Sunday, February 22, 2009

Brazil 1971 - first national championshipTo the European eye, it was more than to the Brazilians. Magical Brazil, the best football nation in the world, the great World Champions, finally had their national championship. Legendary clubs, legendary stars… must be the best national league in the world. And the proof was the champion – Atletico Mineiro was not exactly famous club in Europe. Therefore, imagine this new league must be like: hidden treasures, great matches. Yet, who were Atletico Mineiro after all? At home, the reception was somewhat different: the national championship brought more grumbling than anything. The big clubs preferred to play their traditional state championships – less travel, bigger intrigue, more traditional derbies, larger crowds. At the bottom, club politics and fear of the unknown lurked, remained, and tainted the championship – to this day, the championship is uncertain affair. Big clubs boycotted it at least once; big clubs refused to be relegated and the Federation had to accommodate their demands. The very format changes constantly – there were more than 40 clubs participating at one point. From the beginning it was a mixed tournament: the original 20 teams met once with each other, then the top layer played similar to a cup format second leg, ending with final tournament of three teams, playing round-robin. Thus, the final table is strange to European eye: some teams ended with 27 games, others – with 19. It was designed to be attractive and to accommodate big clubs, especially if they made mistakes in the first phase. But it was not easy to pacify the grand clubs: they complained of losing away games, without having a chance to remedy the damage at home. They fielded second teams, preserving the real stars for the old state championships – still, the championship of Rio and Sao Paulo counted more for Flamengo, Fluminense, Vasco da Gama, Sao Paulo, Santos, etc. At the end, the national championship was not well received even by the fans – for a football crazy nation, the crowds at the national championship were small. With the years, even the history is bit muddled: there were four earlier tournaments, which, depending on the statistician, either count, or not count, as national championships. I suspect, big clubs rather prefer to count them, for they were slow to achieve success in the early years of the league. Not good for reputation somehow.
The first final table probably was not to the liking of most clubs – Santos with Pele ended 9th; Flamengo – 14th, and Fluminense – 16th. The legendary clubs of Rio’s ‘Flu-Fla’ derby did not make it even to the second stage… Flamengo winning only 4 games during the season. Perhaps even Sport (Recife) grumbled – small as they were from Rio-Sao Paulo point of view, they were ‘grand’ club in their home state, and it was ‘offensive’ to finish second from last. And the matches were no fun either… curiously, little football magic was displayed on the field. There is little magic now as well, so a new tradition of cautious, boring, and often ugly football was built in the land of football samba.Participants

América FC (Belo Horizonte-MG) Fluminense FC (Rio de Janeiro-GB) América FC (Rio de Janeiro-GB) Grêmio FBPA (Porto Alegre-RS) C Atlético Mineiro (Belo Horizonte-MG) SC Internacional (Porto Alegre-RS) EC Bahia (Salvador-BA) SE Palmeiras (São Paulo-SP) Botafogo FR (Rio de Janeiro-GB) A Portuguesa de Desportos (São Paulo-SP)Ceará SC (Fortaleza-CE) Santa Cruz FC (Recife-PE) SC Corinthians Paulista (São Paulo-SP) Santos FC (SP) Coritiba FC (Curitba-PR) São Paulo FC (SP) Cruzeiro EC (Belo Horizonte-MG) Sport Clube do Recife (PE)CR Flamengo (Rio de Janeiro-GB) CR Vasco da Gama (Rio de Janeiro-GB)


1.Atlético-MG 2 2 0 0 2- 0 4 Champions

2.São Paulo 2 1 0 1 4- 2 2

3.Botafogo 2 0 0 2 1- 5 0

Final Table

1.Atlético-MG 27 12 10 5 39-22 34

2.São Paulo 27 10 10 7 26-23 30

3.Botafogo 27 8 12 7 27-27 28

4.Corinthians 25 12 7 6 33-21 31

5.Internacional 25 10 10 5 28-23 30

6.Grêmio 25 10 9 6 24-18 29

7.Palmeiras 25 9 10 6 27-20 28

8.Cruzeiro 25 8 12 5 28-17 28

9.Santos 25 9 9 7 24-16 27

10.Coritiba 25 11 4 10 23-25 26

11.América-GB 25 8 10 7 27-21 26

12.Vasco da Gama 25 7 9 9 15-22 23

13.Bahia 19 5 8 6 14-16 18

14.Flamengo 19 4 10 5 13-17 18

15.Santa Cruz 19 3 11 5 17-23 17

16.Fluminense 19 5 6 8 12-13 16

17.Portuguesa 19 6 3 10 16-24 15

18.América-MG 19 2 9 8 11-19 13

19.Sport 19 4 4 11 10-27 12

20.Ceará 19 2 5 12 5-25 9

Atletico Mineiro was the surprise champions, at least to the Europeans. A team with no stars really. Only two players of the team donned the famous yellow jersey of the national team – the goalkeeper Renato and the forward Dario.
Renato played a total of two matches for Brazil. He was a reserve in the 1974 squad, and did not play a minute. In 1971 he was not considered a possibility for the national team at all – he played his games for Brazil in later years.
Dario or Dada Maravilha (Dada the Wonder) was much more famous. A prolific goal-scorer, he was a minor legend. He scored the key goal in the last game, thus winning the title for Atletico Mineiro. So far, so good… he had a long career, and in the shaky world of Brazilian statisticians, sometimes he is considered the third all-time goal-scorer after Pele and Romario. But nobody invited the Wonder to the national team… until the Brazilian President Emilio Garrastazu Medici interfered in 1969. The official version is that: Medici called the national coach and asked him to include Dario in the squad. The coach refused… and he was coach no more. Mario Zagallo was appointed and he did not refuse the polite asking of Medici. Dario was a member of the 1970 World Champions. Zagallo obviously played safe: it was no use to refuse a President and a military President at that. In the same time, there was no need to play Dario… as long as the team was winning. Because of such political maneuvers, today is quite difficult to establish how many games Dario played for Brazil – I discovered a total of 11, scattered here and there from 1971 to 1973. All of them friendlies, some against clubs, not against national teams (so I am not even certain those count by FIFA rules), and almost always Dario came as a substitute. Seems to me, he was of this strange breed of players, who play great club football, fans adore them, but never fit into the national squad, and never play well with national jersey. Nevertheless, Atletico Mineiro with Renato and Dario were the first Brazilian champions, leaving behind clubs featuring Pele, Tostao, Rivelino, Jairzinho, Zico, Gerson, etc, etc, etc… Isn’t football great just because of unpredictability?