A long way from Rio

November 16, 2006
By Jon Carter
(Archive)

Nurturing young talent has always been something of a forte for Brazilian teams. The likes of Pele, who was brought into the Santos first team aged just 16, developed through a youth system that has been responsible for bringing some of the best footballers in living memory into the game.

Empics

Ronaldo started with Cruzeiro EC when he was just 17, 'World Player of the Year' Ronaldinho was 18 when he made his impression on the Grêmio starting XI, and AC Milan's Kaka made his mark at the more high-profile Sao Paulo club at the same age.

But what do all these greats of world football have in common? Answer: they all left Brazil as soon as they could.

Ronaldo spent only a year in Brazil before being snapped up by PSV Eindhoven, Ronaldinho cut his teeth at Paris St Germain in France, after only a few years in Brazil, while Kaka lasted little less time at Sao Paulo before sealing his big move to Italy.

Pele, by comparison, spent 18 years at his beloved Santos, and left only towards the end of his career for a lucrative stint with the New York Cosmos.

Given the choice, it's hard to contend with the decision of Brazil's young stars to seek their fortune on the lucrative European stage. Swapping favelas for fortune, they are doing what any young player would do and safeguarding their financial future.

It's no mistake that Russia's profitable Premier League has seen an influx of Brazilian talent over the past few years. Some 20 Brazilians now play in Russia and they're certainly not there for the weather.

Vagner Love, Alexandro Dudu, Jo and Daniel Carvalho are just a small selection of the names on view in the Russian league - although this quartet all play in the same CSKA Moscow side. Kitted out with gloves for most of the season they have certainly made an impression, causing Arsenal all sorts of problems in the Champions League and bringing a whole new fanbase to the Moscow side.

While the icy chill of Russia may not be the ideal home for a Brazilian youngster, the alternative of scraping a living in the game back home is far less appealing.

Last year Brazilian football transferred a total of 878 players abroad, amounting to the greatest migration in the international market. Granted most of these players will end up in places like Kazakhstan or Malta, where they will not make much of an impression on the world-stage, but they are still viewed as superstars simply because of their nationality.

Brazilians succeeding at home are an all-too rare breed; the example of Pele came in an altogether different era, while the player many view as his successor, Robinho, is the modern day antithesis to former's loyalty.

GettyImages / Clive MasonA young Ronaldo left Brazil in 1994 to continue his career in Holland with PSV.

But few blame Robinho. Having gone through the pain of his mother's kidnapping at the hands of Brazilian gangsters, the 22-year-old opted to move from his home town of Santos, where he had lit up the league with his electric pace and dazzling ball skills, spurning the overtures of many other European clubs to join the Brazilian brigade at Real Madrid.

It was a decision he probably would have made eventually (it is, after all, hard to ignore the call of the world's most glamorous club), but certainly the escalation of violence and economic problems in his homeland would have acted as a catalyst.

No sooner than Robinho's ordeal had ended, however, then there was a spate of kidnappings involving footballers and their families. Sao Paulo striker Grafite had his family targeted in a series of attacks that saw five other players subject to kidnap plots in the following five months; and even now the lucrative 'business' of abduction in Brazil is no closer to being stopped.

With so many players now fearful for their own (and their families) safety, it is little wonder that so many seek the relative security of a career abroad.

The passport to success abroad starts with exactly that. An EU passport. Notably, Julio Baptista spurned the overtures of Arsenal to claim a Spanish passport and spent a year on the sidelines at Madrid, before eventually finding his way to London. Others are even going so far as to change nationality in order to play international football.

Alessandro 'Alex' Santos, a Brazilian-born midfielder, made his name in the lucrative Japanese J-League playing for the Shimizu S-Pulse side, before moving to Urawa Reds in 2004 and was granted Japanese citizenship 3 years earlier.

Leaving Brazil at 16, he has played in two World Cups for Japan and is a symptom of the Brazilian leagues' inability to keep hold of talented youngsters.

Indeed, youngsters are being driven away from the country, and the Brazilian national setup doesn't seem to mind. Quite the opposite in fact. The coaches of the Brazil team frequently point out that their players improve as a result of making their living in European club football, and it was noticeable in their 2006 World Cup squad of 23 players, only Carlos Mineiro and Rogerio Ceni were based in the Brazil league, with Sao Paulo.

Ironically the lack of young home-grown talent playing in the Brazilian league is due, in part, to an influx of foreigners in Brazilian football.

Frenchman Thierry Henry has been doing it England for years and it is the same in Brazil. Corinthians' Argentinean forward Carlos Tevez was arguably the best player in the Brazilian league in 2005, before sealing his move to West Ham, and he was closely followed by Serbian playmaker Petkovic of Fluminense.

Uruguayan Lugano of Sao Paulo was the best defender in the league last year but even he has been lured by a move to Fenerbah├že, and there have been precious few Brazilian names making waves in their own country this season.

Empics / Mike EgertonRobinho was forced out of Santos and settled happily in Madrid.

Cruzeiro's Kerlon, known as 'the Seal' for his unique ability to balance the ball on his head and run through defenders, is one of the young stars tipped to make it big after a succession of good performances for the Brazil youth teams. But he's already attracting the interest of Man Utd and Inter with his high-profile skills.

Corinthians' new hot prospect (after the sale of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano to West Ham), Carlos Alberto, a former Champions League winner with Jose Mourinho's FC Porto, made the move back to Brazil; but is now embroiled in a row with the Sao Paulo club over his substitution and subsequent ban. Yet another casualty of the Brazilian leagues who will presumably find his way onto European shores once more in the near future.

Another youngster of note, Fluminense's 18-year-old left back Marcelo, made a real impression on the international stage when he played against Wales in a friendly in September, and has been snapped up by Real Madrid for between six and nine million euros.

Seen as the eventual successor to Roberto Carlos, Marcelo will play in the Real Madrid B side to ease his transition into European football and at such a young age, one wonders if he would have been better continuing his development in Brazil.

Promising young players like this are such a rarity that they find little competition in the Brazilian leagues and are not left languishing in the reserves, unlike their European counterparts.

A few brief appearances in the first team, a chance to shine and amongst the constant hype in the media, many are sold abroad before they've shown their full potential at home.

That's all it takes. One good performance and you're in the shop window. It's only a matter of time before someone in Europe comes knocking, and with the state of things back home, what other choice do youngsters have?


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