The pre-season meetings of Confederação Brasileira de Futebol – Brazilian football’s governing body – are always an intriguing event. Like in any South American federation, rules and regulations change year by year, and the annual meeting, nestled smack dab in the middle of the state leagues, can help serve as a refresher to what will actually be legal or otherwise in this year’s Brasilerião, writes Austin Miller.
The 2018 edition of these meetings happened on Monday, and while the headline coming out was that the Brasilerião would not have VAR in 2018 (a discussion well worth having — just not here, and not now) another significant change was the CBF allowing clubs to, once again, occasionally host matches outside of their home state.
For 2018, clubs will be permitted to host up to five matches outside of their usual home venue(s), provided that both clubs competing agree to the change, and the match in question does not take place in the final five match days of the competition.
Following the completion of the 2014 World Cup, there were a number of stadiums in Brazil that were either left without regular tenants, or left without tenants playing club football at a high level. Among these were the Estádio Mané Garrincha in Brasília and the Arena da Amazônia in Manaus. While issue can (and should) be taken with the fact that these stadiums were built at all, now that they have been, something should be done to at least attempt to recoup some of the construction cost.
That’s why, in 2015 and 2016, Brazilian clubs from outside these cities – and others, such as Cuiabá and Natal – began playing league matches at these grounds. Chief among this trend were Flamengo, Brazil’s most popular club, who played many matches in Brasília while the Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro was unavailable due to the 2016 Olympics.
One of the best atmospheres I’ve seen for a Brasileirão match took place not at the home stadium for either club, but at the Mané Garrincha in Brasília during a Thursday night league match between Flamengo and Coritiba in 2015. 66,000 fans were in attendance for Coritiba’s stunning 2×0 win, a fantastic atmosphere silenced only by the play of the visitors:
However, Flamengo’s long-distance travels took their toll on the club, as by the time they returned to the Maracanã in late 2016, they were a tired bunch, after racking up more miles of travel than their opponents. In 2017, the CBF banned clubs from moving matches outside of their home state. It wasn’t just the potential adverse effect on players that led to the decision, though: there was a belief that certain clubs were gaining unfair advantages.
2016 was a dreadful year for América-MG. The small club from Belo Horizonte, a distant third in comparison to their city rivals Cruzeiro and Atlético Mineiro, found themselves overmatched in the Brasilerião. At one point, the club went over 600 consecutive minutes without scoring a league goal. By the final 10 matches of the year, it was quite clear América were going down, so the club did what they could to lighten the financial pain: they sold matches.
A Sunday home date with champions-elect Palmeiras was sold to Londrina, where a marketing group paid América for the hosting rights, then watched as nearly 30,000 Palmeiras supporters filled the stadium for an América “home” match. Palmeiras won easily, and questions were asked of América, who were simply looking to make some extra cash before they went down to the second division.
So when the CBF voted to prohibit clubs from moving matches in 2017, it was a decision clearly made with plenty of valid reasons. However, I for one am happy to see that they’ve changed their stance.
These matches are a great way to utilise seldom-used World Cup stadiums, while also giving supporters of a club from outside their base city a chance to see their side play. Furthermore, given the glut of fixtures for Brazilian sides every year, taking a few away from home for added exposure and the chance for a bigger crowd shouldn’t be a cause for dissent.
Let’s look again at Flamengo, the side in Brazil with the biggest support and the club that has most frequently moved matches in the past. In 2017, Flamengo played 43 matches at “home” across 7 different stadiums. 7 times the club packed more than 50,000 fans into the historic Maracanã, including for crucial Libertadores and Sul-Americana matches.
But at the other end of the spectrum, Flamengo had 15 matches with fewer than 9,000 fans in attendance in 2017, many of which took place at the Estádio Luso-Brasileiro in Rio de Janeiro. While some of those were state league matches against small teams, 7 of them were Brasileirão matches, the majority of which took place on weeknights.
Thus, taking a couple of those matches to Brasília or Manaus (or even Cuiabá) shouldn’t be the end of the world for Flamengo or their supporters. There are so many home matches to go around; why not share the love a little for the sake of atmosphere?
While issues like those presented by América x Palmeiras are unfortunate, they are unavoidable in the Brazilian game. Those seeking “competitive fairness” are looking at the wrong competition. Clubs rotate and rest players for domestic league matches all the time. Some teams benefit from playing against an opponent’s reserve side here and there, and some don’t. It’s just how it is. América are back in the Brasileirão this year, and odds are they’ll probably sell a home match or two at some point.
But that shouldn’t take away from the overall benefits of allowing this practice to go on. Think back to that Thursday night in Brasília in 2015, when 66,000 watched Flamengo x Coritiba. If that match is in Rio, odds are the crowd is fewer than 10,000. Which of those scenarios are better for the game?
Austin Miller is a Chicago-based journalist covering Brazilian and South American club football for the World Football Index. He can be found on Twitter @austin_james906