On Saturday morning, São Paulo FC’s training complex in the city’s west zone was invaded by hundreds of protesting supporters, interrupting a first-team training session. Players were verbally abused and threatened (see video below), while midfielders Wesley and Michel Bastos were physically assaulted during the incident. There were also reports of footballs and other training equipment being stolen.
These events come after São Paulo won only two of their last ten matches and lost a crucial cup match to third division club Juventude.
Eyewitness footage of the invasion (Globoesporte)
In their vast majority, the antagonists of Saturday’s events were members of São Paulo’s two largest organised supporters groups, the Torcida Independente and Dragões da Real. These groups, known locally as torcidas organizadas, play an important part in the history of Brazilian football – without the organizadas, the matchday colour and atmosphere Brazil is famous for would not exist, while several have their roots as charitable organisations. However, over time, many of these groups have abused their influence and now harbour hooligan and organised crime elements.
Similar to their Argentinian cousins, the barra bravas, Brazilian torcidas organizadas also hold their fair share of clout in the world of football politics. In many cases, clubs provide these groups with free match tickets, transport to away games and funding for Carnaval parades – all to keep them onside.
São Paulo president Carlos Augusto de Barros e Silva, most commonly known by his nickname Leco, is one of the few club presidents to openly admit the shady financial ties his club keeps with their torcidas organizadas. In an interview to a major São Paulo newspaper in January, Leco confirmed that the club provides 1,500 free tickets to every home game, as well as R$ 150,000 each year to fund the organizadas’ Carnaval expenses.
Even in the light of Saturday’s events, the São Paulo president has refused to cut ties between the organizadas and the club. Furthermore, despite ample evidence of trespassing, property damage, theft and assault, it remains very unlikely that the club will press any charges against those involved. São Paulo’s solution? The press have been barred from all of this week’s training sessions.
Though certainly not a justifiable reason for violent protest, São Paulo’s recent form of the football pitch is cause for some concern. The team has been in free-fall since losing at the semi-final stage of the Copa Libertadores, a period that coincided with the exits of coach Edgardo Bauza and key players Paulo Henrique Ganso and Jonathan Calleri. Understandably their form slipped, as they now sit in mid-table, four points above the relegation zone.
Predictably, Saturday’s protest made no positive impact whatsoever, with São Paulo stuttering to a nervy 0-0 draw at home to 16th place Coritiba the following day. In fact, last weekend’s events could make things a lot worse for São Paulo, as beyond worrying about their position in the league table, their squad must also be fearing for their own personal safety – hardly a state of mind conducive to playing good football.