For a breakdown of all six clubs challenging for the Brazilian title, click here.
As far as domestic football goes, the Brazilian league can be among the most frustrating championships to dedicate one’s time. A sadistic calendar coupled with the Caligulan fashion in which many of the country’s top clubs are run means the league has never managed to reach its lofty potential. Squads are dismantled in the middle of the season when the European transfer window opens, while the players and managers not poached by Old World pots of gold are quick to change clubs whenever it suits – a promiscuity fuelled by the notorious and aggressive impatience of the typical Brazilian fan.
However, the Brazilian championship is nothing if not competitive and therein lies its charm. In the last 20 years, while England, Spain and Italy have seen only five different national champions each (six in Germany), the Brazilian league has had nine distinct winners. Only two weeks ago, at the halfway stage of the current championship, Brazil’s top seven sides were separated by only three points.
This gap at the top has since increased (there is now seven points between Palmeiras in first and Grêmio in sixth), but once again the Brazilian league is set to have the tightest title race out of the planet’s leading domestic championships.
While the aforementioned merry-go-round of players and coaches certainly helps to keep the playing field level, this is not the sole reason for the league being so perennially close. Brazil is a country the size of a continent. Up and down the nation there are several large urban centres, each with strong footballing traditions.
While most major European leagues have a core of three to five “big clubs” that dispute the title between themselves, Brazil has twelve – four each from the states of São Paulo (Corinthians, Palmeiras, São Paulo and Santos) and Rio de Janeiro (Flamengo, Vasco, Fluminense and Botafogo), along with the big two from Belo Horizonte (Atlético Mineiro and Cruzeiro) and Porto Alegre (Internacional and Grêmio). The Brazilian title has only gone outside this Dominant Dozen four* times since 1959.
As of yet, this year’s championship has yet to produce a convincing champion-in-waiting. There is no 2015 Corinthians or 2013 Cruzeiro, sides who rarely wobbled and played with the swagger of the best team in the country. On the contrary, all of Brazil’s current top six are prone to unexpected slip-ups and each of them have apparent weaknesses. Luckily for the neutral fan, this means there are sure to be plenty of twists and turns to come.
*- Five, if you count Sport winning in 1987, but that’s a story for another day.