The 63,903 paying guests present at the Arena Castelão on October 9, 2016 saw the film repeated for the seventh time: the 1-1 draw against Juventude once again prevented Fortaleza from qualifying for the Serie B of the Championship Brazilian. In 2017, the team would compete in the third division for the eighth consecutive time.
Not worse than that, but as a consequence of the failure, there, at the beginning of October, ended the year 2016 of Leão do Pici, with more than three months before the end of the year. A scenario similar to previous seasons, where the executioners were Oeste, Macaé-RJ, Sampaio Corrêa and Brasil de Pelotas.
Would Fortaleza ever return to at least play in the national Serie B?
So don’t be surprised if this Saturday (28), when the Tricolor Ceará takes the field to face LDU-EQU in the final of the Copa Sudamericana, in Uruguay, the thousands of Fortaleza fans present at the Domingo Burgueño stadium, in the city de Maldonado, appeared in tears during the official broadcast. The road has been long in the six years that separated the end of the agony of the C Series until the continental decision.
Access to Series B after eight years in C took place on September 23, 2017, in the town of Juiz de Fora, Minas. Tupi won 1-0, but the 2-0 at the Arena Castelão in the quarter-finals guaranteed Fortaleza a place in the semi-finals and, therefore, in the Second League in 2018.
To understand the end of the agony, we have to go back a few months, to 2017. In May, the president at the time, Jorge Mota, and his deputies resigned. The elimination of Cearense in the semi-final against Ferroviário was the straw that broke the camel’s back, but the delays in employee salaries and problems with the club’s infrastructure, in addition, of course, to the captive seat in the Third Division, contributed to the exit. There was pressure from organized supporters, including threats, but internally the situation was also uncomfortable.
A group of four advisors, including Marcelo Paz, took over as interim director. On June 10, a new board of directors was elected, with the presidency assigned to Luís Eduardo Girão, now a senator, and the first vice-president to Paz, who also took over the leadership of the football board .
Girão, from the Novo party, has become known in recent years as one of the most active right-wing parliamentarians in the cause of former President Jair Bolsonaro, active, for example, in the Covid CPI. And curiously, Marcelo Paz, his partner in the recovery of the Tricolor Ceará, is more linked to left-wing causes in Ceará. His wife Jade Romero, a member of the MDB, is vice-governor of Ceará, where the PT is based, with Elmano de Freitas, state official.
In a model similar to that carried out by Paulo Nobre at Palmeiras, Girão took money out of his pocket to turn around the club’s finances. At least 6 million reais were spent, and not only by him, but also by other businessmen fans of the club, some of whom were not even part of the management team. The loans were repaid over the years, primarily through participation in the sale of athletes.
The Rogério Ceni era
With more balanced finances and guaranteed access to Series B, Fortaleza announced in November 2017 the hiring of coach Rogério Ceni. A newcomer to the profession, the former goalkeeper began his career at São Paulo, his lifelong club, as a player, but it did not work out. By signing with Leão, he would start from scratch in the Second Division and in a club in a restructuring phase.
Between two periods, with a break of just over a month, when he agreed to manage Cruzeiro and quickly lost his job to return to Fortaleza, Ceni played 153 matches, with 81 wins, 33 draws and 39 defeats, i.e. a success rate of 60%. . He is the third player to have led the team the most times, behind Moésio Gomes, with 229 matches, and Juan Pablo Vojvoda, with 188.
The club reached Serie A at the first attempt, and as Serie B champion in 2018. With Ceni, it also won two Cearenses (2019 and 2020) and a Copa do Nordeste (2019).
But the Ceni era is not only important for Fortaleza because of these numbers. He is the coach who led the modernization of the facilities at the Alcides Santos Center of Excellence, at the club’s headquarters in the Pici neighborhood. Renovation of the grounds, changing rooms, purchase of various equipment for physical preparation and medical recovery, which was required by the CENI as a beacon so that the board of directors, already better off financially, could open the coffers.
“It was a two-way street, they both did each other good,” Marcelo Paz said recently, in an interview with BandSports, about the Fortaleza and Ceni relationship.
The Vojvoda era
In November 2017, shortly after Ceni’s hiring, Girão resigned as president of Fortaleza after realizing he had helped clean up the books. Marcelo Paz took over, a position he still holds today. It was with Paz that Ceni left for Cruzeiro, and a month later he returned, in 2019, and also with Paz that in 2020 Ceni left Pici again, this time in the direction of Flamengo. This second departure somewhat shook the top hat’s relationship with the coach.
Marcelo Chamusca was the solution to finish the 2020 season, but the guy chosen to try to maintain good performances in 2021 has been Enderson Moreira, currently coach of Sport. Did not work. After 20 matches he was dismissed with an elimination in the Copa do Nordeste for Bahia.
Then Juan Pablo Vojvoda arrived. The Argentinian, now 48 years old, consolidated the good work of the Ceni, with fourth place in the Brazilian Serie A in 2021, the first participation in the Libertadores, in 2022, and now the place in the final of the Copa Sudamericana. And he saw Fortaleza take off in other areas, such as marketing, becoming a reference in the sector.
The budget has exploded
Good performances on the pitch with Ceni and Vojvoda allowed Fortaleza to considerably increase its revenues. In 2017, the last year of Serie C, the club earned 24 million reais. In 2022, when he first participated in the Libertadores, the revenue was 267 million reais.
“Our number 10 is on-time pay,” Marcelo Paz said in July, in an interview with CNN Eportes S/A. Times different from those of 2016 or 2017, when athletes and employees were not paid and the team had difficulty leaving Serie C.
Fortress in Uruguay
The Fortaleza delegation is already in Uruguay for the Copa Sudamericana final. The match against LDU-EQU will take place next Saturday (28) at 5 p.m. (Brasília time), at the Domino Burgeño stadium, in the town of Maldonado, in the tourist region of Punta del Este. And the first training session took place this Thursday (27).
– Fortaleza Esporte Clube 🦁 (@FortalezaEC) October 27, 2023
See Fortaleza’s schedule for the Copa Sudamericana final
10 a.m. – Training on the grounds of the Solana Hotel
5:30 p.m. – Press conferences with captain Tinga and coach Juan Pablo Vojvoda
6 p.m. – Reconnaissance of the Domingo Burgueño stadium pitch
5 p.m. – Fortaleza x LDU in the Copa Sudamericana final
2h – Departure of the charter flight to Fortaleza
8 a.m. – Disembarkation in the capital of Ceará
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