Botafogo and Crystal Palace: From Rio to South London – a match made in Heaven?

[Thanks to Tomas Martinez for the photo of Botafogo Bay c/o Unsplash.com and also to Robbie Blakeley @rio_robbie for his insight]

John Textor’s investment in Brazilian club Botafogo has led to an unlikely transatlantic alliance between Rio de Janeiro and South London. After Textor announced his interest a few weeks ago there was a rash of exchanges on Twitter and elsewhere on social media between fans of the respective clubs. It’s not just the distance that is so sizeable. Any similarities between the affluent, middle class district of Botafogo [see main picture] and Croydon, one of the UK’s most deprived boroughs, are not immediately apparent. You have to dig pretty deep to discover any links but at least Textor’s choice of name for the holding company Eagle Football strikes a chord in SE25. 

Perhaps the strongest connection lies in the fact that both clubs have encountered their fair share of financial difficulties over the last few decades. Palace have dipped their toes into the murky waters of administration twice – in 1999 under Mark Goldberg and in 2011 under Simon Jordan. Botafogo were reportedly £130 million in debt and having teetered on the edge of bankruptcy several times recently, Textor’s £240 million injection to buy a 90% stake in the club, provides a path out of financial oblivion. The fans seemed to be reasonably happy if the tweet below is anything to go by:

Botafogo (@Botafogo F.R.) Tweeted: TU ÉS O GLORIOSO 🎵⭐️ https://twitter.com/botafogo/status/1481796784418693127?s=27

The Eagles and The Lone Stars of Botafogo have both been through hard times on the pitch with the Rio club’s problems a fresh and painful memory. In 2020, a club considered to be one of the ‘Big 12’ of Brazilian football, were relegated to Série B, the second division of domestic football, for the third time in the last two decades. They finished rock bottom, fourteen points from safety, winning a handful of league matches and became the first team to fail to earn 30 points within a single Brasileirão campaign. They did show what Iain Dowie would call ‘bouncebackability’ by winning Série B last year and are once more in the top-flight. Palace are currently enjoying their ninth consecutive season in the Premier League but before their promotion via the Play-Offs in 2013, they had cornered the market as the archetypal yo-yo club, having been relegated after one season in their first four Premier League campaigns – 1992/93, 1994/95, 1997/98 and 2004/05. 

As for the origins of the clubs, they came to being within a year of each other. Palace have laid claim to being England’s oldest club, being founded in 1861. However, that is a matter of conjecture as the club was dissolved in 1876 and until very recently, 1905 has always been considered when, as a professional outfit, Palace were founded. A year beforehand Botafogo FC was hatched from the unlikely environment of a rowing club hence their full name of Botafogo de Futbol e Regatas. It is safe to say that Botafogo’s best days are in the past, as Brazilian football writer Robbie Blakeley points out. 

“I’d say that Botafogo have one of the most colourful histories in Brazilian club football,” Blakeley says. “Today they are far from being one of the biggest or most well supported sides, in the late 50s and early 60s they provided several of the key players that helped the country win their first two World Cup titles, with Nilton Santos [after whom their current stadium is named], Didi and Garrincha probably the most recognisable names and later, Jairzinho [the only player to score in every match of the World Cup Finals in 1970]. Alongside Santos, they have provided more players for the national team than any other club. The mood around Rio has been one of excitement since Textor arrived on the scene.”

As Palace prepare to face their fiercest rivals Brighton this evening, Botafogo’s deadly enemies are fellow Rio club, Flamengo. The enmity is as fierce as any in world football, which the events of February 2018 clearly illustrate. Flamengo were due to use Botafogo’s Estadio Nilton Santos stadium as a neutral venue for the Guanabara Cup Final (a local competition for Rio-based clubs) against Boavista but that idea was kiboshed when Botafogo banned their rivals from their stadium. The draconian action followed a mocking gesture by the Real Madrid-bound Vinicius Júnior. 

As James Kilpatrick of FourFourTwo reported. “Viniciusscored the third goal in Flamengo’s 3-1 win over their hosts on Saturday night before performing a ‘crybaby’ gesture to the crowd which has a specific meaning to Botafogo fans. Back in 2008, Botafogo’s players were mocked for visibly crying in a press conference held to complain about poor refereeing decisions. Ever since, the club has been ridiculed by opposition players via their goal celebrations.”  

There are a few dissenting voices around this deal as the hoary issue of multi-club ownership has reared its head a few times especially as Textor has just announced a further investment in a Belgian club. RWD Molenbeek (or to give them their rather quirky full name Racing White Daring de Molenbeek 47) are a second tier club with an excellent academy that has produced such talent as former Manchester United winger Adnan Januzaj and international striker Michy Batshuayi, who had a couple of loan spells at Palace when at Chelsea. So it is no coincidence that yesterday Palace’s American player Jacob Montes moved to RWD Molenbeek on loan. With Palace’s Category One academy flourishing in its splendid £20m facilities and with both the Under-23s and Under-18s very much on the up, the ability to tap into the rich reservoirs of talent that are so prevalent in South London and Belgium and Rio, offers all the clubs a bright future.  

“It’s a relationship, not necessarily a multi-club property,” said Textor in an interview with Globo, the Brazilian media company. “City Football Group did not place this group of big clubs. I hope Botafogo will work in partnership with other clubs on the same level, like Benfica. This never happened before. No club should be just a satellite for another. Every club is important for its fans, for its country. Why would I do that? It has no logic. When we talk about collaboration, it gives more opportunities.”

The concept of partnering with other clubs across the globe is not a new one. Palace had already joined the Global Football Alliance last summer – https://bit.ly/3q55cV5 – a group of twenty-odd clubs from around the world who will share scouting/recruitment information as well as best practices, especially in the increasingly important area of sport science. The links with Botafogo will add another dimension and as Textor sought to allay the concerns of them merely becoming a feeder club for the Premier League outfit. “It’s a rational fear but it’s not a logical fear. When you talk about the collaboration of top-tier clubs I think there is more opportunity to use this global footprint and these shared resources to efficiently access talent.” It will be worth watching the sharp increase in traffic between Copacabana and Croydon in the coming years.

Published by richardfoster60

Author, broadcaster, historian, journalist. A regular contributor to the Guardian, Sky Sports and talkSPORT, my latest book is highly acclaimed Premier League Nuggets - "brilliantly written" - Darren Fletcher, "I love Premier League Nuggets" - Guy Mowbray, "the book is a labour of love" - Peter Drury.

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