A Brazilian wonderkid – a rare player every football fan secretly wishes their team had. They may not be known for their reliability or work-rate but their creative genius and ability on the ball is world-renowned. Maybe it’s the single name (Neymar, Ronaldo, Pele etc.) but there’s always been something more enthralling and exciting about a Brazilian; something the effort or enthusiasm of a Grant Holt or Scott Parker can never quite make up for.
The worldwide appeal and wealth of the Champions League has proved vital in drawing the major South American stars to Europe. It hasn’t always been this way. The legendary Pele spent most of his career playing for Santos, while Zico – one of the best players of the late seventies and early eighties – transformed Flamengo into one of the best sides in the world, even destroying Liverpool 3-0 in the Intercontinental Cup in 1981.
One of the first great Brazilian players to come to Europe was Romario. He initially had a spell at PSV but it was his two seasons under Johan Cruyff at Barcelona when he was at his peak. 34 goals in 46 games and suddenly all teams were scouting the South American continent: could they find a Brazilian superstar of their own? There was an influx of Brazilian players in European football.
Ronaldo followed in Romario’s footsteps by joining PSV in 1994. Barcelona paid a record fee to bring him in as Romario’s replacement in ’96 and he set about creating a legacy of his own – he won the Balon d’Or in ’97. 47 goals in 49 games dismissed any doubts about his ability to replace his Brazilian teammate. Inter Milan paid another record fee to bring him to the San Siro, although Barca were quick to replace him with his fellow Brazilian Rivaldo, who went on to win the Balon d’Or himself two years later.
The Brazilian World Cup winning team from 2002 not only boasted the likes of Ronaldo and Rivaldo but also Cafu, Lucio, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldinho and a very young Kaka. 10 of the 23 players in that 2002 squad were already playing in Europe. In the subsequent years only three members of that team stayed in Brazil. In comparison, all 22 members of the famous 1970 squad were playing in Brazil when they were selected.
Every major European side was scouting for a Brazilian. The only issue was that for every Gilberto Silva – who was a regular for Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ team – there was a Kleberson or a Denilson – who cost Real Betis an incredible £21 million. Reputations can quickly change.
The 2010 World Cup squad was one of the worst Brazilian teams in decades. Players like Robinho were inconsistent and indolent, while the inclusion of Felipe Melo and Elano confirmed the Selecao were in dire-straits. A quarter-final loss to Holland may be understandable to most fans but to Brazilians – who have enjoyed five World Cup victories and numerous great squads – it just was not acceptable.
The success of Brazilian sides in recent Copa Libertadores competitions and the quality of the 2012 Olympic football team showed a new generation of future world-beaters – as long as the celebrity culture and money doesn’t go to their heads.
Neymar is the tip of a very expensive and glamorous iceberg and it seems either Barcelona or Real Madrid is the preferred destination – although the impending arrival of Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich could influence his decision. Ganso used to be considered his equal but a series of injuries has stalled his progression in the past couple of seasons.
Oscar and Lucas are two of the most recent arrivals on these European shores. Oscar was introduced to the Stamford Bridge faithful with a bang – two brilliant goals in a matter of minutes shocking a good Juventus side in the Champions League group stages. Lucas has just moved to PSG and we’ll have to wait and see how he develops in the European game.
Even in defence things are looking promising. Dede has been a solid rock for Vasco da Gama in the Brazilian league – it is particularly surprising that no big club has attempted to buy him considering his huge talent – and Thiago Silva has earned a reputation as perhaps the best central defender in Europe.
The major problem for European clubs is persuading the players to make the move. The Brazilian economy is enjoying a boom period at the moment, meaning teams can afford to keep their best players and negotiate for a higher price – it’s also the reason some of their former stars are moving back to their country of origin (e.g. Alexandre Pato and Luis Fabiano). On top of that the upcoming 2014 World Cup, which is being held in Brazil, is influencing more players to stay at home and wait until after the competition to make their move abroad.
There is pressure on this current Brazilian squad like no-other since 1950. That year Brazil hosted the World Cup. They had built the glorious Maracana to host the final. Jules Rimet had even prepared his congratulations speech in Portuguese. A victory song was prepared and 22 gold medals were even made to give to the team. Uruguay won 2-1. There was no victory ceremony for the winners. The whole team was vilified for life – apart from the two unused players who won the competition in ’58 – and the Brazilian FA even changed the strip colour from white to the now famous yellow, as the white shirts were now deemed a jinx.
These young players have the pressure of a nation to win in 2014. The previous coach, Mano Menezes, was dismissed following the silver medal finish in the Olympic final. A sixth World Cup win is all that is acceptable.
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This article was first posted on January 21, 2013