The 2013 Campeonato Brasileiro (‘Brasileirão’) will go down as a championship to forget for the major São Paulo sides. Amongst them, Santos secured the best place in the competition, finishing 7th despite the departure of Neymar, followed by São Paulo, which spent most of the season struggling to avoid relegation before a late surge propelled it to 9th place. Starting out as serious favourites, Corinthians came in a disappointing 10th place, while Palmeiras lived up to expectations, winning Série B of the Brasileirão, and ensuring its return to Série A in 2014.
Portuguesa, meanwhile, narrowly escaped relegation, as two great Rio sides (Fluminense and Vasco) went down instead, only to be penalised four points for having played a suspended player in the last game, and relegated to Série B in place of Flu – a decision that is still being disputed in the courts.
To top the whole thing off, another off-the-pitch spat brought the season as a whole to a bitter end, when an all-out fight between supporters of Vasco da Gama and Atlético Paranaense in the championship’s last round produced violent – and embarrassing – images for a country poised to host the World Cup.
Thus, thanks to the poor performance by São Paulo’s teams in 2013, this year has got off to an atypical start. This time last year, and every year since 2002, at least two of the major paulista teams would be setting off on their way around South America in pursuit of the Copa Libertadores trophy – the main continental championship, which takes place in the first half of the year – and a ticket to the FIFA Club World Cup. But for the first time in 15 years, SP state doesn’t have a single team in the running.
With Libertadores out of the picture, the Campeonato Paulista, better known as the Paulistão is set to be the main competition for São Paulo teams during the first half of the season, rather than the pre-season warm up it usually is, which should mean a livelier state championship than we’ve seen in the last few years, with fuller and more focused squads.
In the wake of the departure of Corinthians coach Tite, the team welcomes Mano Menezes back for his second coaching stint – he had left in 2010 to train the Brazilian national side. The striker Pato, who has yet to prove himself a good investment for the team, will be looking to impress Menezes.
Palmeiras signed São Paulo defender Lúcio, who was kept out of the squad for disciplinary reasons throughout the second half of 2013, while Leandro Damião, still fighting for a spot on Felipão’s national side, went to Santos in the off-season’s biggest signing.
As it stands, the next few months look set to be an interminable wait for this year’s Campeonato Brasileiro, which kicks off in April – not to mention the rapidly approaching World Cup. But with the Campeonato Paulista in greater focus, and familiar faces in new places, there is hope that supporters will have something to get excited about before we hear the World Cup starting whistle in June.