All South American football was waiting for Daniele de Rossi. By signing this summer at Boca Juniors, the popular club in Buenos Aires, the Italian world champion has jostled the football community, rather used to see the players cross the Atlantic Ocean in the other direction. Yet it is from another European that the light has come. Jorge Jesus, a 65-year-old Portuguese coach, made Flamengo, the club in Rio de Janeiro, the big attraction of the end of 2019.
Unbeaten for 25 games, the Rubro-Negro one by one crushes his opponents and rolls to his first title of champion of Brazil for ten years. In front of the Argentine title-holder, the River Plate of Marcelo Gallardo, the club carioca will also try, Saturday, November 23, to win the second Copa Libertadores in its history, after that of 1981.
"What convinced me to come here is the greatness of Flamengo. The four most famous clubs in the world are Flamengo, Boca Juniors, Barça and Real Madrid. Here, I will have the opportunity to win the Libertadores and the Club World Cup ", said Jorge Jesus, triple champion of Portugal with Benfica (2010, 2014, 2015), during his presentation in early June.
At that time, few people took it seriously. With more than 40 million fans across the country, Flamengo has earned the nickname of "But querido do Brasil" (The most beloved of Brazil), but apart from a few blows (2009 championship, national cups of 2006 and 2013), his daily lot was mostly made of sports disappointments and financial crises for several decades.
At the pantheon of Brazilian football, Flamengo (5 titles) is behind the four big Sao Paulo: Palmeiras (10 titles), Santos (8), Corinthians (7) and Sao Paulo FC (6).
The exploits of Zico on television
How did this club, originally founded for the practice of rowing, whose football section was born in the early twentieth century a split in the neighbor and rival Fluminense, he managed to conquer and to retain the masses?
"A widespread hypothesis is that this massification is closely linked to the process of mediatization of Brazil, first through the national radio founded in 1936 and the daily newspapers like the Journal des Sports, then with television from the years 1970-1980. , which correspond to the emergence of the generation Zico, the most victorious of the club until today ", develops Alvaro de Cabo, researcher in the field of sport history and professor at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ).
This period also corresponds to the air hole of the Selecao, deprived of world title between 1970 and 1994. Zico, one of the biggest number 10 in the history of Brazilian football, frustrated with the selection, catches up with the red and black jersey of Flamengo, who becomes the first to be flocked to a sponsor in the country (Petrobras, in 1984).
Brilliantly surrounded by Carlos Mozer, Junior, Andrade and Leandro, the flamenguista captain won four league titles in the 1980s, in addition to the Copa Libertadores and the Intercontinental Cup against Kenny Dalglish's Liverpool.
These exploits, diffused from one corner to another of Brazil, make Flamengo the national emblem, at a time when the clubs of Sao Paulo are in withdrawal.
In the last six months, after a long absence, Flamengo has returned to enchant the country, thanks to the offensive football advocated by his Portuguese coach and to a rich and experienced workforce.
It is the result of the club's takeover in 2013 by President Eduardo Bandeira de Mello, who, in order to pay off debts and enter the era of modern football, relied on the main assets of the club. club: its millions of supporters.
The program socio-torcedor, which allows fans with a monthly subscription to the club to be a priority in the purchase of seats, and the creation of Flamengo embassies throughout the country and abroad has helped to build the loyalty of the public and to fill the clubs of the club, in addition to some record sales of players (Vinicius at Real Madrid for 45 million euros in the summer of 2018 and Paqueta at AC Milan for 35 million in January 2019).
"The management did things in the right order: solve extrasports problems, set up a big team. Many do the opposite in Brazil. Today, Flamengo, which has the best training center in the country, is a model for other clubs ", argues Abel Braga, the ephemeral coach of the Olymopic of Marseille (2000) and predecessor of Jorge Jesus on the bench of the Rubro-Negro.
The drama of Ninho do Urubu
This success gives ideas to the top of the state. During his visit to China in late October, Jair Bolsonaro, the extreme right-wing president and supporter of Palmeiras, offered his Flamengo jersey to his counterpart Xi Jinping. "It's the best Brazilian team of the moment. All of Brazil is Flamengo and I'm sure the 1.3 billion Chinese will be in the final too. "he had said.
Already in June, he showed up in a match with his justice minister, Sergio Moro, weakened three days earlier by the revelations of The Intercept his lack of impartiality in the Lula case.
This year had begun very badly. On the night of 8 February a fire broke out at the "Ninho do Urubu", where the young players of the club were staying. Ten of them lost their lives. "This very painful event, which left marks at every level of the club, said Abel Braga, who was then in charge of the professional team. It was terrible, we thought about it every day while coming to train. The players have never let go in this event. Today's results are a form of tribute ".
A win on Saturday against River Plate would mark a year decidedly unlike any other for Flamengo.