Teams of the Decade, #19: São Paulo 2005-08

Three times-in-a-row Brazilian champions São Paulo are our 19th team of the decade.
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Amazingly, the 2009 Brazilian championship season had four teams in with a realistic chance of winning the title on the last day and if São Paulo had made won, they would have made it four in a row. As it was, the side finished third but all in all, it was a good decade for them at a time where domestic Brazilian football has been floundering as typified by the crowning (2004/05) then relegation of Corinthians two years later.

São Paulo’s lasting story was the 1-0 win over Liverpool, where against the odds, triumphed in the Club World Cup. But less was it the David and Goliath story which was of the most significance but how the underdogs slayed the giant. On the face of it, it sounds ugly – taking the lead through Mineiro, they retreated to defend deep and countered, surviving a barrage of attacks from the Reds – but take a look at the winner again and it will display why it was such a well fought and well thought-out victory.

As the ball was played out of defence, Aloisio the loose forward found himself with acres of space, and similarly Mineiro, who ghosted through unmarked to finish off from the through ball. Movement was a key feature to the build, dragging defenders out of position and they did this by stretching the pitch and the players functioning in an asymmetric way. Josue and Mineiro provided the screen in front of the defence, with the latter’s role being more central and less bureaucratic, and Josue’s, not only holding the fort but covering for the advancing full-backs. Danilo, the attacking midfielder or meia was also loosely defined to take advantage of space by moving inside or out.

The deployment of two volantes may be loathed by purists but their popularization caught on during the noughties due to not wanting give an inch to the opposition and balancing the team. Recent championship success has had Muricy Ramalho, now coach of Palmiera, admit his team had limitations and indeed his layout did nothing to dispel those thoughts, but in his distinctive positioning and interpretations, could get more out of his side.

Pragmatism is also the philosophy off the pitch. Their model of stability is still the envy of many South American clubs who have since seen their stars flock overseas and São Paulo have been no exception. Potential big name players such as Kaka and Baptista have departed the club for massive fees which allows them to recoup and more, the initial investment spent on youth development and reinvest that cash into the first team. A quick look at 2006 team sheet sees youth system graduates, journeymen,workmanlike players and potential quick bucks populate their line-up, displaying the great attention detail the club played in long-term success. As 1970 World Cup great Tostão wrote, the defining characteristics of São Paulo are “marking, physical strength, power in the air and making few mistakes.” Which is not markedly different to contemporary Brazil but São Paulo have made sure they’ve stayed at the forefront in their well deliberated plans on and off the pitch.

Defining moment: São Paulo 1-0 Liverpool: Mineiro, 27. (2006)

Sao Paulo (3-5-2): Rogerio – Fabao, Lugano, Edcarlos – Cicinho, Mineiro, Josue, Danilo, Junior – Amoroso, Aloisio (Grafite, 75).
Subs not used: Christian, Alex, Denilson, Fabio Santos, Renan, Flavio Donizete, Thiago, Richardlyson, Souza, Bosco, Flavio Kretzer.

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