The Curious Case of Grêmio Osasco Audax

Grêmio Osasco Audax and the 2016 Paulistão

For the first five months of every calendar year Brazilian football clubs up and down the country take part in their respective state championships. These tournaments are somewhat anachronistic, left over from the time when travelling across this continent-sized country for a national championship was unthinkable.

Many of the bigger clubs do not take these competitions seriously until they reach the latter stages, but for the smaller clubs, especially those that do not take part in any of the four national divisions, it is their life-blood and their best chance to pit themselves against the might of the traditional Brazilian big-boys.

For these team’s players it is also a chance to put themselves in the shop window, hoping that a team from one of the national divisions will come calling with a contract at the end of the short state campaign.

Occasionally one of these minnows manages something that shocks the giants and plasters their name across the national consciousness. In 2016 it was the turn of Grêmio Osasco Audax, a team from Osasco, a run-down city of 700,000 people in the greater São Paulo region. Playing a delightfully risky brand of passing football they finished as runners-up in the Paulistão, São Paulo’s state tournament.

Over the two-legged final they were overcome by a very good Santos team but along the way they had taken the scalps of São Paulo FC, beating them 4-1 in the quarters, Corinthians, beating them on penalties in the semis, as well as vanquishing Palmeiras and Santos in the group stage. For a small club, beating all four of the state’s giants in one campaign is some feat.

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Grêmio Osasco Audax take on Santos in the final of the 2016 Paulistão

As with all teams in all competitions in South America, success was a double-edged sword. The bigger clubs hovered around like the proverbial vultures, picking off their best players.

Energetic young central midfielder Tchê Tchê went to Palmeiras, where he excelled as part of a team that subsequently won the 2016 Brazilian Série A title; Camacho, his midfield partner, and forward Bruno Paulo went to Corinthians; the keeper, Sidão, went to Botafogo; midfielder Yuri to Santos, and winger Ytalo made his way to São Paulo FC.

But for the players who remained a slightly more unusual fate awaited.

Oeste Futebol Clube and the 2016 Campeonato Brasileiro Série B

Oeste, a team from Itápolis, a small town in the interior of São Paulo state, had been relegated from the top division of the state league after a terrible campaign and were due to start the 2016 Brazilian national championship in the second tier; Série B.

With much the same squad that had done so badly in the weaker state league, and their stadium shut by fire-fighting services owing to safety failures, things were not looking promising. Relegation was a near certainty and they had nowhere to play their games; Oeste were desperate. So, in stepped Mário Teixeira, millionaire ex-banker and owner of Audax.

Oeste had already used Audax’s stadium for their home games in the 2015 edition of Série B because of the aforementioned safety problems with their traditional home, but this time Teixeira insisted that the arrangement go one step further.

All of the remaining Audax players were amalgamated into Oeste’s squad and the Audax manager, Fernando Diniz, was handed the reins along with his coaching staff. Diniz was given licence to cast off whichever Oeste players he felt were not up to the task or did not fit in with his progressive style of football.

The squad trained using the Audax facilities and most of Oeste’s home games were played in the Arena Barueri, a larger stadium in another part of Osasco, with a few games still at Audax’s Estádio José Liberatti.

Effectively Grêmio Osasco Audax were playing at home in Série B, but using the name and colours of Oeste. Oeste even had the word ‘Audax’ stamped in large letters across their shirt, supposedly as the club’s sponsor.

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The Oeste players line up before game in the 2016 Campeonato Brasileiro Série B

Understandably Oeste’s supporters were not happy. The club, since its foundation in 1921, had always been based in Itápolis, which lies over 350km away from Barueri, and was the pride of its residents. Oeste had maintained a spot in Série B of the national championship for the previous four years, which is a spectacular achievement for a club with such limited resources and a ground that holds only 10,000.

It was the only professional team in the region and is loss cut deep. Fans protested by scrawling, “We want our Oeste” and, “Don’t sell 95 years of history” on their rickety old stadium’s walls, but it was to no avail. The deal was done.

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Graffiti on the Oeste stadium that reads: “Don’t sell 95 years of history!”

Despite this ‘partnership’, as it is rather euphemistically referred to, Oeste (or is that Audax?) struggled in Série B. They finished in 16th place, just one above the relegation zone and needed a 2-0 away win against promotion-chasing Náutico on the last day of the season to secure their safety. They also failed to attract the punters; with an average of only 3,150 people turning up to said ‘home’ games.

In July it emerged, rather unsurprisingly, that Mário Teixeira wanted to become the major stakeholder/investor in Oeste. If Teixeira manages to take control of Oeste he will presumably move the club to Osasco permanently. He is effectively taking his team of players and coaches and moving club, purchasing a place in Série B for the side he has built.

The move to purchase Oeste was half-heartedly denied by a club spokesman at the time, who stated that, “for the time being it is speculation. Our primary concern is keeping Oeste in Série B”. If reports are to be believed though, buying Oeste, and of course their place in Série B, is something Mr. Teixeira has been trying to do since 2014. It seems as if letting Oeste use the stadium in 2015 was merely a way of getting closer to his ultimate objective.

The mooted purchase generated even more protests from the unfortunate residents of Itápolis, who evidently don’t want the club unceremoniously ripped from their grasp. Like with most things in modern football though, money talks, and it doesn’t seem as if the fans will have any say in the matter.

Ponte Preta, Rejection and Grêmio Esportivo Audax

Before he owned Audax, Teixeira tried on several occasions to become involved with Ponte Preta, a mid-sized Série A club from the city of Campinas in São Paulo state, a team he loves dearly and has supported since he was a boy. Ponte Preta’s name translates into English as ‘Black Bridge’ and, according to some reports, Teixeira is such a big fan that he built a folly bridge over the lake in his garden and had it painted black.

Ponte, however, already had their own authoritarian millionaire in the shape of Sérgio Carnielli and Carnielli was unwilling to let another alpha male urinate on his territory.

After his attempts to buy his way into Ponte Preta were rejected Texeira decided to pave his own way in the football world and in 2010 took control of another club, Grêmio Esportivo Osasco (not Grêmio Osasco Audax, we will come back to them shortly), that had been set up 3 years previously by a small group of local businessmen.

The club initially played in the fourth, and lowest, tier of the São Paulo state league system but quickly achieved promotion to the third and then the second tier in 2008 and 2009. From there they yo-yoed between the second and third divisions for the next couple of years.

In 2013 Teixeira saw an opportunity. A club called Pão de Açucar Esporte Clube (herein, PAEC), which belonged to the Pão de Açucar chain of supermarkets, was put up for sale owing to a partial takeover of the proprietary group. They had just achieved promotion to the first tier of the São Paulo championship and Teixeira jumped at the chance to take over.

He effectively did then what he is in the process of doing now with Oeste, buying PAEC’s place in a higher division. He changed the name of PAEC to Grêmio Osasco Audax, moved their home games from the city of São Paulo to Osasco, and moved all his players and manager from Grêmio Esportivo Osasco to the newly rebranded Audax.

Grêmio Esportivo Osasco still exists but has become a B team for Grêmio Osasco Audax, where they can test out and develop young players before sending them over to the main side.

If Teixeira manages to take over Oeste as well, a peculiar situation will occur where Oeste are in the second division of the national championship but only the second division of the state championship and Audax are in the first division of the state championship but only the fourth division of the national championship.

If this is the case then one would imagine that Teixiera’s best group of players and coaches would play the state championship in the early part of the year for Audax and the national championship in the latter part of the year for Oeste, whilst his second team would play the state championship for Oeste and then the national championship for Audax.

Grêmio Esportivo Osasco, the team he first set up, would most likely be used as a feeder side for this bizarre arrangement.

This is mere speculation, but judging from events in 2016 it certainly appears a possibility. Audax are currently taking part in the São Paulo state championship which kicked-off over the first weekend of February. We will have to see what happens with Audax and Oeste come the end of this campaign and the start of the national championship.

Portuguesa, Debt and Lusa Audax

As if all this were not perplexing enough there is another complication to add to the picture.

Associação Portuguesa de Desportos, a traditionally bigger São Paulo club that has recently fallen on hard times and been relegated to the fourth division of the national league system, has had to put its stadium up for sale to try to pay off its debts and avoid total collapse.

It was reported that Teixeira wanted to once again take full advantage of an unfortunate situation and enter into another ‘partnership’. The supposed plan involves amalgamating Oeste, Grêmio Osasco Audax and Portuguesa under the new name of Lusa Audax (Lusa being Portuguesa’s nickname), taking the place of Oeste in Série B, reforming Portuguesa’s 28,000 capacity Canindé stadium to use as a home, whilst deploying Audax’s players and coaching staff.

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Portuguesa’s Canindé stadium

Were this potential arrangement to become a reality it would turn a disagreeable situation into an absolute fiasco. It is clear that Teixeira has no regard for the history of the clubs over which he asserts his influence and holds the fans in utter contempt.

Aside from Grêmio Esportivo Osasco, Grêmio Osasco Audax, Oeste and now potentially Portuguesa, Teixeira is also owner of, or investor in, the following outfits: Audax Rio de Janeiro Esporte Clube, which he also bought from Pão de Açucar Group as part of the same deal to buy PAEC in 2013; Osasco FC, an amateur club which mostly participates in youth tournaments and is designed to produce new players; Nacional, another traditional São Paulo club fallen on hard times, and the Corinthians/Audax women’s team.

The investment in the women’s team has been substantial, in itself unusual in Brazil, and they reached last year’s Copa do Brasil Feminina final where they beat São José dos Campos, the most successful club side in the short history of South American women’s football.

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The Audax/Corinthians women’s team celebrate their victory in the Copa do Brasil

This growing football empire has lead Teixeira to be dubbed ‘the Roman Abramovich of Osasco’ by the local press.

Aside from these teams Teixiera also paid 500,000 Brazilian reais for a youth team of Haitian immigrants and refugees known as Pérolas Negras, or Black Pearls, to enter the 2016 Rio de Janeiro State U20 championship in place of Audax Rio.

In 2014 Audax also entered into a so-called partnership with another club by the name of Guaratinguetá Futebol Limitada, lending their entire playing and coaching staff to dispute that year’s Brazilian Série C championship, much as they did this year with Oeste. It appears, however, that that was merely a one-off agreement whilst Teixeira waited for Oeste to get themselves in a position whereby they could not refuse his advances.

The Motive

The question all this poses is: why? What is the objective in the construction of this football empire? Why spend what must be an absolute fortune building and maintaining all this?

Unfortunately it is a question nobody is able to answer. Teixeira himself is somewhat of a recluse and rarely speaks to the press. PR duties are left to his son Gustavo Teixeira, who is executive director at the Audax group, Vampeta, a 2002 World Cup winner who is now president of the group of clubs, and the manager Fernando Diniz. Vampeta, a larger-than-life character and well-known public figure is particularly good for drawing attention away from Teixeira.

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Audax President Vampeta at a club event

Teixeira’s son Gustavo tries desperately to portray his old man as some sort of benevolent benefactor, purely interested in spending his money on the sport he holds so dear. In an interview with Brazil’s biggest sports channel SporTV, Teixeira Jr. said, “in the USA you see Bill Gates investing money to discover a cure for malaria and cures for other diseases, my dad is doing the same thing here, only with football.” Incredibly, he managed to say this sentence without appearing to realise how ridiculous it sounds.

The manager Diniz and his players also speak glowingly of their boss. According to the same SporTV report just mentioned Teixeira Sr. treats them all to a barbecue after games and even offered to take them all for a spin in one of his friends’ helicopters after their runners-up success in the 2016 São Paulo championships.

Despite the insistence of everyone involved with the Audax group, however, one can’t help but feel he is motivated by something other than his love for the beautiful game. His actions with Oeste don’t speak of a man who cares a great deal for the most important element of any club: the supporters.

Is it transfer fees that he is after? After all there are many clubs in Brazil that base their business model entirely on their ability to produce young players and sell them on to bigger teams and the Audax group certainly has a strong focus on youth development.

Yet this answer doesn’t seem to make sense. Even with the sales of the players after the 2016 São Paulo Championship runners-up campaign he would have recouped nowhere near the money he invested. Teixeira was even caught on camera by reporters for SporTV confronting his player Tchê-Tchê who just had agreed to move to São Paulo giants Palmeiras. In the video he could be heard shouting, “Money is not a problem here, it never has been.”

Wanting to recoup money with transfer fees would not explain the seemingly altruistic investment in the Black Pearls team, as there is little potential there for future financial gain. It would also fail to account for the bankrolling of the Corinthians/Audax women’s side as there are currently extremely limited commercial opportunities with women’s football in South America; only the second-leg of the final of the tournament was on television.

There is another potential explanation which comes in the form of a Brazilian law called the Law for the Encouragement of Sport. This edict states that any money invested in government approved sporting activities (including youth football) can be deducted from the business or person who donates the money’s tax obligations.

Using this law he has managed to collect donations totalling 2.9 million Brazilian reais from his former colleagues on Bradesco bank’s board of directors and even managed to convince Ronaldo Fenômeno to part with some money in return for economic rights of Osasco FC players.

However, the explanation of an easy way to avoid tax does not seem sufficient to explain the scale of what he has built, or the level of investment. Why go to all this effort when one could just open a bank account in Switzerland in the name of a relative, as so many other Brazilian business people and politicians do?

This is a truly unprecedented and thoroughly baffling situation. The more one looks at it, the more unanswerable questions one finds.

The very fact that Teixeira is able to purchase these clubs and do with them as he pleases without any stiff opposition is an indication that the CBF, Brazil’s FA, and FPF, São Paulo State football’s governing body, are not doing their jobs.

Football is nothing without supporters and if there is nothing to protect them from the predatory desires of the wealthy and ambitious then the future of the jogo bonito could be very ugly indeed.

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