Welcome back to the Brazil Sports newsletter. This week, we begin on a somber note, as in the country where talent always gets another chance, Bruno Fernandes has signed for another club while serving time for the brutal murder of the mother of his child. Then, we look at Gabigol, the top-scorer in Brazil with the form-dependent nickname. Enjoy your read! 


Bruno gets another club, nine years after brutal murder

In 2013, former Flamengo goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes was sentenced to 22 years in prison for aggravated homicide, kidnapping and concealment of a body. Three years before, Bruno planned, ordered and participated in the brutal murder of his ex-lover, 25-year-old model Eliza Samúdio.

The case dominated the headlines in Brazil for the sheer monstrosity involved in the crime. Ms. Samúdio had been having an affair with Bruno since 2008, until she announced she was pregnant with the Flamengo player’s child. Bruno refused to accept paternity of the baby or pay any child support. The two quarreled, Bruno was taken to court. In June 2010, Ms. Samúdio disappeared.

One of Bruno’s teenage cousins confessed to taking part in the crime, saying Ms. Samudio was knocked out and taken to Bruno’s farmhouse in Minas Gerais. There, she was tied to a chair and strangled by retired policeman Marcos Aparecido dos Santos. Her corpse was fed to Bruno’s Rottweilers and her bones buried under concrete.

In Brazilian football, however, talent always gets a second chance, even in the face of such barbarism and cruelty. And now, six years after being imprisoned, Bruno is on his way back to playing football.

Earlier this year, Bruno was granted the right to be placed under house arrest, which allows him to work and study during the day, but imposes a strict 8 pm–6 am curfew. 

Poços de Caldas FC, a club from the third tier of the Minas Gerais state championship, promptly agreed terms to sign 34-year-old Bruno, who, in his heyday, was one of the best goalkeepers in Brazilian football.

Amazingly, this will not be Bruno’s first team since going to jail. In 2014, he signed a five-year contract with local side Montes Claros, but his request to leave prison during the day and play for the club was denied. The club went as far as registering Bruno for the state championship of that year. When submitting his details to the CBF’s player database, Montes Claros used a photo taken of Bruno during his trial.

Three years later, he managed a get a habeas corpus to leave jail and sign for second division side Boa Esporte. The club faced a huge social media backlash and lost several sponsors. In Bruno’s debut, he gave away a crucial last-minute penalty and Boa drew 1-1 with Uberaba. After five appearances, conceding four goals, the Supreme Court suspended Bruno’s injunction and he went back to jail.

Clearly, this is a troubling and complex subject. Bruno is serving his sentence and, once on house arrest, he has every right to work. Going back to professional football is the natural option.

However, the ease with which clubs have lined up to sign him is unsettling. Did Montes Claros, Boa Esporte, and now Poços de Caldas consider the ultimate goals of the Brazilian penal system before offering Bruno a contract? Did they believe they were offering Bruno—who less than ten years ago orchestrated a woman’s murder because he didn’t want to pay child support—a deserved second chance?

Or did they spy a marketing move that would get their club in the headlines, while bringing in a player who, in 2010, was one of the best in the country?

Had Montes Claros, Boa Esporte, and Poços de Caldas announced some sort of rehabilitation program for current and ex-convicts alongside this “marquee” signing, or at the very least taken some public stance condemning femicide, then perhaps one could be less pessimistic.


Gabigol once again worthy of his nickname

gabigol flamengo
Gabigol against Flamengo

Nicknames were once an integral part of Brazilian football. Until very recently, players rarely went by their given names. The Brazil sides through the 1950s to the 1980s had Pelé, Garrincha, Tostão, Zico; even in the 2000s there were Ronaldinho, Cafu, and Kaká. These days, with players scouted so young by European clubs, we have ended up with Gabriel Jesus, Roberto Firmino, Daniel Alves, and so on. It’s not quite as fun.

However, there is an odd type of nickname, one that is form-dependent. And the league’s current top scorer is the best example.

When coming up through the Santos youth team, Gabriel Barbosa gained a reputation for being a prolific striker. Even before he made his first-team debut, he was known around the club as “Gabigol.” He played his first Santos match on Neymar’s farewell game, and right away he was tipped as his successor.

Of course, it’s a bit rich to call a misfiring striker Gabigol, so during every dry scoring patch of the young striker, he’d go back to being called Gabriel. Besides having to deal with the psychological pressure of not scoring, he’d also have to undergo a mini identity crisis.

He signed for Internazionale in 2016 and it appeared he’d lost his nickname forever. In one season at Inter, and another on loan at Benfica, Gabriel Barbosa only scored two gabigols, in only 15 appearances.

But now, after three seasons of being Regular Gabriel, the 23-year-old has reclaimed his cheesy suffix at Flamengo, and is undoubtedly in the form of his career.

Nearing the halfway point of the season, Gabigol has netted 14 times, including yesterday’s brace against reigning league champions Palmeiras. Along with his team-mate Giorgian De Arrascaeta, the pair have been way ahead of the rest of the league in terms of direct goal contributions, as can be seen below.

Flamengo are purring right now. In their last four matches, they have averaged 3.25 goals a game and have caught Santos in first position. Gabigol is a key part of this success, getting on the end of everything and anything that comes his way in the penalty area.

His game has changed, too. While he came up as a flashy forward, who always seemed to try and emulate Neymar with tricks and flicks—to varying levels of success—he has now become a lot more powerful and efficient. He is sturdy and uses his weight well, but also packs a very powerful shot. There are flashes of a young Ronaldo about him: being able to go around his opponents, but also going through them if necessary.

It is worth noting that Gabigol still belongs to Internazionale. His contract with Flamengo runs only until the end of 2019, and it is as of yet unclear where he will end up next year. The Italian side will be delighted with his return to form, having paid EUR 27.5m for the player in 2016 and getting only one first-team goal in return.

Internazionale are unlikely to take Gabriel back in January, having just signed Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sánchez, but could be convinced to sell if the right offer comes along. Flamengo will be hoping to extend the loan, or maybe even purchase the player in a cut-price deal. 


What else you should know

Copa Libertadores. After two all-Brazilian quarter-final ties in South America’s premier club competition, Flamengo and Grêmio overcame their compatriots and will now face off against each other in the semi-final. Flamengo held on to their 2-0 home leg advantage to see off International, while Grêmio came from behind, beating Palmeiras 2-1 away from home with goals from Everton and Allison.

Série A. Flamengo and Santos have put some distance between themselves and the chasing pack with important wins this weekend. Corinthians, who celebrated their 109th anniversary yesterday, leapfrogged rivals São Paulo and Palmeiras and now sit in third position. Corinthians are in impressively steady form, unbeaten in their last nine since the Copa America break.

Neymar staying put? Just when it seemed like Neymar would finally be going back to Barcelona, in a massive deal involving swaps for Ivan Rakitic, Ousmane Dembelé, and EUR 100m, the transfer never materialized and the Brazil star appears to be stuck at Paris Saint-Germain for the foreseeable future. It will be interesting to see how the club’s fans, who protested publicly against him earlier this season, will welcome him back.

Daniel Dias. At the Parapan-American Games in Lima, Brazilian swimmer Daniel Dias has cemented his place as one of the world’s all-time best paralympic athletes by grabbing eight gold medals, bringing his total Parapan haul up to 31 golds.

UFC. In Shenzhen, Brazil’s Jessica Andrade lost her strawweight title belt in just 42 seconds this weekend, suffering a TKO at the hands of China’s Weili Zhang. While this represented China’s first UFC championship belt, it also means that Brazil’s only current champion is Amanda Nunes (featherweight and bantamweight), despite the country’s previous dominance of the sport.

Esports. A bill to regulate esports in Brazil has made progress in Congress, with a Senate committee approving the scheduling of a public hearing on the subject. There are some fears that the impending bill could put never-before-seen restrictions on the sport, as its rapporteur, Senator Leila Barros, has been critical of the idea of such “violent games” being given the status of a sport in Brazil.

Women’s football. In her debut as Brazil coach, Pia Sundhage took the national team to a rousing 5-0 win over Argentina, but went on to lose to Chile on penalties yesterday. There is plenty of optimism surrounding the team’s performance, however. The Chile match took place under torrential rain in São Paulo, and with a largely changed side from the win over Argentina. The team now look towards preparations for Tokyo 2020.


Goal of the Week

Not terribly much to choose from this week, but this was a sumptuous team effort from Atlético-MG, in their important away win to Colombian side La Equidad. The pendulum-style passing, the ease with which they cut through the defense, and then the confident finish.

goal of the week

Results

Copa Libertadores

  • Palmeiras 1-2 Grêmio (2-2 on agg.)
  • Internacional 1-1 Flamengo (1-3 on agg.)

Copa Sudamericana

  • Fluminense 1-1 Corinthians (1-1 on agg.)
  • La Equidad 1-3 Atlético-MG (2-5 on agg.)

Série A

  • Chapecoense 0-1 Santos
  • Flamengo 3-0 Palmeiras
  • Cruzeiro 1-0 Vasco
  • Corinthians 1-0 Atlético-MG

Fixtures

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Série A

  • Avaí v. Flamengo (Sat. 5 pm)
  • Internacional v. São Paulo (Sat. 7 pm)
  • Goiás v. Palmeiras (Sat. 9 pm)
  • Santos v. Athletico-PR (Sun. 4 pm)

Copa do Brasil

  • Athletico-PR v. Grêmio (Wed.  7 pm)
  • Internacional v. Cruzeiro (Wed. 9:30 pm)

Friendlies

  • Brazil v. Colombia (Fri. 21:30)

SportsSep 02, 2019

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BY Euan Marshall

Euan Marshall is a Scottish journalist living in São Paulo. He is co-author of A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.