The difference between European club football and South American club football is huge. But, South American football is better than that...
Santos and their woeful defence were torn to shreds by Barcelona in the final of the 2011 FIFA Club World Cup. Although they created several goal scoring opportunities, the four goal margin accurately reflected the difference in class between the two teams.
Lets be clear, the difference between European club football and South American club football is huge. Finances play a big part – the wage bill at Barcelona must be at least ten times more than Santos. At Barcelona, they play in front of 100,000 every week at the Camp Nou while Santos normally play in front of 10,000 or less at the Vila Belmiro. The intensity of training and games is on another level. In the Champions league, the likes of Xavi, Iniesta and Messi run around 13 km in 90 minutes. In the Copa Libertadores or Brazilian Serie A, it’s around 10km. That’s 30% more intense. Doing skills, shooting, controlling the ball, thinking – 30% faster.
The difference yesterday was embarrassing because if Barcelona felt like getting more goals, they would have. The score was 3-0 at half time. But South American club football is better than that. It really is. Santos’ players were scared of Barcelona and gave them too much respect. The Santos coach Muricy Ramalho got things horribly wrong tactically and in the physcological preparation of his players. For example, Santos captain Edu Dracena said: “Losing to the best team in the world isn’t an embarrassment for anybody. We even had some chances”. WHAT? Playing like an arsehole for 90 minutes and EVEN having some chances is good enough is it? Santos keeper Rafael said: “They are different. Against any other team we would be able to play on an equal footing.” Really?
As I suggested he would in my post on Saturday, Muricy Ramalho parked a plane in front of the Santos goal. It backfired spectacularly because they plane was full of holes. I couldn’t identify any defensive line or any disciplined positional sense. The defensive midfielders were sitting way too deep and by doing so gave far too much space for Barcelona’s midfielders to control the game. When Arouca or Henrique got the ball they didn’t know what to do with it since most of their teammates were standing right next to them. Possession was frequently surrendered. Barcelona had 71% ball possession over the course of the match.
For supposedly the best coach in Brazil, he showed up like a novice yesterday. What was his plan and how does he prepare a defence? Nobody was tracking runners from Barcelona’s midfield, there was no discipline. Basics. Barcelona are great, don’t take anything away from them but this is an analysis of Brazilian football, hence the focus on Santos’ shortcomings.
After the game Muricy said that if in Brazil a team played a 3-7-0 formation the police would have to be called in. Is he suggesting that Santos fans would revolt if they played like Barcelona? Its not the formation that matters, it’s the quality of the football. Fans know what they see. I’m tired of his whinging and excuses. He has been going on about how great Barcelona are for months and how impossible it would be to beat them. Shut up Muricy Ramalho!
What on earth was Elano doing on the bench? He is the only Santos player with several years of high level experience in European football and plently of Brazil caps to his name. He came on for the injured Danilo in the first half and the ball possession statistics started to improve marginally (from 24% to 29% for Santos). Not that he would have changed the outcome had he started but the decision defied belief.
Sometimes managers are given time to impose their style and build their squads at clubs in Europe. In Brazil teams are chopped and changed several times a year – time does not exist in a Brazilian football club director’s vocabulary. With the constant threat of an axe hovering over their heads, it means coaching decisions are taken on a short term basis not with a view to building a squad, a style and culture like Barcelona have done.
Despite these differences, it just a football match and South American clubs are normally competitive in this competition. Barcelona beat Estudiantes 2-1 after extra time in 2009, in a much more competitive match. Internacional beat Barcelona in the final in 2006. São Paulo beat Liverpool in 2005 by parking the bus.
As I eluded to yesterday, Ganso would play a key role for Santos in linking the midfield to attack. He did create several goalscoring opportunities for Neymar and Borges who failed to finish. Those passes were fantastic and will give a glimpse to the global audience of what he can do with the ball at his feet. Considering the diabolical state of his team, I would say it was an alright performance and give him a 6 out of ten. He did go missing at times and needs to learn that top quality players also have to work hard. He could take a look at Xavi for some inspiration.
Neymar was isolated for most of the match but when he did get into goal scoring opportunities he failed to take them. Some people are saying that after yesterday’s match he needs to move to Europe to improve his game. I would agree but I do think that one more year in South America wouldn’t be a bad thing. He is still on 19 years old and has a chance to win more trophies and consolidate himself as a Santos legend. If he went to Europe in say the 2012/3 transfer window that would give him a year and a half of European football to perfect his game ahead of the 2014 World Cup.