Red Bull Bragantino: A Franchise in Brazil
Unlike other articles I’ve published, today’s story won’t be revolving around a team from Brazil that is in the “class of G-12”. Far from it. Today’s story revolves around a club that was founded in Braganca Paulista, a small city on the outskirts of Sao Paulo.
With just 150,000 inhabitants you can see why the team was a minnow compared to the likes of Sau Paulo [the club], Palmeiras and Corinthians. Still, this all looks to be changing following 2019 when a powerful investor came into play.
People in Europe might well be familiar with said investor – Red Bull. As the club entered a completely new era and became part of the Red Bull family, changing its name to Red Bull Bragantino, here’s a look into the story of a small club that might be one to watch in the not-so-distant future.
In 1927 Braganca Futebol Clube, an amateur football club in the city of Braganca split up due to various disagreements and a new club was created. Clube Atletico Bragantino was officially announced with the official date being set as the 8th of January, 1928 when the club’s board of directors was announced.
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As the club kicked off its existence, it soon won the Raul Leme Cup over their cross-town rivals Braganca and quickly received their nickname – Massa Bruta [or Gross Mass]. The side doesn’t have a lustrous history as other big clubs so their movement to a “professional” state took some time.
It was only in 1947 that the FPF created the Second Division of the Campeonato Paulista which was also deemed for professionals. As such, it took Bragantino two years to actually manage to participate in it even if they did only finish 4th not advancing to the next round of the Cup.
Results over the years were mixed with them advancing to the Second stage in 1952 and 53 but nothing too drastic to write home about. However, over the coming years, the team managed to steady themselves in the leading positions of the second division with a host of successful campaigns.
They were first in their group in 1958 but lost the title to Comercial. They were runners-up again a year later to Corinthians de Presidente Prudente. Despite them playing well and trying their best a final win was never managed for quite a long period and it took them until 1965 for the inevitable to finally happen.
At Estadio do Pacaembu, against Barretos, Braga won the first game 1-0 before an 86th-minute equalizer from striker Nivaldo in the second game saw them crowned champions and achieve the right to participate in 1966’s Campeonato Paulista. Sadly, although it was deemed quite an achievement it quickly faded away a year later with them finishing bottom and getting relegated back to the second division.
A bit of a dark period followed as Bragantino were eventually struck by numerous financial problems that threatened their existence. They barely even played in the period in between 1970 until 1979 only participating in a couple of Paulista championships before succumbing to their financial woes and being relegated to the amateur third division.
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It got so bad that one fixture was abandoned due to the team not showing up while another was filled up with amateur players from the city just so that it doesn’t suffer the same fate. It was only in 1979 when they won the Third Division that they managed to return to professional football and stabilise themselves financially.
Up and down times ensued mainly in the second division without anything noteworthy although they did eventually build up a squad that oversaw a 5 year “Golden period” in their history. In 1989 Bragantino achieved promotion to the Serie A as they beat Sao Jose in the final.
However, when people usually say a “Golden era” it’s garnished with trophies, success and players of enormous quality. That doesn’t really paint the picture for Massa Bruta although it does include some of the best achievements of the side to date.
Manager Vanderlei Luxemburgo was at the helm with notable players such as Silvio, Mauro Silva [World Cup winner in 1994] and right back Gil Baiano. The side went on to finish 8th in the Serie A but that wasn’t the best thing to come out of that year.
A couple of months prior to the Serie A season the team had it’s best Paulistao to date, advancing to the final of the first division where it edged out Novorizontino to seal it’s first and only Paulista title.
A year later Luxemburgo departed but the minnow from Braganca carried on being a surprise in the league. Under the guidance of Carlos Alberto Parreira they kept most of their starters and finished second in the Brasileirao advancing to the final after stunning Fluminense at the Maricana in front of 70,000 people.
Sadly, that was their best effort as they lost 1- 0 on aggregate to Sao Paulo. A year later they once again were challenging for the league, this time finishing third and qualifying for the CONMEBOL Cup, their first appearance on the “international stage”.
However, just as quickly as these glory years came about, another dark corner popped up. In 1995 the side were relegated to the Second Division of the Paulistao. Although they did manage an incredible feat, destroying Palmeiras’ historic “100 goal team” in the CONMEBOL Cup, they were eventually eliminated by Independiente Santa Fe and it was another year to forget.
What ensued in the next years was a surprise to many. In 1996, the side were relegated to Serie B alongside Fluminense. However, a match-fixing scandal shook Brazil and CBF opted to protect the big clubs without even ruling on the matter effectively blocking Flu from being relegated.
Bragantino ended up benefiting from this as well and remained in the division and did the same a year later, this time via the tie playout v Bahia after finishing 22nd. The inevitable occurred eventually and the side was relegated which carried on their struggles.
This was followed by another [this time quite long] period of ups and downs in the lower division of the Paulistao and eventually even getting relegated to Serie C, the third division of Brazilian football. It took them up until 2008 to return to Serie B and 2006 to the highest level of the Paulistao but that really wasn’t a huge feat as the club was only a “good performer” in said competitions.
What was deemed as success was participating in the Round of 16 in the Copa do Brasil and challenging in the Paulista but mainly being a presence rather than an actual threat. Despite that the team had finally achieved some sort of stability.
They were a mainstay in the Serie B and a regular threat in the Copa do Brasil. Even if Braga did languish in between the A1 and A2 of their regional Championship, it was still a much brighter picture to the one from years prior.
You have to understand this is still very much an achievement for a small city on the outskirts of Sao Paulo. And nothing can be taken away from that. For Massa Bruta fans such things had to be treated with a smile because yet again, a couple of years later [2016 to be exact] they had been relegated to both the A2 of the Paulista and the Serie C.
They swiftly managed to return to the A1 a year later and the Serie B but even the biggest Bragantino fan couldn’t imagine what was about to happen and how the club’s future would change…
Exactly at this point is where our story takes a little side turn. Very much needed side turn nonetheless, you’ll know why eventually. In 2007 after successfully entering the USA and European markets with NY Red Bulls and Red Bull Salzburg respectfully, the Energy Drink company opted to do the same with South America and more notably – Brazil.
Created in Campinas, Sao Paulo, Red Bull Brasil was born as the idea was to establish a powerhouse in both the state and national football just the way the other two clubs had become. However, this wasn’t as easy as initially planned.
Investment did prove its worth. Despite being a fourth division side the club’s participation in the Paulistao and ability to pay good wages for it’s duration attracted good players and success[or at least some] quickly showed on the field.
They moved to the A2 [Second Division] of the Paulista in 2010 before moving up a ladder in 2014 and even eventually reaching the quarter-finals of the competition where they lost to Sao Paulo. They were giving a good account of themselves in the Copa do Brasil, to an extent, troubling sides like America Mineiro even if they did eventually go out.
There was some promise but by 2019 the side still remained in the 4th tier of Brazilian football and just a bit-part player in the Paulistao. RB owners were quick in reacting as they weren’t satisfied with the results of their investment and opted for a different plan.
This is where the two stories intertwine. After careful research, Red Bull managed to agree a partnership with Club Atletico Bragantino who had, as stated above, just returned to Serie B and far from their best years. And suddenly, everything changed for a suffering fanbase.
Just a month after their takeover, Red Bull pumped an enormous amount of money [for Brazilian football standards, that is] into the Estadio Nabi Abi Chedid stadium as the turf was relaid, dressing rooms received a makeover too along with air conditioning and new benches for the substitutes were placed. It was deemed as the first stage of an infrastructural investment plan which was scheduled to cost around 8.5 million dollars.
On the field progress was swift. The side’s financial ability and heavily analytical recruitment proved key as players such as Claudinho, Ytalo and Leo Ortiz moved from RB Brasil to Bragantino and proved vital as the side’s Serie B campaign eventually became a formality.
Ytalo notched 13 appearances while Claudinho was voted Player of the Season with 11 assists as the side lifted the title at the end of 2019 seven points clear of second-placed Sport Recife.
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The Serie A campaign was more of the same really. A comfortable 10th place finish saw the club return to the international stage too in the Sudamericana for the first time since 1996. Last year was even more impressive as they finished in 6th place guaranteeing their place in the biggest South American competition – the Copa Libertadores.
But it wasn’t just that. The side topped their Sudamericana group advancing all the way up to the final whilst eliminating clubs such as Independiente del Valle, Rosario Central and Libertad. Unfortunately, they lost the final to Paranaense but evident progress has been made.
How has that happened one might ask? It’s no surprise that the Red Bull model has been implemented so quickly even into a different landscape such as South America. A very extensive and well shaped scouting system along with the company’s vast financial power are the keys to their success.
In 2020, the only club to outspend Braga were Flamengo who are the richest club in Brazil. And while it’s likely that the club is looking to develop players for their bigger European “brothers” who at this stage are also involved in Germany on top of the USA and Austria, some of the deals that have been vital have to be noted and applauded.
Stars such as Artur and Bruno Paxedes were acquired from Palmeiras and Internacional respectively with the former netting 21 goals and 14 assists in last year alone. Leo Candido was snapped up from Palmeiras too although he initially joined German outlet RB Leipzig but returned to Bragantino after not getting much chances. He was most recently named in the Paulistao Ideal XI and is a stalemate at the left-back position for the club.
Another name to make the successful transition to Serie A has been Center-back Leo Ortiz who oversaw the promotion campaign and has been a key component in a well-oiled machine. Obviously, the side have exported some of the talent they’ve produced with the most notable one being Claudinho.
Having notched 20 goals and 6 assists in his debut campaign in Serie A, he moved to Zenit St. Petersburg for 12 mil. Euro in 2021 and has been lighting it up in Russia with ease. A few Brazilian watchers were sad to see him go with an analyst even stating he’s the best Brazilian he’s ever seen in the league for a few years now which is quite the statement!
Of course, for a country with football so deeply rooted into its core, the takeover of Red Bull wasn’t without its fair share of controversy and criticism. With even the biggest South American clubs needing to sell players in order to keep their books in tact, such private investment isn’t really welcome that much as it disrupts an already fluid “football pyramid”.
With the heritage and culture of football being as vastly treasured in the continent as they are such “franchises” aren’t exactly welcomed with open arms and it was no different for Bragantino either. The usual was said: “Club had lost it’s true identity.”, “Giving up the badge for a Red Bull branded one means Bragantino effectively do not exist”. The list could go on and on.
And yet, for the fans of a club that hasn’t seen much, if anything at all, this was a gift from above. The Mayor of the city promised that the club stadium will be reworked with time and it’ll host a Libertadores game whilst supporters keep reaping the benefits of the players the club has attracted or produced.
With a steady cash flow, fantastic infrastructure and some of the best scouting and analytics departments in Brazil, Bragantino will keep on climbing the top of the country’s charts and although they’ve not started amazingly this 2022 campaign, they still remain a force to be reckoned with in the Libertadores where their focus has been. And even if not now or in the short-term, in the long one you best believe Red Bull Bragantino will be a household name in Brazilian football!
By: Peter Pankovski / @23Pankovski
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Miguel Schincariol / Getty Images