In a game where only eleven players can be on the field at any one time, and substitutions regularly sway the outcome of a game, it would seem reasonable for players to expect to spend some time on the bench at one point or another. Not so, judging by the petulant behaviour of São Paulo Futebol Clube’s players as of late, and the team’s woes have continued as a result.
Despite having one of the country’s most talented rosters – on paper, at least – they haven’t been able to put it together as a group. Combining former Brazil national team standouts Luís Fabiano, Lúcio and Rogério Ceni with up-and-coming stars Paulo Henrique Ganso, Jadson and Osvaldo, the team should be hitting full stride in its current Libertadores campaign. Instead, they seem tactically lost, and tempers are starting to flare.
The first episode of the latest footie soap began when Ganso, who helped lead Santos to the 2011 Libertadores title, voiced his displeasure over being pulled early in the second half of the Palmeiras derby. Not to be outdone, Lúcio left the field without greeting his substitute in a match against Arsenal de Sarandí, and headed straight to the bus, and not the bench as is customary. Luxury coaches may be comfier than benches for 34-year-old veterans, but when asked why he’d stormed off the pitch, he replied: ‘when I left, it was 0x0’, a not-so-subtle slight at the coach’s decision, as Arsenal won 2x1.
Lúcio had to apologize publicly for his diva-esque stunt, and rode the bench for the following match as punishment. São Paulo Futebol Clube Coach Ney Franco – who’s on the brink of losing support from the dressing room – threatened to relegate him to the bench permanently if it were to happen again. Finding themselves at the brink of elimination in Libertadores, São Paulo must start playing as a team, and fast.
Perhaps they should follow the lead of their crosstown rival, Corinthians. Tite, the Corinthiano coach, has a simple solution for choosing who will play – meritocracy. Whoever is playing better will see more time on the field, regardless of tenure, stature or past performance.
Emerson Sheik, for one, was a hero during the team’s 2012 title run, but finds himself riding the pine nonetheless. Pato – the most expensive purchase in Brazilian football history – had his time there as well. But regardless of which player keeps the bench warm, no one questions Tite and the emphasis is always on the team. So is there merit in the meritocracy? The proof is in the pudding – the team has won three major titles in the last year and a half, despite a lack of superstars.
This recent success has been attributed to the Brazilian saying ‘a união faz a força’, which roughly translates to ‘united we stand’. If São Paulo wants to win, they’ll have to stop worrying about who’s on the bench and start using Corinthians as a benchmark.