Jack Lang is judge, jury and executioner as the curtain comes down on another rip-roaring season in Brazil's top flight.
Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the 2011 IBWM Brasileirão Awards, in which we celebrate the best and weirdest of this Brazilian season.
Although hardly the most attractive side to watch, few would argue that Corinthians didn’t deserve to win the title. Tite’s side started the season in remarkably frugal fashion, conceding only four goals in their opening ten games. Injuries to goalkeeper Júlio César and rightback Alessandro disrupted their rhythm thereafter, but the Timão’s attacking players stepped up to the mark. Liédson was quietly effective in attack, gelling seamlessly with a rotating cast of partners, whilst fresh-faced support striker Willian also impressed. The real star, however, was Paulinho. Nominally a defensive midfielder, he chipped in with eight goals, six of which came in narrow one-goal wins.
Vasco centreback Dedé has been a true colossus this term, establishing himself as the standout defender in Série A. Blessed with both pace and power, the 23-year-old inspired the Rio side to an unexpected title challenge, and earnt a place in Mano Menezes’ Brazil squad. With a number of European sides already sniffing around, it seems likely that Dedé will move on to greater things in the near future.
Best young player
A major contributor to Figueirense’s excellent campaign, Wellington Nem won me over with his effervescent displays. The 19-year-old is a talented dribbler, able to unlock defences with his silky left foot before firing in powerful efforts from range. His pace was well utilised by the Florianópolis side, who were able to launch swift counter attacks down the flanks, knowing that Wellington could turn them into goalscoring opportunities. Due to return to parent club Fluminense next year, the youngster appears to have a bright future ahead of him.
Ricardo Gomes made a real impression at Vasco earlier this year, inspiring his side to a Copa do Brasil win and a decent start to the Série A season. Often criticised for being a quiet, reserved man, Gomes proved the perfect man to steady the somewhat chaotic Vasco ship. Unfortunately for the Gigante da Colina, Gomes suffered a stroke midway through the campaign, casting doubt on the side’s ability to go the distance in the league. His interim replacement, Cristóvão Borges, however, took up the reigns with a minimum of fuss, maintaining Gomes’ tactical scheme and imbuing the side with a quiet confidence. Both men deserve credit for an excellent campaign.
And now for something a little different.
Warning – none of this is particularly serious. But it is all true.
Hopeless romantic of the year
The love between two childhood sweethearts deserves to be consecrated in style. That, presumably, is why Botafogo fullback Bruno Cortês chose to hold his wedding reception at… an Arabic fast food restaurant. I jest, but the player’s reasoning was actually fairly touching: “Success is nice, but I’m a modest guy… this was much better than renting some huge place in [posh neighbourhood] Barra.” Love, after all, has no minimum spend.
The Petr Cech award for risk-averse goalkeepers
After (presumably) stumbling across a rugby supply store on the internet, Cruzeiro goalkeeper Fábio went safety mad. For the last few months of the campaign, he wore both a scrum cap and a gum shield. The next step? Under-shirt padding, hopefully.
Well-named footballer of the year
What’s in a name? It depends which country you’re in. In Brazil, the answer is commonly ‘hilarity.’ Early contenders this year included Atlético Paranaense defender Heracles (named after the son of Zeus, yo!) and Patrick Vieira, a youth team player at Palmeiras. The winner, however, is on a different level. Pray silence please, for Mahatma Gandhi Pires, a 19-year-old who signed professional terms with Atlético-GO. Timeless.
Self-inflicted injury of the year
Hi, I’m Jorge Valdivia. You might recognise me from such heart-warming tales as Chile’s World Cup Campaign and Palmeiras’ Last State Championship Win. When I’m not being caught cheating on my wife, I’m busy inventing novel ways to wind up opposing defenders. Check out my latest invention: it involves me kicking thin air, leaving the ball exactly where it is. It has worked on a handful of occasions, and really pisses off the… OUCH! MY HAMSTRING! MY HAMSTRING HAS GONE!
The Zlatan Ibrahimovic award for well-timed transfers
Emerson Sheik doesn’t seem like a clever man. Exhibit A: his amusing exit from Fluminense earlier this year. Sat on the team bus, Emerson thought it would be OK to sing along to a famous tune detailing the various merits of Flu’s bitter rivals Flamengo. It wasn’t. Exhibit B: he has a monkey as a pet. Deep down, though, Emerson must be some kind of genius. It’s the only way to explain his unerring knack of choosing to play for the team that eventually wins Série A. Yes, that’s right; Emerson represented Flamengo in 2009, Fluminense in 2010, and Corinthians this year. He won’t be short of suitors this off-season, that’s for sure.
Contrasting nicknames of the year
Figueirense enjoyed a fabulous campaign, battling to the cusp of Libertadores qualification in their first year back in the big time. The Florianópolis side is blessed with not one, but two of the best nicknames in football. And they could hardly be more incoherent. The first, Esquadrão de Aço, is all blood and thunder, translating to ‘Big Steel Squad.’ The second is rather more twee; Figueirense is often shortened to Figueira – ‘The Fig Tree.’ A mixed message in the best possible sense.
Celebration of the year
Now this one is tricky. The most popular routine was undoubtedly the João Sorrisão dance, which spread around the country like wildfire earlier in the year and made the titular roly-poly toy (which is rather sinister-looking, if you ask me) one of the must-have items of the season. Ronaldinho started another trend with his Parado na Esquina (‘Chilling on the corner’) routine, lifted from a song of the same name. The winner, however, must be this effort from Neymar and his Santos teammates. Yes, that is the ‘heads, shoulders, knees and toes’ dance. No, I have no idea why.
Least successful attempt at mind games
“How can I put this guy off his penalty kick? Push him? No, too violent. Whisper in his ear? He’s probably concentrating too hard to notice. I know… penalty takers hate people messing with their socks, right? I’ll just… pull them down… tee hee hee… Oh, he’s pulled them back up? Bastard. He won’t get away that easily. Get close enough, and… bingo! DOUBLE SOCK ATTACK! Now he’s certain to miss, mark my wo… Oh bugger.”
Welcome to the twisted mind of Flamengo leftback Júnior César.