The Brazilian tradition of concentracao — sequestering teams before matches and shielding them from temptations such as sex and alcohol — is under threat, as players take a stand against the late payment of wages.
So far this year, players at Botafogo de Futebol e Regatas. Associacao Portuguesa de Desportos and CR Vasco da Gama have refused to attend the concentracao because their salaries were late.
Although only Botafogo’s players have maintained the boycott, their action has led to a reappraisal of the ritual and raised questions over the integrity of Brazilian players.
“Football is all about results, and if Vasco and Botafogo can show that they perform better without the concentracao, then other teams will adhere,” said Lucio Surubin, the director of soccer at recently relegated Clube Nautico Capibaribe. “But it is hard. If I had responsible and conscientious professionals I wouldn’t have any qualms about ending the concentracao, but I don’t.”
The concentracao is a long-standing institution used to control players. Teams gather in hotels or at the club training ground for one or two nights before matches so staff can monitor the players, prepare them for games and keep them away from outside influences.
Botafogo’s players rebelled at the start of the year. The club had not paid their salaries for several weeks and the players abandoned the concentracao in protest.
The experiment proved successful and continued even after their salaries were paid.
The Rio de Janeiro side have had one of their best seasons in years. They won the Rio State Championship in May and finished fourth in Serie A, guaranteeing a place in next year’s Copa Libertadores for the first time since 1996.
One of the club’s veterans, central defender Bolivar, said they know the spotlight is on them and they look out for each other.
In Brazil, fans regularly monitor which players are spotted socializing in the days before matches, a task made easier by social media.
“We don’t spy on each other, but we’re aware that we’ve been given a vote of confidence and we need to respect that and live up to it,” said Bolivar, formerly of AS Monaco. “This can only work when you trust the players.”
Bolivar added that when European players learn of the concentracao, “they think it’s crazy.”
Even in Brazil, the practice has long been considered anachronistic. In the early 1980s, Sport Club Corinthians Paulista midfielder Socrates called it a “notorious aberration” and the then-medical student organized shifts the day before a match to avoid being involved.
He led his team to vote against the practice and they rejected it for several years during a period known as Corinthians Democracy. However, when he left the club in 1984, the concentracao returned.
Other players have legendary tales of escaping the bubble.
Garrincha sneaked out of the Botafogo team hotel during a 1959 tour to Sweden and nine months later, was rewarded with a son.
Renato Gaucho missed out on the 1986 FIFA World Cup after being caught partying on the eve of the tournament.
Romario and a young Ronaldo left Brazil’s team base one night during a Copa America tournament. After scaling a wall, Ronaldo was surprised to find that Romario had arranged a taxi to take them to a nightclub.
“It was mega-professional,” he joked years later.
Nevertheless, many players acknowledge that the practice does serve a purpose.