Keeping focus

For Flamengo goalkeeper Bruno scoring goals has become as important as saving them and he’s not alone, says Robert Shaw

By common consent, the Vasco da Gama v Flamengo derby on March 22 was a relatively clean game marred by overzealous card-waving from referee Luiz Antonio Silva dos Santos. However, observers also pointed out that the official somehow missed a wild halfway-line follow-through by Flamengo goalkeeper Bruno that threatened to decapitate Vasco’s Edu Pina.

After thundering the ball into touch and deliberately clattering head high into his opponent, Bruno seemed to have realised that he had overstepped the mark. As he ran back, he adopted the last refuge of a wild tackler by suddenly collapsing in his own area. Remarkably Bruno succeeded in avoiding either colour of card in a game where five reds and eight yellows were flourished. But post-match reviews of the incident have seen it referred to the Tribunal of Sports Justice in Rio de Janeiro. Suspension is still a distinct possibility.

It marked the latest incident in a turbulent year for the 24-year-old goalkeeper who is reckoned to be one of Brazil’s most promising. In this period Bruno has added free-kicks and penalties to his repertoire. For some it is a modish imitation of Sao Paulo veteran Rogerio Ceni whose dead ball accuracy – he has scored 83 goals from free-kicks and penalties – has even surpassed the prolific feats of Paraguayan keeper José Luis Chilavert.

The problem for Bruno is that so far he has not proven himself to be another Rogerio Ceni and the team he is meant to be safeguarding look even less like the rock-solid Sao Paulo. While he has curled in two delightful free-kicks and a penalty in the last 12 months it seems to have deflected his concentration from the main part of his job.

One howler involved Bruno spilling the ball at the feet of the oncoming forward to gift an equaliser in the 1-1 draw with Tigres in the Rio Cup. His keeping was also subject to more rigorous analysis after Flamengo bungled their way out of last season’s Copa Libertadores, somehow managing to throw away the advantage of a 4-2 away win by collapsing to a 3-0 home defeat to Mexican team America in front of 50,000 bewildered fans in the Maracana. It has shaken the confidence in a player who gained cult status with Flamengo supporters after two penalty saves in the shoot-out at the end of a memorable Rio championship final against Botafogo in 2007.

Off the field Bruno has been involved in a series of controversial incidents: he was fined 20 per cent of his wages after being present with team-mates Marcinho and Diego Tardelli when a prostitute was assaulted at an impromptu party after Flamengo’s draw with Atletico MG last July. Worse for the players was that they had excused themselves from travelling back with the club group because they wanted to make “family visits”. Later in the season Bruno’s relationships within the squad seemed to have broken down with the keeper noisily denying he was a team spy.

Things have not got much better this year. A training ground bust-up in March saw Bruno verbally abuse club idol Andrade (a key member of the famous team that beat Liverpool to win the 1981 World Club Championship) for the way he was refereeing a kickaround training game on the eve of a Rio league match. The press almost universally jumped to the defence of the popular Andrade in an episode that was widely seen as an upstart going off the rails.

Bruno’s preoccupation with becoming a dead-ball specialist is not an isolated case. Vasco’s keeper Tiago also fancies himself as lethal from the same range and had scored 16 times from set-pieces for his previous club Portuguesa. At Vasco he has had to defer to Edmundo and Romario but a recent goal from a free-kick against Resende looks to have renewed his appetite.

The backpass may have helped goalkeepers to become more proficient in kicking with both feet but many coaches are still reluctant to allow them to become auxiliary or emergency strikers. This was amply illustrated last November when World Cup-winning goalkeeper Marcos was criticised by Palmeiras boss Vanderlei Luxemburgo for surging upfield in an effort to get on the end of free-kicks and corners in a 1-0 defeat by Gremio. Luxemburgo’s point was that Marcos lost his sense of proportion by trying this with over 15 minutes remaining. Bruno himself illustrates another problem with keepers venturing upfield as sometimes he comes up just to stand and watch as an outfield player takes the kick. It’s long way to go for a dummy run.

From WSC 267 May 2009