Fluminense will this weekend take on Vasco da Gama in the final round of the 2012 Brazilian championship with a number of first-team players already on their summer holiday after wrapping up a famous title success with three games to spare.
The Rio de Janeiro side were brutal in pursuit of the title, losing just four games in the process while combining a lethal attack with the league's meanest defence. In a division renowned for its competitive nature, the Tricolor Carioca's domination in all areas is truly a remarkable feat.
So, just how did Fluminense come to achieve such impressive results?
One thing Fluminense do not lack is high-profile players, and it has been these players who have generally come up trumps for the Laranjeiras outfit when most required. However, what Fluminense have done well is foster a strong team spirit throughout the squad, rather than solely rely on these individuals.
Leading the way for the champions has been striker Fred, formerly of Ligue 1 side Lyon. Second in the scoring charts last season, Fred went one better this time around—breaking the 20-goal mark once more and set to finish as the league's top scorer.
Assisting him from midfield is the wonderfully talented Deco. After a slow start following his return from Chelsea, the 35-year-old has enjoyed a marvelous season in 2012 and is charged with supplying the ammunition for Fred to fire. Should he fail, Fluminense can also call upon former Hamburg midfielder Thiago Neves as backup.
Although not strictly a star in terms of commercial value, it also feels right to pay homage to goalkeeper Diego Cavalieri, formerly of Liverpool, at this point. The best keeper in the league this campaign, Cavalieri has, at times, single-handedly won vital points for his team with an outrageous number of crucial saves.
One advantage Fluminense have over many of their rivals is the depth of their squad, allowing them to overcome injuries and suspensions whilst still offering a competitive 11 on the pitch.
Should the side line up with its first-choice 11, the likes of Chelsea-bound Wallace (via Daily Mail), Colombia international Edwin Valencia, former Lokomotiv Moscow midfielder Wagner and Brazil international forward Rafael Sobis would be forced to settle for a place on the substitutes bench.
No other side in the league can call upon such power from their squad players.
Their depth of talent has a couple of obvious benefits over the course of a season: No one is assured of their place in the side, players can be kept fresh through rotation and absences are easily covered.
Fluminense may not have the best first 11 in Brazil, but they certainly have the best squad.
In a point that somewhat follows on from the last slide, Fluminense are also blessed with a fine youth development structure that is consistently bringing through talent at the present time.
The likes of Marcelo, Fabinho and both Rafael and Fabio da Silva have all left Fluminense in recent years—followed by full-back Wallace to Chelsea—in a clear indication that the club is doing something right regarding developing youth talent.
In 2011, Fluminense were the national Under-20 champions before going on to secure the runner-up spot at the prestigious Copa São Paulo youth tournament at the Under-18 level this January. Several of this generation have been used to good effect through the course of the season.
Wallace and the 20-year-old forward Wellington Nem (pictured, left) are the club's shining lights, but the likes of forwards Samuel, Michael and Marcos Junior have all played their part, as has midfielder Higor and defender Wellington Carvalho.
Fluminense are reaping the benefits of producing home-based talent and introducing them into a winning environment.
In amongst all the justified praise and attention heading in the direction of the players, it is important to remember the contribution of Abel Braga to the club's title success. After all, he would be the first to be blamed had things gone badly.
Taking over from the much-lauded Muricy Ramalho was never going to be an easy task, but the coach has maintained Fluminense's status among the top sides in Brazil and this season secured both the state and national titles for the club.
Abel Braga has had a tactical plan and stuck to it religiously, regardless of the opponent. He has also made a couple of big selection decisions—benching high-profile Rafael Sobis in favour of the emerging Wellington Nem, for example—that have paid off in remarkable fashion.
His most important achievement, though, may be his handling of striker Fred. After a slump in form and arguments with the club's supporters in mid-2011, the forward has been coaxed back to form by the former PSG idol; the striker produced his most consistent season since returning to Brazil.
This last slide may well be the most important of the lot and the least appealing to those few who still hold a romantic vision of football. This is ultimately why Fluminense have the ability to pull ahead of their rivals.
While city rivals Vasco and Flamengo are still deliberating over how to refinance debts owed to Romario since his playing days, for example, Fluminense have no such worries and have begun discussions over high-profile signings for 2013—including a possible $7 million plus return for former star Dario Conca (pictured).
How they can afford such signings while paying the sizeable wages commanded by Fred, Deco, Thiago Neves and Wagner in particular is no secret. Unimed, a health insurance operator, are a financially supportive partner of the club as well as the shirt sponsors and have helped fund the club's schemes since 1998.
A total of R$200 million ($95 million) is estimated to have been put in since then, with Unimed over the past two seasons funding a sizeable chunk of Deco and Fred's signings in particular. It is suggested that they will do the same for Conca.
Fluminense do many things right, but it can't be forgotten that they have had a significant financial advantage over many of their rivals.