No field of dreams for Ronaldinho on return to Flamengo
If you build it, they will come, runs the popular misquote of the line from Kevin Costner’s finest moment. And ploughing up corn to build a field for phantom baseball players probably makes for a better business plan than that of the whitest of Rio de Janeiro elephants, the Estádio Olímpico João Havelange, better known as the Engenhão.
The Engenhão is the unloved ugly sister of the spiritual home of Brazilian and carioca football, the Maracanã, and the “blue mosaic”, as the sea of empty seats at the ground has been dubbed, is by now a depressingly familiar sight. Clarence Seedorf is probably on first name terms with most of the three or four thousand who have showed up for some Botafogo games, and attendances for Flamengo and Fluminense haven`t been much better, with averages for both hovering around the 9,000 mark (despite the latter leading the league).
There are many reasons for the miserable crowds in the Brasileirão, among them inconvenient kick-off times, the pricing out of the game’s core, working class fans, the (real or imagined) fear of violence, easy access to games on pay-per-view TV, the devaluation of the league season with a nonsensical calendar, and the dubious stoicism of the average Brazilian fan. But all that was forgotten last night as, for once, the Engenhão was packed to the rafters for Flamengo v Atlético Mineiro.
Reduced ticket prices helped, but the real attraction was the return to the Cidade Maravilhosa of Ronaldinho Gaúcho, transformed into pantomime villain after his remarkably acrimonious departure from Flamengo four months ago. A police escort was provided for Mr. Gaúcho at the airport, and a Fla torcida organizada distributed 30,000 whistles to create a suitably hostile atmosphere.
But in the end, although there was the predictable downpour of boos from the Flamengo less-than-faithful (despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary from the ticket office, the club and its fans continue to boast hollowly of having anything up to 40 million fans), the vitriol failed to hit expected levels of unpleasantness.
Perhaps part of the reason was the awareness that, while Ronaldinho is supposedly the one sporting a black cape and perfecting an evil cackle, the shambolic current state of Flamengo makes the club, and current president Patricia Amorim, at least partly to blame. After all, Ronaldinho`s inspirational performances for Atlético have at least partly justified the argument that his listlessness at Flamengo was due to the club`s failure to pay his wages.
Th’ whole worl’s in a terrible state o’ chassis, said Captain Boyle in Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock, but it is a sane and well-ordered place compared with the current state of Brazil`s biggest club. On the field, other than Vágner Love, Flamengo are a side without a clear identity, and have spent most of this year limping along perilously close to the relegation zone. Off it, financial mismanagement abounds. The club has been unable to negotiate a main shirt sponsor for this year`s Brasileirão, while three players who have recently left the club (one of whom is Ronaldinho) are claiming a total of R$51/£16 million in unpaid wages. Total estimated debt stands at close to – wait for it – half a billion reais, and though the club has some promising young players, a Lucas Moura style windfall seems some way off.
It is hard to avoid the feeling that the rot starts at the top. Amorim has done little during her time in office except indulge in shameless grandstanding, a fine example of which was thrusting a Flamengo shirt in front of a perplexed Barack Obama during a visit to Rio last year. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, factionalism has become the order of the day, most notably involving finance director Michel Levy. As former great Zico put it, “today’s Flamengo has died in my heart, represented by people that I’ve never even met, but that walk around as if they owned the club.”
Perhaps the best reading of Amorim’s popularity at Flamengo was provided by the rejoicing that followed this week’s announcement that she intends to stand for re-election at the end of the year. The only snag was that the celebrations were from supporters of other clubs.
At least last night’s game provided some crumbs of comfort for Flamengo. The home side gave a spirited display, winning a stormy affair 2-1 with goals from Love and former Sporting and Corinthians star Liédson, to leave Atlético`s title bid looking decidedly peaky. Ronaldinho, meanwhile, seemed intent on recreating the very worst of his Flamengo days, and was surly and ineffective throughout.
Getting back to Mr. Costner’s corn, Flamengo fans will hope that yesterday was a sign of richer harvests to come.Tagged in: flamengo, football, Ronaldinho
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