By Paulo Freitas –
As Brazilian football finds itself at a crossroads after hosting the last World Cup, Marco Polo Del Nero starts his four-year term as the new president of the Brazilian Football Confederation, succeeding José Maria Marin.
At first glance the change and its timing might be good for Brazilian football given Marin’s poor work leading the country’s FA, highlighted by the Seleção’s fiasco in the World Cup and the construction of several white elephants to host the competition.
Brazil’s disastrous result at the World Cup was a wake-up call as it exposed how much Brazil is lagging behind the main football powers and it emphasized the need to modernize the country’s archaic and unbalanced football structure, in order to make Brazilian football more competitive and profitable.
Indeed, Brazil’s biggest clubs play around 60 games every season while the small clubs generally play only the state leagues, which take place from February to May, thus thousands of players remain unemployed during the rest of the year.
Bom Senso F.C – Reforming the State Leagues
The problem could be solved by turning the state leagues into lower regional divisions that are played at the same time as the national championship, with a yearlong national calendar for both big and small clubs. This would reduce the amount of midweek games and allow the tournaments to stop on FIFA dates. This idea was proposed by the Bom Senso FC movement, which includes many of the most famous players in Brazilian football.
The idea is not popular among the powers that run football in the country, as it would lead to the weakening or even disappearance of the state football associations. State football Associations, however, are the main forces behind the Brazilian Football Confederation, since they are the majority among those who vote in the Brazilian FA presidential elections and thus they have the power to determine the future of Brazilian football.
Former president José Maria Marin was openly opposed to any big changes in the structure and unsurprisingly so is the new president Marco Polo Del Nero, as he was handpicked by Marin to be his successor. Del Nero also used to be the president of the São Paulo State FA, which is the strongest state football association in the country, thus he has a strong connection with the traditional political structure of football in Brazil.
The decline of the state leagues has not gone unnoticed among some of the big clubs and a few of them, most notably Flamengo and Fluminense, have announced plans to create a new league to be run independently from the national and state FAs.
A Brazilian Premier League?
Besides the lack of quality and attractiveness of the state leagues, the country’s major clubs feel the state FAs are arbitrary, too greedy and have little interest in improving the competitions they organize. A new league run by the clubs themselves would allow them to circumvent the state FAs and increase their profits and control their own destiny.
Such a new league is unlikely to be supported by Marco Polo Del Nero, and it will also require the approval of Globo, the nation’s most powerful media company and the owner of the Brazilian top division TV rights. Globo’s support of this initiative remains uncertain, but the ever-declining TV ratings of the state leagues could convince them to think otherwise.
Del Nero will need good political skills to handle the situation as the popularity of the state leagues declines while the pressure from the big clubs and from the general public in Brazil to change the football calendar continues to increase. A wrong move and he will risk losing the support of the state FAs, while the big clubs might feel more encouraged in future to break the current structure if they are not appeased.
In order to appease the clubs and prevent an independent league, Del Nero has already indicated he will try to increase the TV money received by most of the clubs, so that the financial gap between Flamengo, Corinthians and smaller clubs will not continue to increase.
As the struggle for power in Brazilian football continues, it remains to be seen if Del Nero will be able to maintain the current political structure or if the clubs will manage to finally challenge the traditional powers and decide their own future.
Paulo is a Brazilian lawyer and journalist based in Rio de Janeiro and also Brazil’s head researcher for the computer game Football Manager. You can follow Paulo on Twitter @Cynegeticus.