A ding-dong battle with the Palmeiras board had seen Robinho Lazaró emerge relatively unscathed and remain at the Brazilian club for a second full season in change.
The post-season saw club record appearances holder Gabriel Menino retire and long-time attacker Gabriel Veron depart at the end of his contract, which freed up over £100,000 in weekly wages. More finances were freed up by selling underperforming midfielder Denilson Corozo to Saint-Étienne for £1.7 million. But most importantly, they kept hold of star striker Brenner, who was unhappy with Lazaró’s decision-making but then rejected a £3 million move to AC Milan!
The midfield got a bit of an extra bite in ball-winning midfielder Joao Pitbull, who joined for £1 million from Flamengo. He was the only addition to the first-team squad with several young talents like centre-backs Marcos Roberto and Samir and midfielder Paulo Romário making the step up.
Heading into the 2036 campaign, Lazaró had a tactical rethink by leading with the 4-3-3 he’d tested in the final game of last season.
Sao Paulo State defence
Having won the season introductory league last season, Lazaró was very much aware that, in truth, it was irrelevant, so didn’t want to put too much strain on his key players. However, they opened up with a repeat of last year’s final as they entertained Corinthians. The visitors led early, Palmeiras turned things around with a brace from right-winger Ali Mehri, but Corinthians had the better of the second half and got a deserved equaliser assisted by Lazaró’s former favourite Batata.
Despite that, they started the season well by hammering Gremio Novorizontino 6-0 and Guarani 4-0, led by playmaker Diego Mallo bagging three assists and a goal. A lack of left-wingers for a trip to Botafogo-SP saw 18-year-old academy product Gedeil handed a debut and he delighted the Palmeiras fans by scoring the opener in a 3-1 win. That was part of an eight-game winning streak heading into a big clash with Sao Paulo, who led early but Palmeiras came flying back through both centre-backs Natan and Samir then young starlet Júlio David’s first of the season.
With continental games kicking off, Lazaró had no option but to rotate for a trip to Santos and the strong form ended with a 3-0 loss. But they finished second to Corinthians in the 12-game league and, as usual, lost 4-2 at Santos in the semi-finals.
Exciting new striker
The opening of the transfer window in March 2036 saw the arrival of an exciting new signing and potential heir apparent to Brenner. Argentinian Sergio Sosa joined for £2.4 million from Talleres, immediately joined the veteran’s mentoring group. A few weeks later, Sosa was named number five on the NxGn 2036 list along with Júlio David at number eight.
Copa Libertadores group
Excitingly, Palmeiras were drawn with one of Lazaró’s former clubs Alianza Liman along with Godoy Cruz and Sao Paulo. A rival clash at home to Sao Paulo was first up and Denis and Brenner strikes gave them a perfect start before Brenner nicked an edgy 1-0 in Argentina. Lazaró welcomed Alianza to Allianz Parque and a Beto long-range strike and a late Denis goal wrapped up all three points. He then got a warm welcome back to Peru from the Alianza fans, despite his new side winning 2-0 again thanks to Júlio David and Brenner. They thumped Godoy Cruz 6-0 led by a Brenner hat-trick to win the group, before a fully rotated side lost at Sao Paulo.
The Copa Libertadores second round saw Palmeiras drawn with Peruvian side Binacional and somehow managed to lose 3-0 in the away leg. They won 4-1 at home, with Binacional obviously scoring from their only shot on target from a huge hoof downfield, to cruelly go out on away goals and Lazaró didn’t shy away from showing his rage at the first leg performance.
Another poor start to Série A
The media fancied Palmeiras to finish fourth in the main Brazilian league. However, they began it with a dreadful performance in a 2-1 loss at Goianiense. That began a tough start to the campaign as they lost 1-0 to Flamengo’s only shot on target and got hammered 3-0 at Gremio. After three games, the only team below them was reigning champions Fluminense, and Lazaró was getting deja vu all over again…
A run of four defeats in all competitions was compounded by a 3-1 loss at Corinthians, which saw Lazaró able to fine nine players for poor performances. Mehri returned from injury to score hat-tricks in a 3-0 win over Avaí and a win 3-1 at reigning champions Fluminense but a 1-0 loss at third-place Paranaense left Palmeiras down in eighth and a huge 13 points off leaders Corinthians.
Several players disappeared to Copa América at the same as an injury crisis, but young midfielder Paulo Romario stepped up to inspire a 2-1 win at Internacional. Brenner ended a rare poor run of form with a double to down Chapecoense 3-2, an exhausted side drew 1-1 with Santos and Sosa finally got his first goal to nick a 1-0 win at Vitória before a disgraceful 3-1 loss at Ceará.
Backup goalkeeper Murylo was so bad in that defeat that Lazaró threw in fake keeper André Luis at home to Cuiabá. The stand-in conceded a screamer but assisted one of Brenner’s five-goal haul and played a 7.3! That gave them the confidence to beat strugglers Juventude 2-0 before brilliant performances from exciting young midfielder Gedeil and Paulo Romario inspired a 3-0 win over Vasco.
The opening of the domestic window in August saw a big-name arrival as Calegari, now 34, arrived on a free transfer from Man City. He stayed with Fluminense all the way up until 2031 before five seasons in England. And Lazaró hoped he’d offer an improvement or, at least, more consistency at full-back.
He made his debut at home to Goianiense and played well with four key passes as Denis and Brenner scored in a 2-0 win and a clean sheet also followed in his second game, a dire 0-0 at the Maracana against Flamengo. Indeed, the Brazilian media had suddenly decided Lazaró “favoured a defence first” style of football heading into a huge clash with second-place Gremio. Kaio Jorge, who Lazaró bid for at the start of the season but the board blocked the signing of a rival player, scored with their first shot but Mehri returned to create the equaliser for Sosa then score a vital late winner.
The media’s claims rang true as two consecutive 1-0 wins, both courtesy of Brenner goals, took Palmeiras to 10 league games unbeaten, in which they conceded just three goals. That teed up a huge Paulista Derby at home to leaders Corinthians and, predictably, they played out a dull 0-0.
Closing the gap on Corinthians
Palmeiras’ defensive solidity continued with two successive 2-0 wins while Corinthians lost two on the bounce. That saw the gap suddenly close to just two points with Gremio a further two back heading into the final 10 games of the season.
The good run continued with wins over teams struggling at the bottom of the league as, for the first time in months, Lazaró finally had his first 11 regularly available. That included a Brenner hat-trick and a Denis assist hat-trick inspiring a 4-0 thumping of reigning champions Fluminense, who were in the relegation zone! A Brenner brace inspired a 3-0 win over Chapecoense the day after Corinthians lost at Sao Paulo, which took Palmeiras top of Série A for the first time in Lazaró’s reign.
The toughest game remaining was a trip to a dangerous Santos. But Palmeiras’ confidence showed as they dominated their rivals to win 3-0 led by a Mehri brace. The next day, Corinthians lost at home to overperforming Ceará to gift Palmeiras a four-point lead!
5 games from glory
Palmeiras headed into the final games of Série A on a sensational run of seven successive wins and 18 unbeaten, since they also lost to Ceará four months ago. And a first title in eight years was within touching distance with a relatively favourable run-in.
Game 1 – Vitória (home): Palmeiras dominated struggling Vitória from the first kick, stopping them from even having a shot in the first half while Brenner bagged four goals before the break! Mehri added another after it and Brenner completed another five-goal haul from the penalty spot late on. What a striker this guy is! Corinthians nicked a 1-0 win at CSA to stay within four points.
Game 2 – Cuiabá (away): International call-ups and injuries forced another fake keeper to play and they weren’t helped by Beto idiotically getting sent off after 39 minutes. But go-ahead goals by Brenner and a brilliant header by retiring centre-back Natan were cancelled out by the hosts and Palmeiras were lucky to come away with a 2-2 draw. But Corinthians also dropped points in a 1-1 at Atlético Mineiro.
Game 3 – Atlético Mineiro (home): And they were Palmeiras’ next opponent, but they made no mistake as Brenner bagged yet another brace to lead them to a comfortable 2-0 win. That saw the striker equal his own club record of 49 goals in a season.
Game 4 – Juventude (home): A first chance at the title came at home to whipping boys Juventude, who had 17 points and were on a nine-game losing streak. Palmeiras absolutely battered them but, inexplicably, couldn’t score and somehow drew 0-0 while Corinthians won. Lazaró was so furious he ignored the teamtalk and subsequent media duties and locked himself away from the players for a few days.
Game 5 – Vasco (away): That meant a point on the final day would be enough. Palmeiras started well as Mehri scored but some abysmal marking saw them concede 10 minutes later. Vasco dominated the rest of the match but that defensive resilience just about paid off for a 1-1 draw.
Palmeiras were Champions of Brazil!!
Corinthians threw away a 2-0 lead to draw 2-2 on the final day, so Palmeiras won Série A by two points. And that was very much deserved as they had the league’s best attack (74) and defence (27). Brenner was top goalscorer with 29 goals, which was four more than Kaio Jorge, Denis got the most assists with 15 followed by Patryck’s 12 and Mehri had a league-high 7.45 average rating.
This was a strange season that again started slowly but a scintillating run of form saw Palmeiras go unbeaten for five months to charge to the title. The main man behind this success was Brenner, who scored 49 in 56 in all competitions.
Other key contributors were wingers Mehri, who scored 24 in 36, and Denis, who got 17 goals and 22 assists in 55 games. While Patryck chipped in with 16 assists, Mallo got 15 and Beto got 11.
A very different challenge
With Brazil done and dusted, Lazaró wasted no time in departing Palmeiras, largely because his contract was set to expire at the end of the season. But also because he noticed that, for the first time in this save, there was a job available in Canada. And that was crucial as he now only had Canada and Argentina remaining on his target of completing Aventuras Américas.
That job was with a club that had been national champion five years ago but just finished bottom of the Canadian Premier League. And they didn’t hang around in passing the reins to such an illustrious manager. Robinho Lazaró was heading back to North America with FC Edmonton.