In what was one of the most dramatic Brasileiro Série A campaigns in recent years, Nathan Joyes discusses significant leads, those who finished in the top four as well as Santos’ fall from grace.
Palmeiras pick up another title
Although predicted to win back-to-back Serie A titles, it wasn’t the easiest of season’s for Abel Fereira and his players. His beloved 4-5-1 which had served him so well was beginning to come undone, and it wasn’t until a late switch in the season to a 3-5-2 that saw his side rally when it mattered.
Aside from the formation tweaks, it was 17-year-old Endrick who was their saviour. The Real Madrid bound striker scored six goals in the final eight matches, which saw Fereira’s team finish two points clear on the final day.
It was predominantly a season of frustration for the young sensation, with Fereira opting to play Jose Lopes and Rony in the first half of the season - both underperforming in comparison to previous seasons.
Fereira, who has achieved great success with Palmeiras, has been heavily linked with Al-Sadd in Qatar - a financial decision he may not be able to turn down.
The Portuguese coach has vocalised throughout the campaign how demanding the Brazilian football calendar is, and looks likely to depart.
Whoever is appointed will have big shoes to fill and a demanding fanbase to succeed.
The fans have demanded their squad to have more depth, and fighting across all fronts almost proved too much this season - only for Endrick to save them at the death.
Suarez’s stupendous campaign
Two points behind the eventual champions were surprise package Gremio. Having only been promoted back to Serie A last season, keeping their heads above water was their main priority.
Yet the signing of Luis Suarez raised expectations, and despite his ongoing knee issues, carried the side up the table scoring 17 goals and contributing with 11 assists.
His second half hattrick against Botafogo was one of the highlights of the season for the Uruguayan, who instantly became a fans favourite amongst Gremio’s fanbase.
Although back in the Copa Libertadores, Gremio will struggle to replace their talisman, who heads to Miami to rejoin Lionel Messi in the MLS.
Scolari’s deadly duo
Despite Suarez’s superb season in front of goal, the former Barcelona striker wasn’t able to win the golden boot. Atletico Mineiro’s Paulinho scored 20 league goals on his return to Brazil, having endured a frustrating few years in Germany with Bayer Leverkusen.
However, back in a familiar environment the 23-year-old thrived. Building a formidable relationship with 37-year-old Hulk, who managed 15 goals of his own as well as 11 assists, of which the vast majority was setting up his apprentice, was the main reason for their success. Between the pair, they managed to score 35 out of Atletico’s 52 goals.
Paulinho’s instinctive movement and finishing in the box earned him a call up to the Brazilian national team for the first team, and although his time in Germany didn’t go as planned, a return to Europe could be on the cards in January.
Luiz Felipe Scolari swapped Athletico PR for Atletico MG early on in the season, and despite being 75 years of age, his appetite for the game has yet to deteriorate.
Galo have drastically improved under the former Brazil head coach’s leadership, who’ll be aiming to trouble Palmeiras in 2024.
Tite to the rescue
Flamengo’s season was nothing short of disappointing - but it could have been worse.
After winning the 2022 Libertadores, Dorival Junior was replaced by Vitor Pereira, who was never welcomed by the fanbase at the Maracana, and after several embarrassing defeats, including a 2-1 loss to Aucas in the Libertadores group stage, the former Corinthians manager was sacked.
In his place, Jorge Sampaoli was awarded the job. However, he too, failed to win over the home crowd.
After an embarrassing defeat to Olimpia in the round of 16 in the Libertadores, an incident which saw a staff member slap Pedro, and players fighting amongst themselves in training, the board had no choice but to dismiss their second manager of the season.
Their next appointment had to be right, and in came former Brazil head coach Tite. The 62-year-old instilled confidence back within the squad, and despite finishing fourth, they had opportunities to challenge Palmeiras for the title.
It wasn’t to be, and a disappointing campaign came to a close for the Brazilian giants, but with Tite at the helm, 2024 offers hope for Flamengo.
Botafogo blew their golden opportunity
Inside the camp, Botafogo had high expectations of their own to achieve a Libertadores spot in 2023, and although that was accomplished, it should have been more.
Having led for 31 rounds, which included a 14 point lead at one stage, Botafogo won just two of their final 17 games as their season ended in despair.
Five managers oversaw the team throughout 2023, but it was their first which put them in first place. Luis Castro was the brains behind Botafogo’s early success, but Cristiano Ronaldo and Al-Nassr came calling, and the Portuguese coach simply couldn’t refuse.
Despite their excellent start to the campaign, Tim Vickery told The Copa Club Botafogo effectively took advantage of other team’s prioritising other competitions, before failing to get over the line.
“I was there at the first game of the season. They beat Sao Paulo 2-1 and we're very lucky to win. There was no one in the stadium, no one liked the team and no one liked the coach. The conversation on the way back on the train between fans was that we've got a lot of improvement to do. It's an extraordinary story.”
“The current side was assembled only in the last year. It was the first year back in the top flight and it was assembled to stay up. Their basic model was aimed at achieving survival, which they achieved - but that's all it was. Yet all of a sudden that same model got them 14 points clear.”
“This was partly because it's such a tough calendar and clubs have to prioritise. The Copa do Brasil is more lucrative than the league. The Libertadores is more prestigious than the Serie A title. This is where you often find the bigger clubs fielding weaker sides domestically.”
Bruno Lage was next in but instead of guiding the ship built by Castro, the former Wolverhampton manager decided to change tactics. This led to a quick demise in the table, winning just four of his 15 games in charge, as well as bowing out the Sudamericana to Defensa y Justicia.
A decision to leave top goalscorer Tiquinho Soares on the bench in a home match against Goias was unforgivable, and Lage was the next manager out of the door.
The tipping point for Botafogo was their all important home match against Palmeiras. An explosive first half display saw the then league leaders race into a 3-0 lead at half-time - which arguably could have been more. Order was restored, or so they thought.
What followed next was catastrophic.
Brazilian sensation Endrick pulled a goal back five minutes in the second half. A controversial red card for Adryelson in the 75th minute put added pressure on the hosts, before an 83rd minute penalty for the hosts should have sealed their season-defining victory.
Tiquinho Soares missed and Endrick scored within 60 seconds. Jose Lopez equalised in the final minute, before a 99th minute winner from Murilo completely stunned those inside Estadio Olimpico Nilton Santos.
Owner John Textor was in attendance and it’s safe to say he didn’t hold back on live TV at full-time as the players were still yet to exit the pitch.
“It’s not a red card, this changed the game. This is theft, this is corruption. Please, fine me, Ednaldo Rodrigues, but you need to resign tomorrow morning. That’s what needs to happen. This championship has become a joke, no one deserves this. Not even the players from Palmeiras want to win like this and we don’t want to lose like that.”
This wouldn’t be the last time Botafogo would throw away a sizable lead. Having led 3-1 to Gremio, an unrecognisable second half saw the defence wilt, once again losing 4-3, as the club finished the season on an 11 match winless run.
The club’s main aim at the start of the season was to finish in the Libertadores places. However, the opportunity they found themselves in to achieve something special was almost taken for granted.
Forward Diego Costa revealed in an interview he felt as though some of his teammates thought it was done and dusted due to their huge lead - and complacency crept in.
Unfortunately for the club, this will go down in history as one of the biggest opportunities missed in world football.
Santos suffer first ever relegation
For those who have read the new magazine, there are numerous factors as to why Santos have fallen from grace. Only a year after Pele sadly passed away, Santos were relegated for the first time in their club’s history.
During the summer months, Angelo and Deivid Washington were sold to Chelsea for fees that angered the fans. With a lack of capable firepower, there was a lot of pressure on Marcos Leonardo. The young Brazilian scored more than Barcelona bound Vitor Roque, but he alone couldn’t carry an underperforming side.
The advantage was with Santos before the final round of fixtures, but both Bahia and Vasco dug deep to record impressive victories over Atletico Mineiro and Bragantino respectively, which saw them both escape relegation by the skin of their teeth.
Fans took to the streets in anger, setting buses and cars on fire as they struggled to comprehend how their great club, with eight league titles to their name, had managed to drop into Serie B.
How Santos moves on from here is unknown. With financial issues, key players including Leonardo on their way out of the club, they will need to turn to their academy once again to re-build their project and return back to where they belong.