Soccer Santa Plays Scrooge In Brazil

Inflation, poor attendance, lackluster play and massive debts are causing Brazil's football clubs to count their pennies this Christmas.

Players are griping because teams delay paychecks. Managers balk at signing for less money. Third party syndicates continue to hold shares of players like slices of churrasco, dribbling around FIFA rules.

Big government has traditionally played Santa for the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF), providing the perennially debt plagued organization with loans and credits. But overbilling on World Cup stadiums and other scandals sparked violent protests last year and during the recent presidential campaign.

Neymar and Ronaldo were brought in by the neoconservative Brazilian Social Democratic Party to endorse their presidential candidate, Aecio Neves.

With street protesters linking Brazilian football with corruption local media outed Ronaldo for renting his luxury Rio home to FIFA president Sepp Blatter during the World Cup for 404,000 British pounds. Neymar, while not faced with charges, was buzzed up in the tax fraud case associated with his transfer to Barcelona from Brazil.

Needless to say the tactic backfired.

President Dilma Rousseff distanced government from the futebol mess and won reelection over Neves by a 3 million votes.

Incoming CBF president Marco Polo del Nero, currently president of the powerful Sao Paulo Football Federation, has brought in a conservative political marketer Walter Feldman, to create a new image for the organization.

Feldman designed the unsuccessful campaign of Marina Silva, whose rags to riches story going from illiterate rubber tapper to presidential candidate gained international attention. The Financial Times just listed her as one of the most influential women of 2014.

Silva's presidential bid lost momentum due to her anti-gay, anti-abortion agenda, and her connections with homophobic pastors in Brazil's Assemblies of God. Not being a soccer fan didn't help either. When she didn't make it to the final run-off Feldman was out of a job and del Nero made him an offer he couldn't refuse.

Whether Feldman rebuilds the image of the CBF or puts a slick PR wrapper over the never ending allegations of corruption and cronyism remains to be seen.

The surprise resignation of FIFA's ethics chief, former U.S. Attorney General Michael Garcia, over editing key sections of his report (which included Brazil), could more of the same old CBF.

Santa isn't bringing any gifts to Brazil's fans either.

Creeping inflation and high credit card rates are making it difficult for middle income Brazilians, already struggling to make monthly payments on homes and automobiles, to take their families to games and buy licensed CBF jerseys and other revenue producing merchandise.

A licensed CBF notebook with the logo of big name teams like Flamengo, Botafogo and Corinthians, a must have for many schoolboys, costs 14 rials (just over 3 pounds), as much as a 4 megabyte hard drive.

Santa brought a small gift for the national team under returning manager Carlos Dunga. Last Christmas they were not among the top 10 teams. After being humilitared by Germany in the World Cup they have played their way back into the top 10, ranking 6th in the world in the FIFA-Coca Cola standings.

The best gift the futebol Santa is bringing Brazil this year is priceless. It is the gift of life, for Pele, who was released from hospital after two weeks of treatment (including dialysis and antibiotics) for a problem with his one remaining kidney.

Few people knew that Pele helped Brazil win 3 FIFA World Cups playing with just one functioning kidney. At the end of his career, while playing for the Cosmos in New York surgeons removed the non-working kidney and the press never learned about it.

As Brazil's top sides count the coals in their stockings and sell their best players to the Premier League and Europe Pele's lust for life can remind them it's time to make the game he made beautiful beautiful again.

Note: Portions of this article are cross-posted from Huffington Post, United Kingdom