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Tim Vickery Column: Where should Flamengo play their home games?

Brazil's most popular club usually play their home games at the Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro
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Flamengo are without doubt a national institution. As I have argued before in this space, this dates from a superb piece of marketing in the 1930s, when the club signed the three leading black players of the day - especially centre forward Leonidas da Silva, the Romario of his era. The club was thus able to rebrand itself; instead of being an elite association from Rio, they acquired the popular touch and became a national institution. Rio de Janeiro was still the capital at the time, and the glamorous new medium of radio carried Flamengo’s matches all over the land. A tradition was established – given a huge boost by the magnificent Zico side of the late 70s and 80s.

These days Flamengo claim to have more supporters than any other club in an astonishing 24 of Brazil’s 27 states.  That might be taking things a bit too far.  But there is no doubt that the club have immense pulling power.  Last season in the Brazilian Championship they were by far the biggest draw as the away side.

This leads to an interesting question; where should Flamengo play their home games?  The club claim that 80% of their supporters live outside Rio.  Should, therefore, the club adopt a mobile policy of taking their games around the country?

Such a strategy would seem to be encouraged by the spending on this year’s World Cup.  Of the 12 stadiums constructed for the tournament, Flamengo have identified five which face the danger of being under-used after the tournament; Manaus, Cuiaba, Natal, Fortaleza and Brasilia.  This is an opportunity for the club to acquire a favourable financial deal to stage some of their games in these locations.  Indeed, the process began on Sunday, when in the opening round of this year’s national championship Flamengo played their match against Goias in Brasilia.

There are, though, three potential problems with this nomadic existence.

The first is that results could suffer – as perhaps indicated by Sunday’s 0-0 draw.  Flamengo staged a few of their games last year in Brasilia, taking advantage of the fact that the stadium was inaugurated in time for the Confederations Cup.  Playing in the capital may have made short term financial sense.  But Flamengo were not successful on the field, and for a while, before the return to the Maracana, there was even a chance of relegation to the second division – which would, of course, completely negate any financial advantage gained.

Is it fair on the players to oblige them to travel so far even for home games?  This question becomes even more pertinent in the case of the other four potential stadiums, all further from Rio than Brasilia.

The other two objections have more to do with Brazilian football in general than specifically with Flamengo.

The first of them ties in, though, with the problem already mentioned.  If we see Flamengo as a Rio club, and arrive at the conclusion that their results are likely to be affected by moving some of their matches away from the city, then surely the entire basis of the competition is undermined.

A league functions on the basis of all of the teams meeting each other home and away.  Those clubs obliged to face Rio in the Maracana might be justified in thinking that Goias have gained an unfair advantage as a consequence of not having to travel to Rio.  Indeed, in this case Goais did not have to travel very far at all.  Brasilia is less than 200 kilometres away – considerably nearer than Rio.  This can clearly be seen to infringe the ethics of a league system.

The third problem is seen most clearly from the point of the newly built stadiums.  For if there is a problem of viability with the grounds in Brasilia, Manaus, Cuiaba, Fortaleza and Natal, it will not be solved by staging the occasional Flamengo game – nor by playing host to the occasional show.  These stadiums will need the kind of regular usage that only a local football team can provide.   But the incursions of Flamengo onto ‘their’ territory make it more difficult for the local teams to build up a following.

Brasilia is the obvious example.  Amazingly, the city’s stadium is the most expensive of all the World Cup venues, despite the problems faced by the local teams in attracting supporters.  Opportunity is knocking, however.  Brasilia FC have just won the Copa Verde, a new competition for regional sides.  This means that they will take part in next year’s version of the Copa Sul-Americana, the first time a team from the capital will have participated in an international competition.  This, then, is the moment the club need to seize in order to conquer a fan base big enough to justify the regular use of such an expensive new stadium.  Their task will be eased without competition from the traditional giants of Rio.

 
 

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