Refresh Time for Brazilian Clubs
April and May is the time of year when Brazilian clubs actively review their rosters and consider how they can improve them in preparation for national tournaments, or downsize them to match the financial and competitive opportunities remaining in the year for the club. In this regard, it is generally understood that the larger clubs at the highest levels nationally have the larger budgets and the better playing opportunities for players. Typically, they are looking for players while smaller team are more likely to be letting players go. Middle-tier clubs with a place in national competitions are trying to hold onto their talent and often add to it as well. There are, however, some interesting situations from time to time that don’t fit nicely into this description.
First of all, to truly understand the mindset behind Brazilian club management, one has to start with an appreciation for the fact that the state competitions are separate and independent competitions from national competitions and rosters can be modified for each. While representing a trophy to be won and a source of revenue, each club will see state competitions as a different opportunity depending on its individual circumstances. Big clubs will test players in the state competition while they concurrently compete in national (Copa do Brasil) or international (Copa Libertadores) competitions. Mid-tier clubs with positions in national league competitions will be looking to build an affordable and competitive team while achieving a positive performance in the state competition. Clubs without positions in the national competitions will be looking to perform well enough in their state competition to gain consideration for entry to the national league competitions (Serie D) and possibly also the following year’s Copa do Brasil. In other words, the balancing of state tournament objectives and aspirations at the national level need to be done in light of a club’s financial capabilities and the pressure of fan expectations.
Players and their representatives also have a balancing act to play in state competitions. While highly-recognized-established players will have their longer-term contracts, the majority of players are still seeking contracts that provides some financial security. They face the task of balancing the need for a contract with an acceptable pay rate with an opportunity to present their skills on a stage that will attract clubs that can offer financial security. At very least, these players would like to gain an acceptable salary and an attractive opportunity in the following national league competitions to continue to build their professional profile. Consequently, many players are signed with small clubs on short-term contracts covering only the term of the current competition.
The balancing act that some small clubs face is most evident when the club is without a place at the national level. In the top-level competition in Sao Paulo (commonly called the Paulistao), higher-placed clubs like Mogi Mirim, Mirassol, Linense, and Paulista FC did not have a place at the national level when the state competition began. To understand why clubs do not want to sign longer term contracts, consider a club like Paulista Futebol Clube. Paulista will not have succeeded in gaining a place at the national level with its current performance and will have to resign itself to playing in the Copa Paulista. The Copa Paulista is a lower competition that has modest financial benefit and will limit the club’s capability to pay salaries attractive to the players it currently has on its roster for the Paulistao. Had Paulista signed these players to longer contracts, it would have been obligated to paying their salaries and put itself in a more vulnerable financial position.
At Mogi Mirim, a number of their starters for the Paulistao only have been signed until May 2012 including regulars, Hernane, Felipe, Rene Junior, Edson Ramos, and Jefferson Maranhao. Using him as an example, Hernane (the Paulistao’s current leading scorer) will now have opportunities and salary offers that exceed the opportunity available at Mogi Mirim; but, the time he has to make a decision about where he goes next is tight. A largely successful smaller club, like Mogi Mirim, while hugely beneficial for its players in terms of profile, finish their participation at the state level only one week before Serie A and B begin at the national level. The personal challenge for a player in Hernane’s position becomes even more stressful when that player has a family to consider.
Players with person financial obligations, like all human beings, crave some level of financial certainty. To address the need for certainty, it should not be surprising that the practice in Brazilian football of using pre-contract agreements between a player and his new club has evolved. These agreements allow a player on a short-term contract to get a new club to commit to offering a contract with certain expected terms prior to the expiry of his current contract. For some, it may seem disloyal for a player under contract to be negotiating a future contract with another club; but this practice is accepted in Brazil.
In this regard, also consider the current position of Guarini’s central defender, Domingos. Domingos has been integral to the success in Guarani’s run to the final against Santos and he has a contract that expires in May 2012. That means his obligations to Guarani will not end until May 14 while Serie A and B games begin the following weekend. While the Domingos has attempted to position himself as being totally committed to the success of Guarani, it would seem foolish on a personal level if he has not already addressed his future beyond the middle of May. It is not known if he has a pre-contract agreement with another club; but rumours persist that he may have already decided where he is going. Clubs like Flamengo, Gremio Barueri, C. Atletico Paranaense have been named in media reports as ones that have made offers.
There are also situations that don’t fit nicely for the average fan. At risk of oversimplifying the decision, it is reasonable to summarise that professional players will weigh the opportunity for profile, salary, and development opportunity (if the player is younger than his prime playing years). Typically, salary becomes a bigger consideration as the professional player gets older. In the absence of any significant difference in salary offers, an older player may also favour stability for family reasons. On the other hand, a younger player may be willing to take a salary discount in favour of a higher profile competition or a higher profile club.
In this regard, it is interesting to look at the decision Marcelinho Paraiba (pictured) needs to make in the next two to three weeks. Marcelinho Paraiba turns 37 on the 17th of May and is currently under contract with Sport Recife. While he continues to perform well, it is likely that he can only continue to do so for a few more years. To summarize Marcelinho Paraiba’s dilemma, he has a contract with Sport Recife (in Serie A) until the end of 2012. Apparently and according to various media sources, Gremio Barueri (playing in Serie B at the national level) has offered him a contract that would pay him R$230,000 per month ($121,900 US/92,000 Euros/75,000 GBP). In comparison, his contract with Sport Recife (just promoted to Serie A at the national level) pays him R$ 120,000 per month (about $63,500 US/48,000 Euros/39,000 GBP). Also, it is understood from media reports that the player has a clause in his contract with Sport Recife that would allow him exit the contract should a better offer be received. Despite the public statements assuring Sport fans of his loyalty to the club, most readers will appreciate, on a personal level, how attractive the Gremio Barueri offer would be for a soon-to-be 37 year-old player with only a few years left.
There are also a number of unknowns related to how Marcelinho Paraiba and his family perceive living in greater Sao Paulo. Marcelinho Paraiba and Sport Recife continue to compete in the Pernambucano and therefore would be unlikely to divulge any intentions at this time. Nevertheless, the magnitude of the salary offer to Marcelinho Paraiba makes it interesting to see if he chooses to stay with his current club, whether Sport Recife will revise his salary to hold onto him, or whether he goes with the money. In this case, it is unlikely that a pre-contract agreement is involved because his current contract goes to the end of the year.
The offer by Gremio Barueri to Marcelinho Paraiba is also provides an example of how a financially well-supported club can make salary offers that surprise the average fan. Clubs have different considerations. First, when looking at the player, the obvious primary concern is the potential contribution of a player to team performance. Other key considerations can include the marketing benefit of a player’s profile to the club’s revenue generating potential, the club’s ambition, and its available budget. A club’s available budget can sometimes be clouded by a club’s debts or a club’s financial support (investor or municipal). In the case of Gremio Barueri, it is investor-owned and is known to be strongly supported financially; but, the club could benefit substantially from an increased profile. The President of Gremio Barueri, Domingos Brito, has also mentioned that his club has signed pre-contract agreements with a number of players that the club will not divulge until these players and their current clubs have been eliminated from their current competitions (assumed to be referring to the Paulistao). The club has already announced the signing of former Flamengo central defender, Ronaldo Angelim.
In addition to Gremio Barueri, other clubs likely to be more active than others in looking for reinforcements would include Portuguesa, Nautico, Guaratingueta, and probably Palmeiras. The common element with all of these clubs is that they did not perform as well as their supporters (fans and financial support) would have expected and the national competitions in which each will compete requires a much higher level of performance than shown so far. The next few weeks should answer many of these questions.
Art Zantinge (@azantinge)