Football column: Falling short of goal

Accustomed to winning, São Paulo is in the midst of its biggest-ever crisis

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Goalkeeper Rogério Ceni

‘I have Libertadores, I don’t need to rent a stadium. I’m a six-time champion, I’ve never been relegated. I am, I am tri-colour.’ Ringing out from the stands at São Paulo FC matches, the chant is a favourite among supporters, and an apt representation of the team whose fans deservedly call it Soberano (Sovereign), a nickname it has cherished throughout its history. But São Paulo’s recent showing is far from befitting a king.

Although 2012 ended on a high note with the Copa Sudamericana title, 2013 once again found it singing the blues. The side struggled from the onset of the Copa Libertadores, and was at the brink of an unprecedented early exit before narrowly clinching the final spot in the round of 16. It was a short stay of execution, though: it was promptly knocked out by Atlético Mineiro, which went on to win the title. The team suffered a similar fate at the hands of rival and eventual champion Corinthians in the 2013 Campeonato Paulista.

And things continue to go wrong in the Brasileirão. The paulistano team has gotten off to a worse start than did Corinthians in 2007 and Palmeiras in 2012 – the respective years in which their in-town rivals were relegated to Série B – and it has amassed a slew of record lows: that’s fourteen games without a victory, and eight consecutive defeats, six of which were at home. Adding insult to injury, the team has also beaten its previous record period of time without scoring a goal.

Now, with the midway point of the season upon it, São Paulo continues to lurk close to the relegation zone. But with a star-studded cast of players that includes Paulo Henrique Ganso, Jadson and Osvaldo, what exactly is keeping the team from gelling?

Despite their talents and accomplishments, veterans Rogério Ceni and Luís Fabiano don’t seem to be able to offer as much as they used to; and the somewhat dictatorial President Juvenal Juvêncio, who’s been in charge since 2006, has been singled out as a villain on a team that was once held up as an example for its administration and organisation.

Controversy and finger-pointing has dominated off the pitch, too, with the manager, Paulo Autuori, being fired and Muricy Ramalho brought back in the hopes that the good results of his previous stint might be due a repeat. He got off to a flying start, snagging three victories in a row against competitors also fighting relegation: Ponte Preta, Vasco da Gama and Atlético-MG.

But perhaps Série B would be good for São Paulo: Corinthians rose from the ashes of relegation to win the following Copa do Brasil. A similar fall from grace could help São Paulo return to ‘sovereignty’, too. Try telling that to SP’s supporters – they’d much rather keep singing about never having gone down. The players will have to do everything in their power to make sure the words to that song continue to ring true.

By Cecília Gianesi


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