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From the Economist

Football in Brazil
The bountiful game
Why some of the best players are staying at home
Jul 21st 2011 | from the print edition


Neymar may choose to realise the value of his mohican in Santos

IT PROVED a deal too far, for now at least, but the mooted transfer of Carlos Tevez, a homesick Argentine footballer, from Manchester City to São Paulo’s Corinthians for 100m reais ($64m) suggests that something is afoot in Brazil’s most popular sport. Mr Tevez’s deal was scuppered in part by the closing of Brazil’s domestic transfer window. But his teammate Jô moved back to Brazil, as did Denilson, from Arsenal in London.

They join a growing list of A-list players who have left rich European clubs to play at home long before they are clapped out. Some of the best are now disinclined to leave in the first place. Neymar, of Santos, seems to have opted to stay at home and make money from charging advertisers to allow his mohican to appear on billboards, rather than seek a fortune in Europe.

In part this is a function of a changed economic balance. Between 2004 and 2010 the real appreciated by 35% against the euro. Over the same period Brazil’s terms of trade improved by 27%. Brazil may still export so many footballers that they enjoy their own column in the Central Bank’s spreadsheets, but around 10% fewer of them left in 2009, the most recent year for which data are available, than the year before.

Big stars, such as Real Madrid’s Kaká, are followed by a long tail of players earning a living in less glamorous circumstances. In 2009 two Brazilians went to play in Bangladesh, 12 went to Angola and another 13 went to Iran. One is shivering in the Faroe Islands. The strong real makes these journeymen more expensive for foreign clubs.

Yet the increasing ability of Brazilian clubs to attract and retain talent is also an indicator of another positive trend. Better management can be found all over Brazil, from the private sector to the governments of some big states, and the nation’s football clubs are no exception. Despite being hugely popular, Corinthians spent years scraping by, using a rented stadium. The club may not have produced enough cash for Mr Tevez, but it has a lot more money than it used to, thanks to a new television deal and a more commercial approach to its vast fan base. The club is building a new stadium, which will in theory be ready for the World Cup in 2014. The Corinthians shirt is a patchwork of sponsors’ logos, down to one for a deodorant brand nestling in the players’ armpits.

Some fans may dislike the new commercialism. While in England their name is associated with aristocratic amateurism, the founders of São Paulo’s Corinthians had democratic ideals at a time when Brazilian football was an elitist pastime (and black players were barred). Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s former president, is the club’s most famous fan. Something similar happened to English football, which went from a solidly working-class affair to a playground for billionaire owners. In fact Brazilian football may be coming to resemble English football in another way. In this month’s Copa America Brazil managed to go out to Paraguay, on penalties.

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They just need to sort out the league format in brazil then they could really start to compete with europe, its a bit of a joke at the moment.

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Good article by Tim Vickery from last year on why they need to ditch the state championships

We don't yet know where the World Cups of 2018 and 2022 will be played. But some of the bidding countries have already worked out which cities they will use to stage matches if the circus does come to town.

It's unfortunate Brazil wasn't so quick off the mark. As far back as March 2003, it was clear the country would be awarded the 2014 World Cup. When FIFA announced the tournament would go to South America, CONMEBOL almost instantly declared Brazil its sole candidate. The official FIFA confirmation came in October '07 -- but it was only in May of last year that the decision was finally made on which cities would host the games.

This delay comes at a cost. Some important long-term projects, such as subway lines, have been cut from the plans. There's insufficient time to guarantee their completion.

Such an undesirable state of affairs is the consequence of trying to organize soccer in a country the size of a continent. Inevitably, there are problems. The difficulties in defining the 2014 host cities are an example of how Brazilian soccer can be hindered by its federal structure.

The giant country is divided into 27 states. Its footballing structure is based not on the clubs, but on the various state federations. They hold the balance of power in the election for the president of Brazil's soccer association, the CBF. Reluctant to alienate any of its support base, the CBF didn't want to take responsibility for excluding any of the cities that were eager to be part of the 2014 project. So, unusually and for purely political reasons, the decision was pushed to FIFA. And the more time all this took, the less time is available for infrastructure improvements.

These political considerations aren't just a hindrance to the 2014 World Cup. They have a huge influence in the day-to-day running of Brazilian soccer in a manner that prevents it from reaching its full potential. The state federations' main task -- the source of their power and prestige -- comes from organizing their local championships. These kicked off across the country last weekend, one competition in each of the 27 states, and will be contested right up until the national championship gets underway in early May.

In such a huge country, these state championships played a vital role in getting the game off the ground. Without them, Brazilian soccer wouldn't be the national force it is today. But they've outlived their usefulness. The big clubs have become bigger and have their sights set higher, such as winning the Copa Libertadores and becoming champion of the continent.

The small clubs have shrunk so much, they barely exist. That the big and small clubs meet in a league format makes no sporting or financial sense. It only makes sense from the point of view of the power structure. Take the state championships away, and what will be left for an entire layer of bureaucracy to do?

Last Sunday, I was at Rio de Janeiro's Maracanã stadium to watch local giant Flamengo take on Duque de Caxias. Flamengo, which last month won the Brazilian Championship, claims more than 20 million supporters. Duque de Caxias might struggle to raise 200. This is professional soccer without supporters.

Clearly, no ambitious player would want to waste his time playing in a series of these encounters. This was brought home to me 14 years ago when I interviewed Brazilian left back Branco, a World Cup winner two years earlier, who was at the time negotiating a move to Middlesbrough in England. He told me he was desperate to get away from the state championships, which at the time were even longer than they are today. They were poor competitions of low quality, he said. What surprised me wasn't his observation, which seemed obvious enough, but that he expressed it with such frankness. This line of analysis never seemed to appear in the local press. To the vast majority, the state championships seemed as fixed and natural as Carnaval and Christmas.

Times are changing, and as is so often the case, the force of economics is leading the charge. Brazil's big clubs have learned they can earn much more money and acquire much more visibility from the Libertadores than they can from the state championships. As I pointed out last February, the mid-1990s conquest of hyper-inflation made all of this clear. Before, clubs could meet their obligations by paying late, and there was little incentive to seek a viable structure. With the end of hyper-inflation, the logic of the real world began to apply. And so the clubs gradually started taking the Libertadores much more seriously than the state championships. Like the man said, when you've got them in the pocket, their hearts and minds will follow.

Earlier this month Eduardo Tironi, executive editor of Brazilian sports daily Lance!, issued an attack on the state championships. "The small clubs," he pointed out, "are rented out by agents or maintained by local councils. Carrying on like this will condemn these clubs to eternal insignificance." Correct, but then a professional club without fans deserves eternal insignificance. What it doesn't deserve is a series of pay days against big clubs.

"Nowadays," Tironi wrote, "the state championships are a preseason, a summer tournament which, in a best-case scenario, serves to get the big clubs in form for the rest of the season, or for what really matters in the season."

Here he doesn't go far enough. Preseasons don't usually cost coaches their jobs. Nor do they confirm impressions of a team. A preseason is essentially non-competitive. Team and coach will only be judged when the real stuff starts.

This isn't the case in Brazil. Bad performances in the state championships frequently mean that coaches are sacked. They are competitive tournaments. Only one team per state can win. The other big teams are judged as failures by their fans. So when the national championship kicks off a few days later, it starts on a downer. Fans are already familiar with their team and its defects.

This is a laughable absurdity of organizational incompetence. Brazil adopted the league format for its national championship some seven years ago. The previous system, the playoffs, culminated in exciting finals but started cold. The big advantage of the league is that three points are at stake in every game. So, in theory at least, the action starts hot.

That's certainly the way it is all over Europe. The greatest day of soccer is the first day of the season, the big kickoff. But in order for this to work properly, there must be a pause in competitive action before the competition begins. During this break, new players are signed, perhaps a new coach is brought is and there's time for the magic of fandom to do its trick.

After three months away, the fan is desperate to return to the stadium, and he has managed to convince himself that this year, his team will do something special. So he goes to the early games, builds up identification with the team and then follows it, rain or shine. Without this break, the big asset of the league system is thrown away.

An old master of music in Argentina once said that in order to perform a good tango, the musician had to know how to do a good silence. Organizing a soccer calendar is similar. In order for the presence of soccer to make an impact, there must be an absence of soccer, a soccer silence. The existence of the state championships prevents this pause from happening, and therefore undermines the much more important national championship.

This point -- the importance of a pause before the start of the national championship -- is not widely understood in Brazil. The soccer public, after all, hasn't grown up with the league system. But the debate is beginning, and that can only be healthy. And change is on the way. It will take a while. At the moment, there's little incentive for the big clubs to challenge a power structure that works against their interests. Everyone is hoping for golden rain to fall from the 2014 World Cup.

But before long the big clubs will want to get the calendar right. And at the moment, Brazil is out of sync with everyone. It's difficult to see how the calendar can be brought in line with Europe and the rest of South America while the state championships are maintained. Brazil is changing. Giant and insular, it doesn't do it quickly. It can have the turning circle of an oil tanker. But if they really want to compete with Europe, Flamengo & Co. need to stop wasting their time against the likes of Duque de Caxias.

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Guest Portuguese

Brazilian League will become the richest in a few years time.

2014-World Cup

2016-Olympic Games

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From Vickery's blog:

Electoral year also provides the backdrop for the plan to merge Argentina's first and second divisions into a giant 38-team structure in a new-look league to kick off in a year's time.

The immediate suspicion raised was that this is a manoeuvre to reinstate River Plate in the first division.

The Buenos Aires giants were relegated a month ago, and now have an automatic pass back - providing the unthinkable does not happen and they do not drop to the third this season.

Indeed, the River Plate situation has given an extra urgency to the project. But it does not explain why last Monday 15 first division clubs voted in favour. The political attractiveness of the plan lies in the fact that it offers something for nearly everyone.

The big traditional clubs of Buenos Aires had a shock with River's relegation. Other giants, such as Boca Juniors and Independiente, were looking over their shoulders. They can now feel protected.

But the project is being sold as a profound shift in the direction of decentralising Argentine football, of limiting the historic domination of Buenos Aires by letting the provinces come to the party.

The easy response is that this is happening anyway. As this column has mentioned before, Godoy Cruz of Mendoza, near the Chilean border, have in the last three years taken big strides towards establishing themselves in the first division.

And all four promoted clubs this season are from the provinces - exemplified by River Plate's play-off defeat at the hands of Belgrano of Cordoba.

This huge expansion of the first division, then, protects the Buenos Aires clubs from the rise of the provinces, while also offering more provincial teams a shot at glory - as I say, there is something for everyone.

Except, perhaps, for those who believe in quality. Even with 20 clubs, the standard of the Argentine first division has not been high in recent years, as seen by the generally disappointing performance of the country's representatives in the Copa Libertadores, South America's Champions League.

An increase to 38 clubs would seem to be a charter for generalised mediocrity.

It is interesting that one of the four clubs who did not back the proposal were the current champions Velez Sarsfield. Widely seen as the best run club in the country, Velez have grown and grown in recent years, with a model based on good youth development and sound financial administration.

They are a club striving for excellence, and they seem unconvinced by the new formula for football in the country.

For the moment they are swimming against the tide. In addition to the other clubs, Argentina's government appear in favour of the scheme - a vital detail since the TV rights are state owned.

It is election year in the formal political structure as well, so presumably a calculation has been made that there are votes to be gained from the expansion of the first division.

But for how long? Is this new model viable in the long term?

There are clear problems. One is the fact that at the moment there are no visiting supporters in the second division - the stadiums are not seen as good enough to deal with the country's problem of fan violence.

It is hoped that a new system of personalised ID cards for supporters will save the situation - a technological solution in which the present writer has little confidence.

There is also the problem of the sheer number of meaningless games. The suggestion is as follows - in the first half of the season the teams are divided into two groups of 19.

After the league phase, the top 19 go into another league to spend the second half battling for the title, while the rest are playing to avoid relegation. In practice this could well be unwieldy and dull.

Even in theory it is not going down very well. If enough club presidents feel that their supporters are not in favour then there could even be a rethink before October's assembly - but nothing that will getm Sergio Batista his old job back.


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river plate power moves>>>>

u may remember the bolton chairman tried to intorduce something like this last year where a teams could not get relegated from the championship so teams like leyton oreint, Dag and redbridge etc would never get into top flight

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Heard Tim Vickery talking about this on The World Football Phone-In (5Live). Now River fans will be targets of rivals for being bitch boys to the head of the FA etc, the club have been a mess for years and them going down was going to happen at some stage but for this "rule" to be made is nothing short of a disgrace, I don't want anyone giving me a positive spin that these smaller teams will get to play the big guns, its all bullshit because if they were good enough then they would be in the top flight.

Scary to think 15 clubs voted in favour of this.

Always preferred Boca over River.

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August 2 - Argentina has dropped plans to merge their top two divisions into a 38 team national championship from 2012 after the Argentine Football Association (AFA) announced that it has "suspended consideration of the proposal".

When the plans were made public knowledge they met with almost universal criticism from football fans, players, coaches and the media, with angry supporters even proposing a demonstration outside the AFA's headquarters in Buenos Aires.

The plans have become public knowledge shortly after Buenos Aires giants River Plate's shock relegation from the Premier Division.

River's relegation shocked Argentine football, particularly as the league was set up to prevent a big team from falling into its second tier, with relegation decided over three year periods to prevent one bad season leading to a team's demotion.

The 38 team league would have been divided into two zones of 19 teams, with the top five in each advancing to a 10 team league to determine the overall champion, with the remaining 28 battling to avoid relegation.

But the plans met with popular enthusiasm amongst Argentine clubs as it meant access to the top flight for a number of smaller teams from outside Buenos Aires and the opportunity to decentralise football in the country away from the capital, as well as ensuring more security for bigger teams fearful of following River Plate into the second division.

Accordingly, the proposals were voted through at the AFA last week with an overwhelming 22 votes.

AFA President Julio Grondona (pictured), who put forward the plans and was accused by some of doing so to curry favour with Argentine teams ahead of his Presidential re-election campaign later this year, said that the clubs themselves would initiate any future change.

"The tournament won't change, the idea is suspended," he said.

"I won't call to any assembly in October, November or December, I have no interest in any change.

"It will be the clubs who should take now any further step for making any change to the tournament - changes that they had been claiming for a long time."

The AFA Presidential election takes place in October this year, with FIFA vice-president Grondona hoping to continue his 32-year spell at the helm.

It has been a difficult few weeks for Grondona, who as well as facing criticism over the reformatting of the league has had to appoint a new national team coach, Alejandro Sabella, after Sergio Batista left in the wake of Argentina's shock early exit from the Copa America to eventual winners Uruguay in the quarter finals, a tournament which they were hosting and expected to reach at least the final.


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happy for Velez at least

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Brazilian stars demand revolution through Common Sense FC



First it was the students. Incensed not simply by a rise in the cost of public transport, but by the broadening impasse between public and private interests that it signified, they took to meeting rooms and then to the streets. A hundred people became a thousand and the zeroes kept being added.

Soon, it seemed to the outside world, Brazil was aflame. That may have been partly true, but a far more prevalent feeling – at least within the country itself – was that Brazil was alive. What started as a dispute about bus fares became a rainbow tapestry of causes, claims and (for the most part) contained chaos.

Encouraged by the movement’s adopted slogan, “Vem pra rua!” (Come to the street!), the country found its voice for the first time in over 20 years. It was angry and indignant. It was beautiful.

The protests eventually came to an end, as everything does. But something of the spirit of those few weeks (or is it just the tear gas?) has remained in the air. That, at least, is the only real way of parsing what has been a landmark couple of weeks in Brazilian football.


A group of leading players has begun a protest movement all of its own. Going by the name Bom Senso FC (Common Sense FC), they are calling for a number of changes to be instituted by Brazil’s football federation, the CBF – the most significant of which is a proposed overhaul of the country’s football calendar in 2014.

This has been a long time coming. The flaws in the current system are too numerous to fully explain here, but allow me to give you a flavour.

From January until May, clubs play in local state championships – once the cradle of the game in Brazil but increasingly defined by poor attendances due to the lack of appropriate competition for the big clubs. Imagine Chelsea playing part-timers every week for five months with only games against Fulham, Arsenal and Tottenham to alleviate the boredom.


The national league is thus crammed into a six-month stretch, meaning clubs face a Sunday-Wednesday-Sunday slog for much of the year. It is both a marathon and a sprint. Add in two continental competitions (which couldn’t possibly be played simultaneously, oh no), the Brazilian Cup and frequent international dates – for which the Brasileirão doesn’t pause – and you’ll half an idea of the madness of the thing.

This, of course, is conducive neither to good football nor to the physical wellbeing of the players. And next year the World Cup will be added to the mix, meaning even less rest and even more matches. If players take a month off at the end of the current season, the official CBF calendar, released a fortnight ago, dictates that they will have just five days of pre-season training in 2014.

This was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Corinthians defender Paulo André, a bastion of eloquence and social thinking in the Brazilian game, began to exchange WhatsApp messages with like-minded colleagues – former Fenerbahçe playmaker Alex; veterans Dida and Gilberto Silva. A union of sorts was born.

70 players initially pledged their support for Common Sense FC – which, brilliantly, already has its own club badge – and more expressed interest. They now have 300 signatures and have demanded an audience with the CBF to talk through the issues concerning them.


“We think this will be good for everyone,” said São Paulo goalkeeper Rogério Ceni following a meeting on Monday. “We can raise the standard of Brazilian football – for the fans, for the sponsors, and for the players. This isn’t just a rebellion; we want to work on long-term solutions that will improve things across the divisions.”

It remains to be seen whether the notoriously intransigent CBF will take the group’s demands seriously, but the mere fact that so many footballers – including some who have hopes of playing for the Seleção in the coming months – have put their heads above the parapet bodes well for the health of the game in Brazil.


Long live the revolution.



lets hope this is the start of a movement towards re-structure, article was posted in october and now the CBF have made moves



Good news for Common Sense FC movement in Brazil, CBF to shorten state champ calendar, reducing number of games.



Looks like there will be a rule preventing players appearing in more than seven games per month (with exceptions for continental dates).

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Interesting, Brazil is huge though so I'm not sure a traditional league system would work.


Might have to have it like a blue square north/south ting.

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and there is no need for top clubs to be playing plumbers in front of 30 fans, its ridiculous.


they just need to improve the national league, and scrap the state championship and turn it into a fa cup type competition or adopt some kinda of mls type system for state teams  to gain entry to the national leagues

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The state championships are ridiculous.


I wanted to watch Mineiro play to see Dinho so checked the fixtures, turned out I'd just missed them playing against a team in nearby town Teofilo Toni a week prior and this was amongst fixtures in the Libertadores.


It would be the equivalent of Man Utd playing a club similar in stature to FC United a few days after playing a Champions League game!

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a country of that size would benefit from doing it MLS style, with 2 divisions then a last 8 tournament


how does Russia manage to have a national league on that note?

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all the teams are in the west of Russia huddled together (prem anyway), so probably an area bout one and half times france.

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Jarbas Oliveira/Getty Images
Portuguesa top flight future could hang in the balance due to a costly mistake.

I go to plenty of matches in the Brazilian Championship -- sometimes four a week. And I always leave home in hope, maybe today I'll get an early glimpse at a young player who in five years' time will be a global star. Also, there is the unpredictable nature of what happens. 

In such a big country with so many giant teams, it is impossible to tell beforehand which clubs will be fighting for the title. This year, for example, few saw Cruzeiro among the leading title contenders. But they won with ease. Early favourites such as Corinthians and Sao Paulo had dismal campaigns. It can be fascinating indeed to watch all of this unfold in front of your eyes.

It is disappointing, then, that average crowds for the tournament were less than 15,000 -- lower than Major League Soccer's average attendance of 18,594 in the U.S.

There are a number of reasons for this sad state of affairs, and this article does not intend to outline all of them. Rather, it highlights a couple of reasons to stay at home -- reasons which have become very clear over the past few days.

One is the threat of violence -- shown for all the world to see with the scenes from the Atletico PR-Vasco da Gama game in Joinville little more than a week ago. An image has gripped Brazil's footballing community over the past few days -- that of a father protecting his son from the fight that was taking place around them. How many fathers have been put off taking their children to a match as a result of what happened in Joinville?

True, this was rare, and was in large part due to inept event management in a neutral stadium. Moreover, it is possible that next year's World Cup will leave an important legacy of improved crowd control procedures. But the violence is out there. 

Sociologist Mauricio Murad argues that Brazil now leads the global ranking in football related deaths, the vast majority of which take place far from the stadium and often not even on match days. And it is by no means just football-related violence that keeps people at home, it is all the social problems of a society with such unequal income distribution.

But there is also another reason to stay at home. Why bother to go watch a spectacle in which the lawyers are more important than the centre forwards?

Theoretically the Brazilian Championship ended on Sunday, Dec. 8. In practice, though, no one knows when it will really come to a climax. The question of who goes down to the second division is going to be decided in the courtroom.

Little Portuguesa of Sao Paulo had acquired enough points to ensure their first division survival with a game to spare -- a remarkable achievement for a club seen by almost everyone as relegation certainties. But it is here that the confusion starts.

In their final game, a glorified friendly, they brought on substitute Heverton for the last 15 minutes. It seems, however, that he should have been serving the second game of a two-game suspension. Whether Portuguesa were correctly informed of this situation is one of the points to be debated.

The substance is, though, that the club fielded an ineligible player. According to the rulebook, this entails a loss of points gained in the match concerned (one, because it was a draw), plus a three-point penalty. This would put Portuguesa down into the relegation zone, which would seem like a punishment out of all proportion to the crime committed.

Buda Mendes/Getty ImagesFluminese's terrible season could be saved from a technicality.

By coincidence, the team that would benefit from such a scenario is Fluminense, the 2012 champions, who had a disastrous run with injuries and ended up in the final weeks of the campaign slipping into the relegation zone. The problem here is that Fluminense have a previous record of sneaking away from certain relegation. They are the grand old man of Brazilian football, the traditional club of the Rio de Janeiro elite, which gives them considerable political power.

They should have been relegated at the end of 1996. But then a refereeing scandal was discovered, and relegation was canceled. They did go down a year later, and dropped down to the third division at the end of the following season. Once again, a legal imbroglio came to their rescue. 

After winning the third division, a new model of championship was brought into effect, and they ended up jumping straight back into the first division, without having to go through the second.

Clearly, none of the current problem is Fluminense's fault. They have no involvement with the circumstances or the fact that Portuguesa appear to have selected an ineligible player. And they have no power of decision to determine what happens next -- that lies with Brazil's convoluted sports justice system, and, after all of their deliberations there is every chance that it will proceed to the ordinary justice system.

But this is, nevertheless, a wonderful opportunity for Fluminense to take a leadership role entirely in keeping with the immense contribution that the club has made to Brazilian football. 

Oliveira/Getty Images
Fluminense has benefitted from some controversal decision in the past, is it time for the club to repay those favors and help Portugesa?

Imagine if Fluminense issued a statement on the following lines; acknowledging that Portuguesa were guilty of nothing more than an administrative slip up, and that there was no intention to gain a sporting advantage, nor sporting advantage gained, from a 15-minute appearance by an ineligible player in an irrelevant game. That in the light of this, a punishment of four points to Portuguesa is disproportionate to the crime; a more appropriate penalty would be an administrative fine, together with the loss of the one point gained in the match concerned. It would be the honorable thing for Fluminense to do, albeit unlikely. 

This might seem utopian. But then again, a few months ago, who would have thought that Brazilians in the millions would be out on the streets protesting? Who could have imagined that Brazil's footballers would give a show of common sense and unity, staging intelligent protests in favour of an improved calendar and better working conditions?

Fluminense have a chance now to send a powerful message -- that the country is changing, that it is no longer a case of every man (or club) for him (or itself), that the concept of the common good exists. The ball is on the penalty spot.

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