THE BLOG

Brazil's Futebol Santa Plays Christmas Scrooge

19/12/2014 13:25 GMT | Updated 17/02/2015 10:59 GMT

Inflation, poor attendance, lackluster play and massive debts are causing Brazil's football clubs to count their pennies this Christmas.

Players are griping because teams delay paychecks. Managers balk at signing for less money. Third party syndicates continue to hold shares of players like slices of churrasco, dribbling around FIFA rules.

Big government has traditionally played Santa for the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF), with national and state development banks providing the perennially debt plagued organization and the teams that are in it with loans and credits. But corruption charges and overbilling on World Cup stadiums sparked violent protests last year and during the recent presidential campaign.

New finance minister Joaquim Levy is a no-nonsense operator who isn't likely to open the cookie jar for Brazil's futebol fraternity.

To help counter the protests Neymar and Ronaldo were brought in by the neoliberal Brazilian Social Democratic Party to endorse their presidential candidate, Aecio Neves.

With street protesters linking futebol with corruption, local media outed Ronaldo for renting his luxury Rio home to FIFA president Sepp Blatter during the World Cup for 404,000 pounds. Neymar, while not faced with charges, was buzzed up in a tax fraud case associated with his transfer to Barcelona from Brazil.

Needless to say the tactic backfired.

President Dilma Rousseff distanced her government from the futebol fracas and won reelection over Neves by a 3 million votes.

Dealing with the fall out from the anti-futebol protests incoming CBF president Marco Polo del Nero, currently president of the powerful Sao Paulo Football Federation, has brought in an elite political marketer, Walter Feldman, to create a new image for the organization.

Feldman designed the unsuccessful campaign of Marina Silva, whose rags to riches story going from illiterate rubber tapper to presidential candidate gained international attention. The Financial Times just listed Marina-- who is not a football fan-- as one of the most influential women of 2014.

Silva's presidential bid lost momentum, however, and she didn't make it to the final run-off. With Feldman out of a job del Nero and the CBF made him an offer he couldn't refuse.

Whether Feldman rebuilds the image of the CBF or puts a slick PR wrapper over the never ending allegations of corruption and cronyism remains to be seen. But the surprise resignation of FIFA ethics chief, ex- U.S. attorney general Michael Garcia, suggests that there's lots of room for more of the same old CBF.

Santa is playing scrooge to Brazil's fans too.

Creeping inflation and high credit card rates are making it difficult for middle income Brazilians, already struggling to make monthly payments on homes and automobiles, to take their families to games and buy licensed CBF jerseys and other revenue producing merchandise.

A licensed CBF notebook with the logo of big name teams like Flamengo, Botafogo and Corinthians, a must have for many schoolboys, costs 14 rials (just over 3 pounds), as much as a 4 megabyte hard drive.

Santa brought a small gift for the national team under returning manager Carlos Dunga. Last Christmas they were not among the world's top 10 teams. After being humilitared by Germany in the World Cup they have played their way back into the top 10, ranking 6th in the world in the FIFA-Coca Cola standings.

The best gift the futebol Santa is bringing Brazil this year is priceless. It is the gift of life, for Pele, who was released from hospital after two weeks of treatment (including dialysis and antibiotics) for a problem with his one remaining kidney.

Few people knew that Pele helped Brazil win 3 FIFA World Cups playing with just one functioning kidney. At the end of his career, while playing for the Cosmos in New York surgeons removed the non-working kidney and the press never learned about it.

As Brazil's top sides count the coals in their stockings and sell their best players to the Premier League and Europe Pele's lust for life can remind them it's time to make the game he made beautiful beautiful again.