Financial irresponsibility at the heart of Botafogo and Deportivo Quito's issues
At the start of the year, Botafogo of Brazil met Ecuador's Deportivo Quito in the qualifying round of the Copa Libertadores -- South America's Champions League.
It should have been a happy occasion for both. For Botafogo, it was the first time they had appeared in South America's premier club competition since 1996. For Deportivo Quito, it might have appeared to mark their consolidation. A traditional club from the Ecuadorian capital, they ended a 40 year wait for their third championship win in 2008 - and followed it with further titles in 2009 and 2011. In 2012 they came desperately close to reaching the quarter finals of the Libertadores for the first time -- and here they were, back with another shot at glory in the competition.
It might have seemed, then, a good moment to be a fan of either Botafogo or Deportivo Quito.
Fast forward a few months and the situation looks very different.
Botafogo are deep in relegation trouble, scrambling for points in the last few rounds of the Brazilian Championship in a bid to ensure the preservation of their first division status. This is a reflection of financial problems -- salaries have gone unpaid for months, and a group of senior players who complained about it were promptly sacked.
Last week they hit a new administrative low in a row involving current national team goalkeeper Jefferson, who made a 26 hour journey home after playing for Brazil in Singapore last Tuesday. On the Thursday night the club were facing Santos in a domestic cup game. Jefferson did not turn up. There was confusion about whether he had been selected for the match, which has ended with the goalkeeper and the club's director of football accusing each other of behind the scenes cowardice.
And this, remember, was a cup game -- not especially relevant given the fact that Botafogo's overwhelming priority is to win enough league points to avoid relegation. Rowing over this issue offers proof for a wise old Brazilian saying -- in a house with no bread, everyone shouts and no one has right on their side.
But Botafogo's situation is relatively smooth when compared to that of Deportivo Quito. The Ecuadorian club are so deep in debt (an estimated 20 million dollars) that they could not even fulfil their fixture at the weekend, which was awarded to opponents Emelec on a walk over basis.
In this case, the warning lights were already flashing at the start of the year. The club did not have the funds to retain the team that had qualified for the Libertadores, and hurriedly had to assemble a renewed squad to face Botafogo. And things have gone downhill since. The club president resigned last Friday. A new man, Joselito Cobo, was elected on Monday. The task ahead of him is to stabilise the financial situation -- not just to avoid relegation, but to ensure the very survival of the institution.
There has been some misfortune along the way -- in the case of Botafogo the stadium they use, only built in 2007, has been closed for over a year as a result of doubts about the stability of the roof. This has cost the club money. But the basic truth here is almost certainly that both Botafogo and Deportivo Quito have over-stretched themselves in the quest for glory.
All of this is more evidence, if any were needed, that football is a very strange business -- one where the objective is not profit but titles. The temptation of financial irresponsibility is built in -- a bit more spending can always be justified if it brings in more points and allows everyone to dream of the prizes.
Tim Vickery covers South American football for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Tim_Vickery.