Best of the boys from Brazil
RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - Any doubts about São Paulo's place as the dominant team in Brazil football this year were dispelled at the Brazilian Footballer of the Year Awards on Monday night when the champions took five of the top individual player awards and the best manager gong.
The league champions dominated the evening with the goalkeeper and club captain Rogerio Ceni elected Player of the Year. The 440 journalists, players and managers also voted Ceni best goalkeeper, Souza best right back, Fabao best centre half and Mineiro one of the best holding midfielders.
Manager Muricy Ramalho, who added the Brazilian national title to state titles won in Sao Paulo, Pernambuco and Rio Grande do Sul, won the best manager award and three other Sao Paulo players were narrowly beaten in the categories for central midfielder, left midfield and striker.
'There is no luck involved in their success, it's hard work,' Internacional central defender Fabiano Eller said shortly after the ceremony ended. 'Sao Paulo and Internacional are the two teams with the best administration and the best players and that is why they keep getting to finals. They also have the infastructure, which I think is fundamental.'
Inter beat Sao Paulo to take the Copa Libertadores but they could not catch them in the league, where Sao Paulo streaked away to end the season nine points clear. Sao Paulo has long been recognised as the best run club in Brazil and their stellar showing at an awards ceremony featuring former FIFA President Joao Havelange, double World Cup winner Djalma Santos and current Brazil manager Dunga capped a great year for the club.
Their dominance in the league was summed up by statistics showing they won more games than any other club and lost fewer. They had the most potent attack and the most frugal defence. They also made it to the final of the Libertadores final for the second year in a row and Ceni and Mineiro were widely held to be the league's two most influential players.
Ceni in particular was hugely important to the club. The 33-year old goalkeeper not only kept the goals out, he was also Sao Paulo's joint top goalscorer with eight, all of them from penalties or free kicks. His goals took his career tally to 68, overtaking Jose Luis Chilavert and making him the highest scoring goalkeeper in footballing history. In one game, he saved a penalty when Sao Paulo were 2-0 down and then scored twice to level the match.
He last week signed a new contract until 2010 and as a symbol of the club he will seek to provide some stability as the inevitable coming and going of others forces Ramalho to shuffle his pack. The manager has already resigned himself to losing Fabao and Danilo, both of whom will go to Kashima Antlers in Japan.
Ramalho will try to bring in reinforcements from other Brazilian clubs but he already has a quality collection of youngsters and strength in depth that few of his rivals can match.
The club had players nominated in seven of the 11 positional categories, including two for the position of right back, where both Ilsinho and Souza were nominated alongside Paulo Baier of Palmeiras.
Inter was the only other team to take home more than one award. Euller was voted best central defender alongside Fabao and Inter captain Fernandao was elected best centre forward.
Real Madrid's new signing from Fluminense Marcelo was voted best left back and Goias forward Souza, the tournament's top goalscorer with 17 goals, was elected best striker.
The midfield quartet was completed by Rio de Janeiro double Renato (Flamengo) and Ze Roberto (Botafogo) and Gremio's Lucas - reportedly a target for Inter Milan.
Unlike in recent years, when Flamengo, Botafogo and Vasco flirted with the drop, all three did better than expected with Flamengo and Botafogo both finishing in mid table and Vasco narrowly missing out on a place in the Libertadores.
Under the auspices of manager Renato Gaucho, Vasco only missed out by failing to beat Figueirense in their final match and were forced to settle for a spot in the Copa Sul-Americana, South America's equivalent of the UEFA Cup.
Sao Paulo, Inter, Gremio and Santos all qualified for the Libertadores, joining Flamengo, who qualified as champions of the Copa do Brasil. Parana, the year's surprise team, Vasco, Figueirense, Goias, Corinthians, Cruzeiro and Flamengo go into the draw for the Sul-Americana.
At the other end of the table, it was bad news for Brazil's most populous state Sao Paulo. Sao Paulo teams Sao Caetano and Porte Preta were relegated along with Santa Cruz and Fortaleza, meaning only the big four (Corinthians, Palmeiras, Santos and Sao Paulo) from Brazil's most populous state will play in the Serie A next year.
They will be joined by Atletico Mineiro, Sport, Nautico and America-RN, all of whom were promoted from the Serie B.
• Nominations for the top 11 (Winners in itallics)
Diego Cavalieri (Palmeiras)
Rogério Ceni (São Paulo)
Ilsinho (São Paulo)
Paulo Baier (Palmeiras)
Souza (São Paulo)
Central defender (right side)
Fabão (São Paulo)
Central defender (left side)
Fabiano Eller (Internacional)
Luís Alberto (Santos)
Marcelo Mattos (Corinthians)
Mineiro (São Paulo)
Josué (São Paulo)
Zé Roberto (Botafogo)
Danilo (São Paulo)
Zé Roberto (Santos)
Aloísio (São Paulo)