Rio de Janeiro, May 23 (IANS) Mention Botafogo to most young Brazilian football fans and the likelihood is the word will conjure images of a battling club with a small, if passionate, supporter base and a sparse trophy cabinet.
Forgotten is the fact that Brazil’s 1962 World Cup-winning team comprised five Botafogo players, including the crooked-legged Garrincha, rated by many as the game’s greatest player before Pele, reports Xinhua.
Since then the solitary white star – Botafogo’s unmistakable, if prosaic, logo – has been in rapid decline.
The one-time Brazilian giants have won just two top-flight titles since the first incarnation of country’s national league more than five decades ago, the most recent being in 1995.
However as Brazilian clubs prepare for the 2013 national Serie A championship, which begins Saturday, there are signs that Botafogo’s fortunes may be about to change.
Earlier this month the club won the Rio de Janeiro state title after losing just one match in more than four months.
Oswaldo de Oliveira’s team has been buoyed by the addition of Uruguay international midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro last year in addition to the emergence of teenagers Doria, Bruno Mendez and Jadson.
But the catalyst for Botafogo’s revival has been Clarence Seedorf, who joined the club last July after a celebrated 10-year spell at Italian giants AC Milan.
Seedorf has not only reinvented himself as a goalscoring playmaker, he has also lifted those around him to new heights.
“It’s fantastic to have Seedorf leading us,” Doria said. “He is a guy with a winning spirit and his presence lifts us, increasing our will to win. He helps us on and off the pitch.”
Despite having turned 37 last month, Seedorf has proved he is still capable of upstaging his younger teammates.
He was the side’s second-top scorer during the Rio championship with seven goals and led the assists chart with seven.
Seedorf admits to being re-energised by the challenge of playing in Brazil.
“Brazil is the mecca of football. It’s something special to be able to live and play here,” he said. “It really is an enriching experience.”
Despite the club’s dominant start to the season, Seedorf rejects the notion that Botafogo are favourites to win the Serie A championship.
“This league is so difficult,” he added. “I think we can challenge for the title but we are not the favourites.”
Other top-four challengers include Ronaldinho’s Atletico Mineiro, reigning Brazilian champions Fluminense and FIFA Club World Cup holders Corinthians.
Porto Alegre rivals Internacional and Gremio, led by former Brazil coaches Dunga and Vanderlei Luxemburgo respectively, are also expected to vie for the title after active summer recruiting campaigns.