The Rio Report

Players must take stand after more illogical tinkering in Brazil

The Rio Report

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FIFA president Sepp Blatter with Marco Polo Del Nero

A month ago I wrote about Common Sense FC, the informal players’ union set up to agitate for change to the Brazilian football calendar.

The movement has gained even more traction in the weeks since, with membership swelling and the head honchos of the game – never ones to neglect the chance to hitch their horses to a popular cause – voicing support.

The group, who have recently been calling for coaches and other non-playing staff to take part in discussions, were granted an audience with the CBF in late October.

The federation appears to be largely receptive to their demands – for a guaranteed one-month break between the end of one season and the start of the next; for a maximum number of games in a year – but opinions differ over the timescale of the calendar rejig: Common Sense FC wants the changes to take effect immediately, whereas the CBF sees 2015 as a more realistic target.

The latter must have spent at least 10 minutes drafting up the insane World-Cup-disrupted schedule for 2014, after all.

So far, so positive. But just when lucidity and reason appeared to be storming the gates of the madhouse, someone had to go and do something stupid.

The guilty party on this occasion was the head of the São Paulo state football association (FPF), Marco Polo Del Nero – a man whose appetite for discovery is rather more modest than that of his more famous Venetian namesake, fixated, as it is, only upon the limits of his own idiocy.

Last week, Del Nero announced a new format for the local state championship at a glitzy gala night. It was meant to be a moment for celebration, as the FPF bravely embraced the future. Instead, onlookers were utterly baffled by what they saw – and not just because some poor soul had managed to spell the names of four teams incorrectly on the PowerPoint presentation.

The existing 20-team, single-round-robin-followed-by-knockout-stages system – itself not the simplest of set-ups – is to be replaced by something far more Byzantine.

The sides will be split into four groups of five, with Corinthians, São Paulo, Santos and Palmeiras arbitrarily kept apart.

But rather than play the four other teams in their group (that would be far too obvious), each side will play the 15 that are not in their section. After that, the top two in each group (of teams who have not played but are still ranked against each other) meet to decide who progresses to the semi-final stage.

The problem with this (aside from the obvious “Er, what?” factor) is that it could ensure last-four places for sides who have clearly been out-performed by other sides in the tournament.

Five teams in one group could win their first 15 games of the season, yet three would still be eliminated. One side in a group with five that lost all their games would still advance to the semi-finals.

This, of course, brings back memories of the myriad systems and loopholes used to decide the destination of the national championship before a European-style round robin was finally adopted in 2003.

Between 1971 and 2002, the Brasileirão used 32 different sets of rules – some of which bare the hallmarks of class-A parody.

In 1974, for instance, Nacional de Manaus and Fluminense reached the second stage of the competition because matchday revenue was used as a tiebreaker.

Naturally, this flip-flopping created a thousand grey areas. Until fairly recently, Brazil’s biggest clubs could avoid relegation with a well-timed rule change, while a number of titles are still disputed until this day.

The reorganisation of the Paulistão is unlikely to have such drastic consequences, admittedly. But such an illogical move just proves the need for an entity like Common Sense FC in Brazil.

If the players don’t speak out against tinkering suits, it seems that no one will.

Jack Lang writes about Brazilian football for the Guardian, ESPN FC, When Saturday Comes and WhoScored, among others.

Follow him on Twitter: @snap_kaka_pop

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