War of words erupts as Brazilian football struggles with return to play

play
Marcelo shows off his incredible first touch (0:21)

Real Madrid and Brazil defender Marcelo shows he hasn't lost his touch during the break. (0:21)

It is only natural that the return of the Bundesliga has racked up the desire of some elsewhere in the world to get the ball rolling in their leagues.

But everywhere else is not Germany, with the coronavirus under relative control. Brazil is certainly facing a very different situation; the death toll is now well over 25,000, and rising at a rate that makes it more realistic to talk of a plateau rather than a peak. Are these adequate conditions for the safe return of football in the country?

- ESPN+: Stream ESPN FC TV daily and 30 for 30: Soccer Stories

In a welcome moment of reflection and sanity, the giant Corinthians club of Sao Paulo issued a statement earlier this week. The club described as "legitimate" that football search for a way out of the current crisis together with the authorities, but feels that "it is worrying that Brazil is living a scenario very different from those countries whose leagues have restarted."

"In Germany," the statement continues, "there was an intense dialogue between all the political and football agents, and one principle was clear for the Bundesliga; that football should be ahead of the control of the pandemic. When society had trust in the success of this combat by the various levels of German government, the Bundesliga finally restarted its games. There was responsibility with the product, the stars and the public."

Without these elements, concluded the statement with considerable wisdom, "any return will just put back the next forced shutdown, in which the clubs will suffer once again. As a sustainable business, football can only return after an efficient articulation of forces, focused on the well being of the people."

And Brazil has added complications. It is a country the size of a continent. The four national divisions were to have kicked off earlier this month. As Corinthians point out: "In 2020 the Serie A [first division] has 20 clubs, drawn from 9 different states, all of them with distinct panoramas of the virus. It will require a more coordinated work between governments, clubs and federations. In a collective sport, it is not possible to play alone."

This would appear to be a dig at Rio de Janeiro giants Flamengo, who are back in training and, together with local rivals Vasco da Gama, have been pressing for an imminent return of football. This would be possible because the Rio State tournament has yet to be completed. It was moving towards the home straight when football was suspended in mid March. So, given the green light, Flamengo and Vasco could be in action at a local level ahead of the delayed kick off of the national championship.

But if Flamengo and Vasco are in favour, the other traditional Rio teams, Fluminense and Botafogo, are not. The climate has become increasingly ugly between Flamengo and Botafogo, the former wanting to start as soon as possible, the latter seeing this as an unjustifiable risk.

Botafogo director Carlos Augusto Montenegro said last week that the plan to restart the Rio championship was "homicide" and that his club would not take the field.

Flamengo president Rodolfo Landim hit back. He told Fox Sports that in light of Botafogo's recent results, in both sporting and financial terms, "it is an indicator that if they disagree with what we are doing, it means that we are probably on the right path."

It is true that Flamengo have titles and resources which Botafogo are currently unable to match. But Landim had left a flank dangerously exposed -- the fire at his club's training ground at the start of last year which cost the lives of 10 of their youth team players.

In an interview with the Extra newspaper, Montenegro went for the jugular.

"Botafogo really are on an opposite path," he said. "In 2019 we did not have youngsters burned to death. We try to preserve the lives of players, the coaching staff, families and club workers.

"This year Flamengo, in an obstinate and irresponsible manner, continue wanting to risk lives with an idiotic rush to bring football back."

Such hostility will not be easily dissipated, and will probably make it harder to reach some kind of consensus in the future. As Corinthians pointed out in their statement: "If the combat of the corona virus does not have alignment between the different levels of government, in football the reactions are even more fragmented."