Problems mount for the relegation-haunted Rio giant
Rooted to the foot of the table and staring relegation in the face, these are dark days for fans of Fluminense who had looked forward to this latest season with so much expectation.
With national team striker Fred having been enticed home from French side Lyon to lead the attack and 1994 World Cup-winning coach Carlos Alberto Parreira at the helm, things got off to a flying start with a 1-0 win over Sao Paulo – champions for the last three years.
But the next 26 league games brought just three more wins, and as the club hurtled down the table a major administrative crisis started to become apparent.
Fluminense have invested in their youth development facilities over recent years in order to produce their own players. Two of their latest starlets, centre-back Dalton and striker Maicon, are deemed so important this term that the club, unsuccessfully, tried to withdraw them from the Brazil squad competing in the Under-20 World Cup in Egypt.
But while young talent augurs well for the future, keeping the club competitive in the short term has been the job of its partner Unimed, the health service provider, which has tended to favour the signing of big-name veterans.
Conciliating the perspectives of club and partner is possible when the team is winning or having a decent run in the Libertadores Cup (in which they reached the Final last year, only to lose on penalties). But over time it becomes much more complicated. As Fred picked up a long-term injury and his strike partner, Leandro Amaral, fell victim to knee problems once more, so sponsor and club have been at loggerheads – with different camps wanting different coaches.
Parreira was dumped when the club slid into the relegation zone and back came Renato Gaucho, who took the club to last year’s Libertadores Final and was a favourite of Unimed’s president. However, results got worse and he was replaced by Cuca – himself sacked by Rio rivals Flamengo – and whose perpetually haunted look was soon etched even deeper on his face.
By September the club were trying hurriedly to sign players to stop the rot and in came Ecuador midfielder Patricio Urrutia from LDU Quito and attacking midfielder Ezequiel Gonzalez, the one-time big Argentina hope, from Rosario Central.
But this is a very difficult environment to step into. Some of the squad – typically the big names – receive their salaries from the sponsor; the rest are paid by the club, which is going through financial problems and is often unable to come up with the money in time.
To ease cash flow, some of the club’s more promising youngsters were sold but Flu’s problems continued to mount, with president Roberto Horcades facing the threat of impeachment amid complaints about poor results and an increase in the club’s debt.
A run to the quarter-finals of the Sudamericana Cup, where they will now meet Universidad de Chile, has been the only chink of light for Flu fans this year.
Rio may be in celebration mode after winning the right to host the Olympic Games in 2016, but this is a bad time for the city’s football with Botafogo also in the relegation zone, lying fourth from bottom and in dreadful form. The only bright spot on the horizon is provided by Vasco da Gama, who are top of Serie B and closing in on promotion.
In Rio’s traditional rival city, meanwhile, the picture is much rosier. Sao Paulo’s most popular club, Corinthians, have already guaranteed their place in next year’s Libertadores by winning the Brazilian Cup and, with 11 games to go in the league, Palmeiras were five points clear at the top, with Sao Paulo second.