As the European leagues are winding down for the summer break, the Brazilian national championship got under way on May 14th . The Brasileirão is disputed between twenty teams which are spread over the vast country. It is difficult to imagine a more evenly balanced league anywhere and this year promises to be no different.
The normally auspicious start to the national league season can be attributed to two major factors. Firstly, all of the teams have been in involved in their respective state championships since January. The importance of which stems back to the time before a national league was introduced in 1971. It is a gruelling schedule and of course injuries can play a part in how a team lines up at the start of the season. In addition, there is a clash in scheduling with the Libertadores. The premier prize club trophy in South America reaches its climax at the end of June.
As a result, for the clubs who are involved, the domestic campaign does seem to take a backseat for the first couple of months. However 2011 has been particularly disasterous for the Brazilian teams in the Inter Continental tournament and Santos are the sole surviving team.
The incredible unpredictability of the league can be he highlighted by recent final league positions. The current champions are Fluminese who in 2009 finished in 6 th position. In the 2009 season Flamengo were crowned champions and in defence of their title last year finished in 14th position. In actual fact they escaped relegation to Serie B by two points!
During the past three years the only team who has finished in the top four each time is Cruzeiro. The fact that four teams are relegated at the end of the year means that it is not uncommon for the big clubs to be under threat. Corinthians for example went down in 2007. They had incidentally won the championship two years previously.
Who are the contenders for the 2011 title? Perhaps a better question would be who isn't a contender? A lot will depend as ever on which team is able to most consistent with its team selection throughout the season. Currently, Santos are perhaps the strongest team and are certainly playing the most entertaining football.
However, they would be noticeably weakened if their two best players (Neymar and Ganso ) were to leave for Europe in July. The old favourites such as São Paulo, Flamengo, Fluminese, Internationale and Cruziero will all believe their have chances too. It is not even inconceivable that newly promoted Coritiba challenge for one of the top four spots. They have just dumped big Phil Scholari's team, Palmerias out of the Copa do Brasil, 6 -2 on aggregate.
Unfortunately the Brasileirão is compromised by the big spending European clubs who cherry pick the best players a couple of months into the season. It is very difficult to envisage this reality changing in the forseeable future. One trend that may continue however, is Brazilian players returning back to Brazil from Europe at an earlier stage in their career.
Besides the most obvious example of Ronaldinho at Flamengo, Luis Fabiano has returned to his old club, São Paulo and Adriano is at Corinithians. These big name players perhaps can aid in raising the profile of the Brazilian league on the world stage.