Ronaldo the main attraction in Brazilian football
Ronaldo's return after 15 years in Europe is the main attraction in the new
Brazilian football season, though nobody's sure when he'll play.
The veteran striker was acquired by Corinthians in December, the top signing by
any Brazilian club for 2009.
His debut was cautiously penciled in for February as he continues trying to
regain his fitness following left knee surgery nearly a year ago. But the mere
presence of the World Cup winner has boosted local football.
Even though he's yet to play for Corinthians, Ronaldo is constantly making the
sports headlines across Latin America's biggest country and even abroad.
"I'm only practicing and the media is already all over me," Ronaldo said. "Imagine
when I start playing and scoring goals again."
The Brazilian league won't begin for another couple of months, but Ronaldo is
hoping to make his debut in the traditional Sao Paulo state championship, which
began on Wednesday.
Brazilian football does not follow the European calendar. The Brazilian league
was usually played from May until December, and was preceded by the regional
championships, where each of the 26 states organize their own competition.
The most traditional tournaments are played in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro,
home to the nation's top clubs. Close behind in importance are the competitions
in the Rio Grande do Sul, Minas Gerais and Parana states.
The regional tournaments are extremely popular in Brazil as they promote several
matches between rival clubs. They are also important financially for the smaller
clubs which don't play in the Brazilian league.
This football season in Brazil could be one of the best ever, thanks in part to
the world's financial crisis. With teams abroad less likely to hire
international players, local clubs have been able to keep some of the country's
top sensations from leaving.
"It looks like there will be a high level of football in Brazil in 2009," said
Benjamin Back, a columnist for the Lance sports daily. "With the low exodus of
players to international teams, the national market suddenly becomes the best
option for our talented players."
Teams have been acquiring quality internationals from other Latin American clubs,
and nearly all of Brazil's top clubs have been able to repatriate some players.
Palmeiras, which began its defense of the Sao Paulo state title by beating Santo
Andre 1-0 on Wednesday, followed up signing Colombian left back Pablo Armero
with World Cup veteran midfielder Edmilson, a former Barcelona player who was
with Spain's Villarreal.
The club coached by former Real Madrid manager Vanderlei Luxemburgo also signed
one of Brazil's top young talents, striker Keirrision, who played for Coritiba
and has already been sought by some European clubs. Palmeiras also has World Cup
veteran Marcos as its goalkeeper.
Palmeiras rival Corinthians begins the year trying to rebound from a season in
the Brazilian league's second division. But in addition to having Ronaldo, it
also reached a deal with former Panathinaikos striker Souza and acquired
Argentine defender Sergio Escudero from Argentinos Jr.
Defending league champion Sao Paulo added local players who failed to reach
agreements with international clubs, including midfielder Arouca and veteran
striker Washington, both from Fluminense.
Santos, the Sao Paulo champion in 2006 and 2007, signed Ecuadorean striker Luis
Alberto Bolanos, a key player in Liga de Quito's Copa Libertadores title run
last year. It also added midfielder Germano from Japan's Cerezo Osaka and
striker Roni from Asian club champ Gamba Osaka.
In Rio de Janeiro, Fluminense said it was negotiating to sign Lyon striker Fred,
while Vasco — which will play in the second division of the Brazilian league
after a dismal campaign last year — acquired young Paraguayan midfielders Milton
Benitez and Pedro Vera.
Vasco was among the topflight of the Rio state championship, which begins on
Saturday with Flamengo as the defending champ.
Flamengo repatriated midfielder Ze Roberto from Germany's Schalke 04, in
addition to keeping most of the players from the side which finished fifth in
last year's Brazilian league, including World Cup veteran midfielder Kleberson.
Flamengo hoped to sign Ronaldo, who admitted he was a longtime fan of the club
and even practiced there last year during his rehab.
Ronaldo's deal with Corinthians was just as big for its marketing appeal, and
the club has already sold a significant number of his jerseys.
The three-time FIFA player of the year was focused only on regaining the form
that allowed him to be successful in Europe and with Brazil.
"I can't wait to get on the field again," the 32-year-old striker said. "It's
been a long time."