It is a classic belief of certain schools of philosophy that the flutter of a butterfly’s wing in one part of the world can lead to devastation in another. Last week provided graphic proof of this phenomenon with a minor ripple in South Africa causing major disaster in Rio de Janeiro, 13,000 miles away.
In 2006 Carlos Alberto Parreira had been appointed Coach of South Africa, with the responsibility for ensuring that they did respectably well in the 2010 World Cup, for which as hosts they are exempt from having to qualify. Having won the 1994 World Cup for his own country Brazil, along with a very respectable record in both club and international football, he was a good appointment and as likely as anyone to deliver on the high expectations of the host nation. However his wife and family did not settle in South Africa and after much heart-searching Parreira decided to put his family first and hand in his resignation. Partly in a desire to ensure a degree of continuity the South African Football Federation decided to appoint Joel Santana as his successor. Joel Santana one of the older generation of Brazilian coaches, like Pereira more renowned for defensive tidiness than attacking flair, had transformed the performance of Flamengo one of the two great sleeping giants of Brazilian football. He took over Flamengo in mid 2007 when after a dire start in the Brazilian Championship they were in the relegation positions. Under Joel, with the rare support of the Directors(in Brazil 2 successive defeats often results in a coach’s dismissal) the team improved steadily and ended up 3rd in the League, if well behind 3rd time winners Sao Paulo, to qualify for the 2008 Libertadores. The other sleeping giant, the mighty Corinthians from Sao Paulo were relegated, but that is a story for another Letter.
For the first time in a few years the Directors were relatively well organised and found funds to improve the Flamengo squad to give them a real shot at the Libertadores. Among the signings were Kleberson (2006 World Cup winner), Jonatas a rugged midfielder repatriated from Espanol, Rodrigo a towering centre-half brought on loan from Dynamo Kiev and Diego Tardelli a brilliant but inconsistent young forward who had spells in Europe with PSV and Betis. Added to a squad which already contained the best right back in Brazil Leonardo Moura, a skilled experienced sweeper in Fabio Luciano, the 2006 league top goal scorer in Souza, and a brilliant young midfielder Renato Augusto much admired by Europe’s top clubs, and it was reasonable to assume that Flamengo would be serious contenders for the Libertadores in2008. Flamengo had previously won the Copa Libertadores in1981 before going on to trounce Liverpool in the World Club Cup Final, with a team including giants like Zico and Junior. That team won 5 Brazilian Championships during the 1980s and early 1990s but since then despite their massive support, reckoned to be the biggest in the world, Flamengo have endured a process of almost constant decline ending up with them flirting seriously with relegation in the last few dire seasons.
They started the 2008 season well, easily winning the first stage of the Rio Championship(beating classic rivals Fluminense in the final). Their Libertadores Group campaign went well and they comfortably qualified for the last 16 knockout stages where they were drawn against America of Mexico. When they defeated the Mexicans 4-2 in the first leg in the Azteca stadium in Mexico City most Flamengo fans (and it is reckoned there about 40million of them in Brazil) began dreaming of Libertadores success and a subsequent World Club Championship in Japan in December.
Then came the first rustling of the new wind from across the ocean, the news that Joel Santana had been offered, and had accepted, the post of Manager of South Africa. The news did not seem to affect the Flamengo players too negatively and the Sunday before the return leg with America, Santana was still in charge as Flamengo clinched the overall 2008 Rio Championship by beating old rivals Botafogo in the Final. After the game, Flamengo directors announced that their new manager Caio Junior, one of the brightest of the younger generation of Brazilan managers would take over the club, but that Santana would still be in charge for the return leg against America, his last game and an opportunity for Flamengo players and fans to say goodbye with assured qualification for the quarter-finals.
But by the Wednesday night the gentle flutter from the East became a hurricane which blew away all the Flamengo dreams as they lost 3-0 before a stunned Maracana crowd.
America were coming off a disastrous league campaign where they finished bottom. They sacked their manager after the first leg with Flamengo and a temporary manager, Luna, was in charge for the return in Rio. Before the game he was quoted as saying their chances of winning through were about the same as his of winning the lottery, but win they did. Nothing Santana said or did altered the pattern of the game and poor Caio Junior could only sit in the Directors Box and wonder what effect this humiliation would have on his inheritance. The Flamengo fans were stunned, too stunned even to be angry.
After the game Joel Santana could only mumble incoherently in a state of shock. Caio Junior was left to reflect wryly on his pre-match quotes about how healthy an inheritance he had had the good luck to achieve. The butterfly’s wing had done its work and the 40 million Flamengo fans were left with the ruins of their dream of regaining world domination.

Update March 2010
To this day all 40 million Flamengo fans insist they should have won the 2008 Copa Libertadores and then regained the World Club Championship by beating Manchester United in Tokio in December of that year. They still believe they were robbed by the timing of Parreira’s resignation and its knock-on effect on Santana
Certainly the team that did win that year’s Libertadores, LDU Quito of Ecuador, are probably the poorest team ever to win a Libertadores. The one minor but considerable consolation for Flamengo fans was that the team LDU beat in the Final was their hated rivals Fluminense. The story of that amazing final is told in another Letter from South America(The team that died from a broken heart). Let us just say here that if that Final were replayed another 99 times Fluminense would be expected to win 99 of them. However the gross injustice represented by the LDU victory at least spared Flamengo the humiliation of their hated rivals triumphing in their place. The feelings Flamengo fans have for Fluminense can make the feelings Celtic fans have for Rangers seem like positive regard.
Although Manchester United defeated LDU to win the World Club Cup in December 2008 their performance was not good enough to convince Flamengo fans that their club would not have won if they had been there.
The whole business had a sorry aftermath for Flamengo in the 2008 Brazilian Championship where they ended up by missing out by one place on a Libertadores spot that they probably deserved on merit.
They started the 20009 Brazilian Championship badly and by the half way mark were down in 12th place. However they sacked their manager and brought in Andrade one of the midfield players from their golden era. With his sure touch on the bench and under the inspired leadership of the largely sober Adriano, come back to Rio to recover from his Inter Milan excesses and unhappiness, they gradually climbed up the table and in an amazing climax, after first Palmeiras and then Sao Paulo threw away golden chances to claim the title early, Flamengo won it with a victory over Gremio on the last day of the season. Adriano finished up joint top league goalscorer with 19 goals. Finally the best supported team in the world had ended 18 years in the title wilderness and claimed their 6th Brazilian League victory. Their fans are now confident that they can win the 2010 Copa Libertadores and remedy that awful shame of 2008. A future LSA will look at the 2010 Copa Libertadores field in more detail but certainly Flamengo are one of the eight teams that seem to have about an equal chance to win it.

Back in Brazil, Parreira returned to club management in Brazil, ironically enough with Fluminense. Many of the 40 million Flamengo fans gloated when he was sacked from that post in July 2009 with Fluminense in deep relegation trouble.
Even more ironically his next job turned out to be as Manager of South Africa. In October 2009 Joel Santana was sacked after his team’s 8th defeat in 9 friendly matches and it was to general astonishment a few days later that Carlos Alberto Parreira was unveiled as the new Manager. He claimed his wife’s health and the other family problems had been sorted and he was happy to return and lead the bafana bafana into the World Cup. He seems to have restored stability, enthusiasm and vigour to the squad and his experience should ensure the hosts do not disgrace themselves at the World Cup. However he does not have a hugely talented pool of players to work with and their most recent result was a 0-0 draw with Cruzeiro another of the 8 possible Libertadores winners. So even in a weak group with Mexico, Uruguay and France, South Africa will struggle to avoid becoming the first hosts not to qualify for the knock-out stages. But at least their new old manager will give them the best chance possible.

As for Joel Santana, he is back in Brazil, as manager of Rio club Botafogo. In February he led them to the Taca Guanabara, the first leg of the Rio State League, beating Flamengo 2-1 in the semi-final. With Flamengo more concerned with the Copa Libertadores, there is a good chance that Santana and Botafogo will take the State League title, won by Flamengo for the past 3 years. Maybe that day the butterfly wing reverberations will finally stop.