Businessman José Mário Pavan, 67, was still sitting on the bus returning from São Carlos to Araras, on the 16th, when he decided to answer an insistent call.
“Pavan, are we going to settle that debt?” said the person.
“And, on Sunday, at six in the morning, another one came. But now we have the chance to start resolving all of this”, he tells Sheet.
Present since the founding of União São João, on January 14, 1981, performing different functions on the board, the current president reaps the burden and bonus of a feat that seemed unlikely.
The traditional team from Araras, in the interior of São Paulo, gained its first access after 27 years – the last one was to Série A of the Brazilian Championship in 1996.
The team was defeated 2-1 by Grêmio São-Carlense, in the decisive game of the semi-final of the Second Division of the Campeonato Paulista – Bezinha, as the fourth level of the state is called –, but secured a place in Series A3, as they had won by 3 to 1 in the first leg.
“The city today looks like an erupting volcano. It was like a reunion”, reported Pavan.
Champion of Series C and Series B of the Brazilian Championship, present for 18 consecutive years in the elite of São Paulo football, the first club-company in the country and the team that revealed left-back Roberto Carlos, the association seemed stuck in the past. A page turned.
The club resumed professional football in 2022 after a seven-year hiatus, during which time it requested licensing due to worsening debt of approximately R$20 million.
It fell in the first phase, with just one point gained in ten rounds. Three goals scored and 27 conceded. The second worst campaign among the 36 teams that competed in the competition.
Everything seemed even worse with the decision of the FPF (São Paulo Football Federation) to create a new division. The entity will have, from 2024, a fifth state division. Bezinha will be divided into two: Segunda A and Segunda B. Of the 36 clubs that competed in the current edition, 20 fell.
“I said, ‘For God’s sake, are we going to stop at the farm now?’ It was a shock,” said Pavan. “Football without money can’t be done. I said: ‘Let’s stop, let’s organize ourselves and start all over again when we can’. We couldn’t fall again, no one could take it anymore.”
But the Union did not fall.
The key to the turnaround was the appearance of homemade aid. It came from a group of investors headed by former defender Tiago Bernardi, who played for several teams in the country and abroad, but with an emotional connection with the club that formed him in the 1990s.
Bernardi, who was once the Secretary of Sports of Araras, agreed to take care of football at União. To do so, he had the help of other former players, such as Sandro Hiroshi and Beto Médici, and some businesspeople from the city.
“We had little time to put it together, but everyone I consulted offered to help. I was very scared because of the story, because of the stoppage of time, but it seems that everyone wanted União back. It was just ‘yes, yes, yes…”, he said.
The club began to reorganize. He agreed with eight companies for sponsorship agreements on the uniform – most of them from Araras –, sold 34 advertising boards spread out on the field of the Hermínio Ometto stadium and mobilized the population.
“The whole city embraced us, that was the secret. Everyone wants to know and only talks about União again”, said Bernardi, now the club’s executive director.
“It’s that old story: you have a bicycle and you don’t see any value in it. The day you get a flat tire, you’ll miss it. Araras realized that União was missed,” noted Pavan.
The club was founded by Hermínio Ometto, owner of Usina São João, one of the most important in the state. In its debut year, it gained access from Series A3 to A2. The team would reach the state’s elite in 1987, one year after the founder’s death. It was even presided over by his son, Gilberto Ometto, before the best phase.
In 1992, in the national Series B, Roberto Carlos was called up to the Brazilian team that would compete in the pre-Olympic tournament. He is one of many names that have come from the same source, such as left-back Léo, an idol of Santos, goalkeeper Velloso, a historic player at Palmeiras, and winger Éder Aleixo, a great at Atlético Mineiro.
The tradition of a formative club that led journalist Nilson Zanchetta to write the book “Araras e seu craques no Futebol”, in two volumes, recounting the trajectory of more than one hundred players born in the city, which is 167 km from the state capital and has around 135 thousand inhabitants.
This tradition was one of the factors that motivated the recovery, despite financial problems.
“The commitment we made with Pavan was to leave nothing to pay, not to incur new debts and to play football. He is close, but he has given us the freedom to play,” said Bernardi.
There was some respite in relation to debts. The projection is that they will be paid for by selling percentages of athletes who stood out in the first year.
Part of União’s rescue involves choosing coach João Batista. He was recommended by Hiroshi to Bernardi, but he hadn’t managed a team for almost four years.
“It was a challenge due to the period I was stopped and the greatness of União. When we started, there was no squad, it was a stationary structure. We needed to redo everything, we changed the tire on the car while it was still moving. It wasn’t easy”, observed Batista .
On the field, after an unstable start, the team found its feet throughout the competition. Access is now assured. The fight for the title remains with Catanduva. After a 0-0 draw in the first leg, in Catanduva, the championship will be decided this Saturday (30), in Araras.