In this, the second volume in my "Behind the Game" series, we go through the chaos and clatter that is... Brazilian football.
Even to fans of football, it would seem inconceivable that a nation like Brazil- which has produced some of the game's greatest players and five World Cups to boot- has over the decades could have so much trouble in organising a national football competition. Since the end of the 1950s, the story of national competition in Brazil has been a tale of different tournaments, changing formats and utter chaos and disorganisation.
But to understand the structure of football in Brazil, one needs to understand the evolution of football competitions in South America. Some might think that Australia is, or at least was, one of the few countries where sporting competitions were once largely state- or regionally-based. This however isn't exactly true- organising a fully national league along English lines took somewhat longer to do in continental Europe, and even longer still in South America. The stories behind club football in Argentina, Uruguay, Peru and other South American nations may be explained at a later date. The reasons for this are simple: logistics. Brazil is a vast country, divided into 26 states and the Distrito Federal. And each has its own FA, and runs its own state league. And clubs play concurrently in state and national competitions. Up until 1959, however, Brazil did not have an official national competition of any kind although regional tournaments such as the Torneio Rio-Sao Paulo did exist.
There was a time when virtually all of Brazil's major stars played in the domestic leagues, and those Brazilians who went abroad were usually excluded from selection. Between 1950 (when Internacional player Tesourinha played in the World Cup) and 1966, full internationals were restricted entirely to players from the two biggest state leagues: the Carioca (Rio de Janeiro city- which was then known as Distrito Federal and from 1960 to 1975 as Guanabara state) and Paulista (Sao Paulo). In the 1966 World Cup, selection for the full national team was opened up to players from the Mineiro (Minas Gerais) and Gaucho (Rio Grande do Sul) leagues. Players from the other state leagues weren't taken into account then- and though most of Brazil's best players play abroad, to some degree it's still the case today as comparatively few players playing outside the four biggest state leagues are considered.
In 1959, the year after Brazil won its first World Cup, Brazil organised its first official national competition- the Taça Brasil. The reason for such was to produce a Brazilian representative in the Copa Libertadores which would first be held in 1960. Initially the champions of 16 state leagues took part, and the first final would produce a major upset- Santos starring Pele and co were beaten by Bahia from the country's north. The following year, Palmeiras won the tournament but starting in 1961 Santos began its inevitable run of five straight wins. In 1966, however, Cruzeiro stopped the run by thrashing Santos.
By then, the Taça Brasil had participants from 21 leagues. These were:
Sao Paulo, Guanabara (Rio de Janeiro city), Minas Gerais, Rio Grande do Sul, Parana, Goias, Rio de Janeiro state, Santa Catarina, Espirito Santo and Distrito Federal
Bahia, Pernambuco, Ceara, Para, Alagoas, Paraiba, Rio Grande do Norte, Maranhao, Piaui, Sergipe and Amazonas
On the outer were the leagues of Mato Grosso, Acre, Rondonia, Amapa and Roraima. Note that the state borders have changed since- Guanabara and Rio de Janeiro countryside merge in 1975, Tocantins was split from Goias in 1991.
The Taça Brasil was last held in 1966. However, in 1967 another national competition would be launched- the Torneio Roberto Gomes Pedrosa (or Taça de Prata for short) and would be held until 1970. This would be a "super league" of sorts for top clubs from the seven strongest state leagues.
In 1971, the year after Brazil won its third World Cup, Brazil launched its first official national competition, the Campeonato Brasileiro. In the years since, the format changed on a seemingly annual basis but what hasn't change is the chaos and extremely unwieldy nature of the national league structure. By 1973, as many as 40 teams were involved with a series of play-offs to determine the winner. By the early 80s, entry into the Campeonato was determined by performance in state leagues and then on "historical ranking". The 1990s saw yet more tinkering with the format, until all hell broke loose in 2000 with the unofficial Copa Joao Havelange.
In 1987 and 2000, legal cases led to no official league being held- instead, "unofficial" championships were held in their place thanks to the Clube dos 13 (Brazil's very own answer to the G-14). Since 2003, however, the Campeonato has been held in a more orthodox home-and-away format. But then again, you just never know...
There are two types of football supporter- those who support Man United or Liverpool, and those who are glad they don't.
"One Blue is Worth Twenty Reds"- Brian Labone