Behavior Sports

Is the calendar really the great villain of Brazilian soccer?

Is the calendar really the great villain of Brazilian soccer?

I can tell you that I am not. Perhaps I am the lone voice on this issue.

We are halfway through the season and we already hear fans, coaches, players and sports commentators complaining about the Brazilian soccer calendar. They claim that the championship is the most competitive in the world due to its unpredictability (even if it is due to the low level of technical quality of the teams) and that the physical wear and tear is too great due to the excess of matches. Indeed, if we look at the Brazilian championship since 1971, there are a myriad of champions: 17 clubs. In the Brazilian Cup, the number is similar to 16. Thus, practically all clubs in the first and second divisions of the Brazilian championship have already been national champions, and we rarely have a repetition of champions in the same tournament, which causes the false impression that a technical balance persists between the teams.

This balance may have been true in the past, when all clubs were indebted and poorly managed - usually as a result of a caricature president. Today, Flamengo and Palmeiras stand out from the rest in terms of economics and squad because they have been competent in their management, which is why they alternate success in the continent's major tournaments. Both are financially sound and manage to sign and keep the country's and continent's top players with high salaries and present and future projects that attract elite players. But, as always happens, at the end of each season we always have a winner - or a few winners, if we consider the other Brazilian and continental championships. The justification for defeat is always the same: the calendar. Even when in the final match of a championship a player misses a penalty or a goal in front of the goalkeeper, or even when the goalkeeper takes a chicken, the calendar is always the biggest villain.

Nothing more common and beaten than hearing coaches complaining about the sequence of games of the teams when participating in the main competitions involving Brazilian teams.

Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp's surprise to discover that his opponent in the 2019 Club World Cup final had already played more than 72 matches this season became a milestone in this discussion. The team in question was Flamengo who, despite all this load of disputed matches, were Brazilian and Libertadores champions with a very tough game in the world cup final against the then best team in the world, coached by Klopp. Abel Ferreira's complaints were also famous in 2020, when his Palmeiras finished fourth in the same tournament, having lost the semi-final and third-place playoff to Tigres of Mexico and Al Ahly of Saudi Arabia, respectively. The coach singled out attrition as the main culprit for such poor results and distilled his now-famous and exalted criticisms.

If a Brazilian team goes through all competitions and reaches the final stages of each of them, it will play more than 70 games in 10 or 11 months, depending on the pre-season period and the players' vacations, which gives an average of less than two matches per week. Machester City, for example, played 69 official matches in the 2022/2023 season), while Real Madrid played around 61 official matches in the same season. The fact is: more matches are played in Brazil than in other South American and European leagues. But what does that mean? That there is an increasing need for good planning. The new season starts the year before, even before the current one ends.

I provoke the reader with the following question: is the calendar really the main villain of Brazilian soccer? Is it the main culprit for defeats, as coaches and managers insist? Is it what makes Brazilian teams succumb to European teams? Or is it all a stick for coaches and managers to justify poor planning for the season?

Lack of time to train or resources to hire? Which is worse?

I tend to disagree with those who blame the calendar. And for that, I invite you to some reflections. The first: soccer has become a big business, like any other, in which large sums of money are heavily injected in exchange for sporting results and financial returns. It involves passion, it is true, disputes behind the scenes and hidden actions of the "Supernatural de Almeida", but it is still a business that demands millionaire figures to build competitive teams. In a previous article, I already wrote that planning leads to victories, and like any large company, planning the year ahead and the 5 years to come is the key to success. More technically qualified teams with well-sized squads stand apart from the others, but if there is no financial stability and proper planning, they will succumb the following year and will not become sustainably competitive teams. This is the case of Corinthians and Atlético Mineiro, who favored sporting competitiveness at the expense of financial stability. That is why they live on occasional surprises. However, this surprise effect will become increasingly rare in soccer, as it is already rare in other sports.

It is increasingly clear that the best squads enter as favorites, stand out and grab the biggest sponsorship and image rights. The dynamic generates a virtuous circle: the more the team wins, the bigger its fans get, it sells more sporting goods and the number of members grows, generating more income for the club, in addition to the so-called television funds. Let's look at the following logic: Flamengo has approximately 45 million fans, if only 5% of the fans sign up as supporter, we will have 2.5 million paying members. The cheapest socio-supporter program costs R$ 50.00, which multiplied by 2.5 million fans members gives R$ 125 million per month, which multiplied by 12 months equals R$ 1.5 billion reais annually. That is, only with the partner-fan Flamengo already reaches globally significant figures. This exponentially increases the club's investment capacity in its soccer team. Add to that the sale of broadcasting matches, shirts, ticket sales and the sale of players to Europe. This is where the main advantage of the extensive Brazilian soccer calendar lies.

The business model of Brazilian soccer is based on the enormous capacity to train young players and sell them to European clubs. This sale currently depends on international agents who intermediate these millionaire transactions, due to their relationships with European clubs. The Brazilian club is then at the mercy of these agents who choose the best business opportunities, since European clubs have a finite budget and must respect financial fair play each season. Bringing this example to the business world, imagine Vale, Brazil's largest exporter of iron ore, needing intermediary agents outside the company to meet its budget. This is not how it works in the business world. Vale has third-party agents, the so-called traders, but these represent a much smaller share of its revenue management.

Clubs therefore need to give visibility to young players. And this visibility only happens if these young players are on the field, even occasionally, in the first team. Therefore, in order to generate cash, get visibility for sponsors, encourage its supporters to sign up for a supporter program, a team needs to play. Play in as many championships as possible, qualify for international tournaments and even, if possible, tour other countries. Does it make sense then to see managers clamoring for fewer games? No entrepreneur would complain about having too many customers to serve. They would seek to grow their business, their sales teams, so that they can serve more and more customers. Why do soccer teams complain instead of structuring themselves?

This is not the only point. As a still generous slice of clubs' revenues comes from selling players, the youth ranks need to be improved and developed. The young pearls of the teams need to live with this environment of high competition and face opponents of a higher level than the base games. One of the great advantages of a well-equipped and modern training center is that it allows them to interact with professional players and thus facilitate the training and education of young people. Not to mention the social aspect of clubs investing in the bases and taking our young people out of poverty, and why not say children, who often change their hometown, leave their parents and still at a young age play in the big soccer centers to have at least two meals a day and some opportunity in life, in which their talent at least can compete with the other more affluent players.

If the number of games is reduced, how will these boys have space to appear? Precisely for this reason, European teams buy boys with little or almost no experience in professional soccer and then resell them for several times more. There they gain space to play, improve and, consequently, become more expensive. Often we don't even know the young Brazilian who moved abroad without ever having played in a professional team in Brazil.

In this way, the calendar can help in the formation of these young players. Many people criticize the state championships, something that is unique to a continental country like Brazil. But why not use this tournament as a pre-season? Why not use the youth teams in these competitions, and save the first team for the final stages? Why, instead of complaining about the calendar, don't managers fight against clauses that force teams to play with their main squads in matches that are empty in the qualifying phase of state competitions?

Brazil is a country that produces players. In 2022, we remained at the top of the ranking of countries that export the most, well ahead of France and Argentina, respectively second and third on the list. This should be another reason to encourage our leaders to seek more opportunities for their teams to play. This is the cycle that allows wealth to be generated for clubs, which can invest in the base, in infrastructure and in building more abundant squads, mixed between young and more experienced athletes. This way, everyone could win.

Awareness needs to change across the soccer ecosystem. Grumpy coaches and post-loss excuses in press conferences will always exist. But they cannot cover up the fact that our soccer loses competitiveness every year because our clubs are increasingly mired in debt. And the lack of money is not the cause, because everything has grown lately: broadcasting rights, the value of player sales and even the audience in the stadiums. But there is a lack of management to turn resources into solid progress. Just as the packed calendar is an excuse, so is the lack of money circulating. Otherwise, what explains the fact that the Libertadores, a tournament that just a few years ago was a specialty of our Latin hermanos, has become a competition that, with the exception of one or two Argentine teams, is largely dominated by Brazilian teams? Professionalizing management is no longer a choice but a matter of survival for most national teams. No wonder we have not won a World Cup for so long or our teams have found it increasingly difficult against the "powers" of the Arab world. Because this is a problem that permeates all spheres of Brazilian soccer. Certainly our calendar can be improved, but it is by far the least of our current problems.

About Author

Maurício Ferro

What do soccer, wine, law, politics, and economics have in common? Much more than you can imagine. And contrary to what the popular saying says, they can and should be debated and analyzed, yes. Welcome to Maurício Ferro's site, a channel to create and exchange thoughts and opinions. Maurício Ferro is a lawyer, graduated from PUC university in Rio de Janeiro, with a Master's degree and specializations from universities such as the London School and the University of London. He studied OPM at Harvard Business School. Author of published works in the commercial and capital markets areas, and acting in the Board of Directors of large companies, he based his legal and executive career with a focus on Business Law. But his passion goes beyond the corporate world. A passionate Flamenguista, Mauricio knows the ins and outs of the professional world of soccer and other sports. He is a partner in innovative companies such as 2Blive, a global startup focused on technological solutions to fill the education gap, especially in areas of great need such as Africa. He also invests in the Flow Kana company, based in California, and focused on the scientific production of cannabis for various purposes, such as medicinal, clothing production, or recreational use. To all these ingredients, add a deep knowledge of wine and the delicious ways of winemaking. That is the recipe for what you will find here.

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