Under new manager Oswaldo de Oliveira, the Rio-based outfit have played some very neat football. A 4-2-3-1 which revolves around Dutch great Clarence Seedorf, the free flowing movement of the front four in that lineup. The deep-lying defences of Brazil's national league allowed so much room for maneuver, something Seedorf has used to great effect. He had a host of options upfront including Rafael Marques, Vitinho (who I will talk about later) and Hyuri, a new star.
Firstly, some smart transfer business has been done at the club. De Oliveira has brought in two top quality signings in Clarence Seedorf and Nicolas Lodeiro. For a club that doesn't share the same resources as other clubs in the league like Flamengo, Seedorf is quite the coup. The Dutchman brings unearthed qualities to the pitch. Lodeiro, after a failed stint in Europe with Ajax (in which he only racked up 20 domestic appearances in two seasons) the Rio de Janeiro side swooped and now he provides experience of the top level, and also his passing, vision and the odd goal.
The first key to Botafogo's success was utilizing Clarence Seedorf. The Suriname-born player spent the majority of his career toughing it out in the middle, not allowed to go forward and attack in the way he does in Brazil. Brazilian great Tostão had an interesting insight, saying "His current movement is not the best of his career, but it is the most enjoyable and inventive, as he is probably playing the way he dreamed of playing as a kid, which he was unable to employ in the rigid European system". This is a fair point as Seedorf in Europe was a tenacious, ball-winning midfielder, whereas the Brazilian edition of the player is a creative, all-round attacking midfielder. This lease of freedom has been instrumental in Botafogo's season.
The next part of the puzzle is 19 year-old Vitinho. He is a player I know very well, as on FM12 he became one of the undoubted stars of the team at the tender age of 18. There is no doubt that he is still one of my favourite players and I like to boast about knowing him before anyone else, something which all FM players have done. Extremely versatile, he can play in a number of positions including left wing, center-forward and attacking midfield. His raw speed, flair and finishing made him one of the brightest talents in the league. This was exemplified in his two goals at Olaria, where in both he managed to beat several players on the dribble, before easily beating the keeper.
This brings me to the lows. Vitinho's jaw-dropping performances led to major interest in him from several of Europe's elite clubs. It was CSKA Moscow that won the race, though. The €10 million deal unlocking the clause in his contract, and most of that will go towards paying debts. Botafogo fans were clearly outraged by the deal, reacting angrily to the news. I recently read Tim Vickery's column about the club on the BBC. He recounted that next to his press box, he saw a man with a black and white striped shirt, with the number '31 Vitinho' proudly stuck on his back, which would have cost a fair amount of money.
But the problem was solved. As Vickery later put it in his column, "It seems as if Botafogo have been able to clone their new star". Two weeks after Vitinho left the Engenhão for the cold winter of Russia, in came Hyuri. On loan from Audax Rio, Hyuri made an instant impact, scoring an astounding solo goal versus Coritiba. Hyuri, 21, he scored three goals in his first four games and has become Botafogo's new poster boy.
Credit must go to the manager de Oliveira, and also to Botafogo, the club itself. They keep producing young, determined players with the right attitude towards the game. In Seedorf they have not only a top quality player but a top quality player that loves the game. Lodeiro is a player who is determined to get his career back on to the best possible path and they have a group of players who enjoy playing the game and know the way of the club, as players like Doria, Vitinho and Cidinho were all brought up through the youth system.
Finally, as I live in Australia, I rarely get to see Botafogo play but from the looks of it, things are heading in the right direction. For a club that is rarely seen as a contender for the title, even second place could be considered a success for the club, and a solid foundation for them to build on. Oswaldo de Oliveira's free flowing, fluid tactic makes use of all the player's collective strengths and styles. He has a young squad in which he can build on for years to come, with players like Cidinho, Doria (who is held in very high regard), Sassa and a host of others. There is no doubt that Botafogo are definitely pushing above their weight, but I have the feeling this is not just over-achievement, but a new era for the club.