Copa São Paulo: the youth cup taken very seriously indeed

. Jan 27, 2020
Copa São Paulo Gre-nal final Grêmio and Internacional made the 2020 Copa São Paulo final. Photo: FPF

Welcome back to the Brazil Sports newsletter. This week, we look at the Copa São Paulo, Brazil’s most important youth football tournament that attracts European scouts by the busload. Also, with the transfer market heating up, we have a run-down of the five most significant moves so far this offseason. That, and much more!

Copa São Paulo: the little cup that means a whole lot

For over 50 years, it has become a football tradition. On January 25—the anniversary of the city of São Paulo and a local holiday—supporters fill out the municipal Pacaembu stadium to watch the final of the most prestigious junior football tournament in the country: the Copa São Paulo, affectionately known as the Copinha or “Little Cup.”

This past weekend, we saw the latest edition of the Gre-Nal rivalry, as the under 20 sides of Grêmio and Internacional faced off in the 2020 final. The latter came out on top, beating their rivals on penalties after a thrilling 90 minutes of football, which ended 1-1. With that win, Internacional won the fifth Copinha title in their history.

What is it? Every year, some 128 clubs take part in the tournament, coming from all over Brazil and sometimes overseas. Matches are played in towns around the state of São Paulo. After playing a brief group stage, the competition becomes full knock-out, with the finalists disputing the title in the state capital. Thanks to the attention it receives from fans, the press, and foreign scouts, the Copinha became one of the main shop windows for young footballing talent in Brazil and a proving ground for players looking to break into their respective first teams.

Why it matters. With the youth sides of all of Brazil’s top clubs taking part, the Copinha is yet another opportunity for bragging rights. Teams take matches very seriously indeed, with major São Paulo sides often filling out provincial stadiums to cheer their kids on to victory. A Copinha title is also a significant trophy for Brazilian clubs, with São Paulo side Corinthians regularly bragging about their 10 wins, and ribbing their rivals Palmeiras, who have yet to win it once.

Granted, a part of the “importance” of the tournament nowadays is that it takes place in January—the only month of the Brazilian calendar which has next to no first-team club football. Fans need something to scratch the football itch, and TV stations are happy to have something to broadcast during the very short off-season. 

Past highlights. A significant part of Brazil’s biggest talents in recent years came through the Copinha, with varying levels of success. In 1992, a 19-year-old Rivaldo shone for Santa Cruz, later going on to win the World Cup in 2002. Neymar appeared for Santos when he was just 15 in 2008, and more recently, Gabriel Jesus, Marquinhos, Lucas Moura, and Arsenal starlet Gabriel Martinelli made huge impacts for their respective clubs.

The 5 biggest transfers of the offseason so far

Michael Flamengo
Michael is introduced in Flamengo. Photo: Marcelo Cortes/CRF

While there is a long way to go before the closing of Brazilian football’s transfer window, there have been a number of intriguing signings and sales so far in the off-season, for varying reasons. Here is a run-down of 10 of the most significant: 

Michael (Goiás to Flamengo). The biggest purchase of the off-season so far, Goiás’ 22-year-old forward Michael has joined national champions Flamengo in a EUR 7.5 million deal. There are a number of questions surrounding the transfer, particularly due to the high fee. Michael had an exciting season in 2019, with plenty of thrilling flashes and seven goals, making him the most sought-after player on the domestic market. São Paulo rivals Corinthians and Palmeiras looked to be the keenest to get his signature, until Flamengo swooped at the last minute. With an already stellar forward line, one wonders if the reigning champions have any urgent need for Michael.

At 22, going on 23, the resale potential of a player such as Michael is not quite as clear-cut as his 2019 performances would suggest. What’s more, Flamengo have also brought in center-forward Pedro and second-striker Pedro Rocha—how will they be able to fit them all into an already busy squad?

Luan (Grêmio to Corinthians). A cautionary tale for Flamengo after splashing the cash on Michael is that of Luan, who dazzled Brazilian football as a 22-year-old playing for Grêmio. Confidence, speed and technique quickly made him one of the best players of the domestic game, winning him a spot in Brazil’s triumphant 2016 Olympics side, and a Copa Libertadores winners’ medal the following year.

There was always interest from Europe, but no major clubs were willing to go all the way and invest the money needed to bring him over to the Old Continent. Reportedly the main concerns were age and fitness, and the European move never materialized. Now, close to turning 27, his form has dipped considerably and he has been picked up by Corinthians, who paid EUR 5 million for 50 percent of the player’s image rights. On his best, he’s a perfect fit for Corinthians. But if he’s unable to hit the ground running, he could be wasting his last chance.

Artur (Palmeiras to Red Bull Bragantino). This significance of this transfer is less about the effects it will provoke on the pitch, and more about a potential paradigm shift in Brazil’s top division. As a bit of context: Palmeiras are one of the biggest clubs in Brazil, while Red Bull Bragantino are a nouveau-riche side that last year won promotion to the first division. Twenty-one-year-old forward Artur had been at Palmeiras for four years, being loaned out to various clubs and making a good impression at Bahia last season.

There was a reasonable chance that Artur would get some game time at Palmeiras this year, playing for a team that will compete for the national title and the Copa Libertadores, but the club sold him to Red Bull Bragantino for a surprising BRL 25 million—a fee unheard of for newly promoted clubs in Brazil. We will discuss the rise of Red Bull Bragantino in a future issue, but their signing of Artur is a clear statement of their intentions.

Cristiane (São Paulo to Santos). Women’s football in Brazil hit one of its lowest points in 2012. In January, Santos announced that their two-time Copa Libertadores winning women’s team would be completely scrapped, as part of the financial gymnastics the club faced to renew the contract of men’s superstar Neymar for another year. The affectionately named Sereias da Vila (Village Mermaids) restarted their activities three years later, but took some time to return to their former prowess. Now, chasing the imperious Corinthians, Santos have made a statement by signing national team number nine Cristiane, who lead the line for Brazil in last year’s World Cup. 

Reinier (Flamengo to Real Madrid). After Vinicius Júnior and Rodrygo, Real Madrid have made another big money foray into the Brazilian market to pick up Flamengo teenager Reinier for EUR 30 million. Different from the two wonderkid wingers who made the journey over to Spain recently, Reinier is an attacking midfielder, something in between a playmaker and second striker.

As a hotly tipped youth prospect, Reinier ended up making a useful contribution to Flamengo’s victorious Brazilian championship campaign last year, scoring six goals in eight starts and six substitute appearances. As was the case for the Brazilian youngsters before him, Reinier will not go straight into the Real Madrid first team, and instead will begin in their Castilla B squad. But, after spending EUR 30 million, it surely won’t be long until Zinedine Zidane will be looking to bring him into contention.

What else you should know

State championships. Brazilian state football began last week with less of a bang and more of a whimper. In São Paulo, the first clássico of the year (Palmeiras v. São Paulo) ended in a disappointing 0-0 draw. In Rio de Janeiro, the biggest sides are still resting their first-team players.

Rio Olympics. Since January 15, the Olympic Park in Rio de Janeiro has been closed by court order, due to a lack of safety licenses from both the municipal government and the fire brigade. The facilities were built for the Olympic Games in 2016, but have been all but abandoned since then. 

F1 prodigy. At just 10 years old, Brazilian youngster Miguel Costa has been snapped up by the Sauber Karting Team, a feeder program for Formula 1 team Alfa Romeo. He is the youngest driver in the program’s history, and the hotly-tipped talent hopes to work his way through the ranks to the F1 one day. 

Curling. Whenever the Winter Olympics come around, Brazilian sports enthusiasts are glued to their screens to watch curling, a sport so foreign to the tropical South American country. Nevertheless, the tension and relatively straightforward rules make curling a regular hit during the Olympics, so much so that Brazil has now inaugurated its first-ever curling rink (also the first in Latin America) in São Paulo. The rink will be a part of Arena Ice Brasil, a new sporting complex to the southwest of São Paulo with a number of winter sports facilities.

MMA. Brazilian heavyweight Junior dos Santos suffered a second-round knockout at the hands of Curtis Blaydes this weekend, throwing the 35-year-old’s aspirations to win back the UFC Heavyweight title into serious doubt. For the first time in his 14-year career, Dos Santos has now lost two bouts in a row. Meanwhile, after leaving the UFC last year, Cris Cyborg cruised through her debut on rival promotion Bellator, defeating U.S. opponent Julia Budd and winning the Bellator Women’s Featherweight Championship.

Euan Marshall

Originally from Scotland, Euan Marshall is a journalist who ditched his kilt and bagpipes for a caipirinha and a football in 2011, when he traded Glasgow for São Paulo. Specializing in Brazilian soccer, politics and the connection between the two, he authored a comprehensive history of Brazilian soccer entitled “A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.”

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