final of the second stage competition assisting as Thiago Neves scored both goals in the 2-0 defeat of Botafogo, and the team as a whole looked very good.

It would not be true to say that Ronaldinho completely gave up partying on his return to Flamengo but somehow he settled on a balance that was tolerated by his employers and allowed him to perform professionally on the field. (continue reading…)


Corinthians need to stop being casual to clinch Brazilian title

Corinthians - the club of the people

Corinthians are popularly known as Timao, the team of the people. They are the best supported of the four big Sao Paulo clubs. Their estimated 30 million supporters are the second biggest support in Brazil behind only the 40 odd million fans of Flamengo, the Rio ‘club of the people’.

In April GGW confidently tipped Corinthians to emerge from the just beginning 2011 Brazilian League as the most likely Champions. And for all of the campaign to date they have either been leaders or very close in contention. Now, with only 5 games to go they sit top of the league, but they will have to cut back on an alarming tendency to casualness if they are to hold on to that number one spot and earn their 5th national title for their fanatical supporters, known as the Fiel.

The four Rio clubs, Vasco de Gama, Fluminense, Flamengo and Botafogo are the only clubs left in a position to deny the Timao the title they have set their hearts on. Currently Vasco the winners of the 2011 Brazil Cup, are behind Corinthians only on goal difference, with 2010 champions Fluminense 2 points behind, and 2009 Champions Flamengo a further point behind sharing 4th place with Botafogo.

In some ways this has appeared to be the most open and even Brazilian Championship ever, in the 8 years since the league resorted to the European formula of League football rather than the more complicated formulas of mini-leagues and knockout stages used in  the first 32 years from the formation of a true national championship in 1971. But those like your GGW correspondent who watch Brazilian games regularly can report that the sad truth is that the increased competitiveness has resulted from a reduced standard of play which means there are no outstanding teams and almost every team is capable of beating any other team. In what would be  a surprise to most UK football supporters, brought up on the myth of Brazilian brilliance, the current overall standard of even the top teams is actually quite poor, by top European standards. (continue reading…)


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