Corinthians, and how to make a hero an instant villain

Yesterday, at 23h50m in Brazil, Corinthians won their first Copa Libertadores trophy in their 102 years history. The team already had a CWC trophy, won in 2000 in a tournament played in Brazil which featured Corinthians as a guest. It’s funny to see how the Champions League for European teams is much more important than the CWC itself, whereas for South American ones a CWC title is sometimes much more important than the Copa Libertadores itself. 

Corinthians, which had an history of early and dramatic eliminations from the continental cup – the most recent (and mocked) in 2011, when they got dropped by Deportivo Tolima in Preliminary Round, managed an unbeaten campaign since the competition started, grabbing 13 points in group stage and earning home advantage for the knockout rounds. It later showed how important it was, where the squad, lead by their loud supporters, dominated every game played at home.

It could be seen yesterday. Boca Juniors, their opponents, has been one of the most traditional teams in South America since the 1970s when they earned their first Copa Libertadores title in 1977, earning their second right after that and missing the third in a row for Olimpia. But in the 2000s, Boca managed to get 4 titles – 2000, 2001, 2003 and 2007 in 5 Copa Libertadores finals. Interesting fact is that Boca came to Brazil undefeated in finals disputed here, when they won over Palmeiras in 2000, Santos in 2003 and Grêmio in 2007.

But I’d be a complete fool to compare the early 2000s Boca teams with the current one. The Argentinean side had enough talent to reach the finals, and was carried mostly by tradition and experience than by pure ability. While the Brazilian teams are much more technical and talented in current times, teams from other leagues know how to play the Copa and are much tactical willingly than Brazilian sides. That’s why there were so many upsets involving Brazilian sides in the last few years.

In Boca’s campaign, they were draw with Fluminense, Zamora and Arsenal de Sarandi, current Argentinean Premier League champions. Fluminense had the best campaign in the cup, even winning Boca at the fearsome La Bombonera in the group stage, and got 1st place in the group. Boca went on to be 2nd, and went to knockout rounds.

While Boca went on to eliminate Unión Española, Fluminense (in a controversial 1st match at La Bombonera where Boca was undoubtedly benefited by the referee) and Universidad de Chile to reach the finals, Corinthians had to face Emelec and 2 Brazilian squads, Vasco and Santos, to be at the final stage. In comparison, Corinthians faced harder opponents, and it was amazing to see how Corinthians matured from their 1st match, where they almost lost to Deportivo Táchira in the group stage, to their last match against Boca where they nullified Riquelme and Erviti, both the cerebral parts of the Bosteros.

The mastermind behind all that was Tite, Corinthians manager. After leaving the team in a brawl against Kia Joorabchian in 2005, he returned to Corinthians when Mano Menezes was brought by CBF to become Brazil’s new manager in 2010. He missed the Brazilian League title at the same year by few points, finishing 3rd only 3 points behind title winners Fluminense.

In 2011, he started well, getting a few good victories in São Paulo State League, but got dropped from Copa Libertadores in the Preliminary Stage by Deportivo Tolima, a Colombian side which had as main sponsor an obscure drinking company. Tite hang on a line, but as he went to São Paulo State League finals losing the title to Santos, the rumors went off. His Brazilian League win last year cemented his place as one of Corinthians’ best managers.

I’m sure he’ll be regarded as the best there ever was for Corinthians. But there aren’t only good things from their title.

Corinthians is the 2nd biggest club in Brazil in terms of supporters, and 1st in receipt. Much of it is due to a huge benefit given by TV Globo, Brazil’s biggest network, which gives much space to Corinthians and Flamengo in their sports’ programs. It also gives negative backlash, and we saw that since their Copa Libertadores winning run started.

Globo made sure to expose Corinthians to the maximum, even considering broadcasting all of their games nationally while there were 3 teams in Rio de Janeiro – Flamengo, Fluminense and Vasco – disputing Copa Libertadores as well. This move, if completed, would give Corinthians much more money from TV, but thanks to (well deserved) complaint it wasn’t put through.

When Corinthians played against Vasco, instead of broadcasting the game with different narrators – one to Rio and one to São Paulo, Globo decided to go with the one from São Paulo, who is of course pro-São Paulo sides. There was also controversy among Vasco fans when an goal was disallowed by the referee, and while Globo’s broadcast showed the referee’s decision was correct, Fox Sports one said the opposite.

Most interesting is that when Corinthians faced Santos, instead of equality, there was much more propaganda pro-Corinthians than to Santos. It also showed Santos with a glance as an enemy, highlighting Corinthians’ players cheering after the goal which made them go through the next stage while showing Neymar’s humiliating opponents by his dribbling.

The same could be said about the transmission. Globo’s narrator wasn’t even divided; it was jaw-dropping how clear his support to Corinthians was.

Interesting enough, while Corinthians fans lauded how the team was getting important, fans from other teams mounted hatred toward not only Corinthians but Globo as well. And when you fought you have seen anything…

Globo runs at Sunday a program called “Fantástico” (if it sounds outdated in Portuguese, I can’t imagine how it does to English speakers), where they pack the leading lines of the week and show it in a “pocket” show of 2h30m, in the molds of CBS’ 60 Minutes. And then it happened.

For the first time in their 35 years history, the program opened and closed with football related sketches. Both of them showing… if you didn’t guess it already, I’ll give you a tip: it starts with C- and finishes with –orinthians.

The first one showed Boca x Corinthians 1st game, disputed in Buenos Aires, where they filmed Boca Juniors supporters cheering with Corinthians rivals supporters, like Santos and Palmeiras. The Brazilians were painted as villains for co-opting with Argentineans. The latter was showing the “saga” of some Corinthians supporters at Buenos Aires, with the usual cliché associating them as gladiators, heroes, you name it.

Throughout the early days of this week, there were an obnoxious number of reports at Globo building up to Corinthians final. It created an awesome atmosphere for Corinthians supporters, but all I’ve seen outside it was even more rage being mounted. Even Flamengo fans, used to see their team with as much attention as Corinthians, were getting a bit jealous.

Corinthians won, and their team deserved it. Their fans surely deserve it. But no one deserved (and deserves) to see one team deceived as the one which matters the most in such a naïve way like Globo did. The tendency is this story line will follow until the end of the year, and I’m just waiting to see how the hero built by Globo will react to a villain perceived by everyone outside their bubble.

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Filed under Copa Libertadores, Corinthians, Globo

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