Monday, May 18, 2009


For the purpose of clarity throughout these posts,  I will indulge in citing more internationally-recognisable footballers than their South American-based counterparts who share similar characteristics. Thus, a mention of Barcelona's
Daniel Alves can easily invoke to a non-Brazil based audience the functioning of an attacking left full-back as is Flamengo's Leo Moura. This is something which I will frequently resort to when explaining tactical maneouvres  or indeed when outlining players' profiles, like in the case of the pre-mentioned Moura. And while some Brazilian readers may justifiably bemoan such parrochialism at a time when Brazilian clubs, typified by Corinthians' measured exertions in signing Ronaldo, are focusing their marketing strategies on capturing the attentions of a global audience, it is my hope that, far from reinforcing ignorant or rose-tinted Old World perspectives of Brazilian and South American football, my writing will at least give some indication to those with even the remotest of curiosity. 

The dynamics of world football's economics leave little room for deviation from certain norms, namely that professional talent will inevitably be funneled towards those leagues where remuneration is most handsome and recongnition is most groomed. Such laws appear immutable but their elasticites may sometimes conspire in favour of the conveyor-belt countries and this has been seen with the recent Brazilian economic boom, the appreciation of its currency, and also the resilience of its economy at a time when European, North American, indeed most world economies are in deep recession. If Europe's big spending clubs this summer find themselves lacking in any serious cash to throw around and even less likely to avail of credit, do not be surprised to see a flow of Brazilian players leaving their European and Japanese-based clubs making their way back home. The flow right now may be a mere trickle and in a sense it is nothing we have not witnessed before, but its exponential impact could be profound. 

There is a sunstantial difference between this more recent movement of players and the previous cavalcade of returnees. The latter have been a mainstay of Brazil's import-export balance for the past two decades: veteran players returning for a swansang, often to the club with which they were most identified or indeed young players whose unfulfilled potential, misfortunes with injury or bad career moves by agents too quick to dispense ill-advice. On the other hand, this new phenomenon is quality-based in its exponents typically comprised the elite of domestic players when they left and still maintain this competitive advantage now that they are returning. 

The purposes and projected duration of these homecomings do, of course, vary. Some players are merely homesick and trying to put emotional and lifestyle problems behind them- whether they view their participation in the Brazilian league as a more respectable form of rehab remains to be seen. Some may feel that their wage packets have already reached a peak, their savings accounts are relatively secured and that emotionally they have fallen so low that their is no other avenue left for them in which enjoy their football save for one of the bigger Brazilian domestic teams. Other players are doubtlessly using this soujourn as a means to keep fit and stay in the shop window, biding their time and assessing the possibilities of how best to relaunch their hitherto frustrated careers in the elite leagues of the world. Regardless of the causes, the consequences for the Brazilian league and indeed for South American football as a whole can only be an improvement in the quality of football being played, and also a greater and better-marketed television coverage and potentially, though one court accusations of naivety here, an investment in the logistical, security and infrastructural arrangements at stadiums.

Having said all this, I am loathe to focus my attentions here through the prism of star players like Adriano, Ronaldo and Fred, as I feel that amongst the lesser-known lights of these parts there is so much more to absorb, dissect and ultimately learn from. There is a certain culture of indifference that emanates from the big European leagues and the media which focus on them and it conspires, however indirectly, to dismiss all football outside of a certain radius as not just unworthy of attention but also as inconsequential to the comings and goings in the epicentre of football. It is the second attitude here which is easier to address. If I were a Manchester United or a Juventus supporter, for instance, I am pretty sure that I would want to know where the next recruit to my club is coming from. Take Anderson, for instance. Following a difficult first season as during which his form as a primarily central midfielder seemed patchy, I imagine a United supporter would be much more foregiving had he known that the lad had previously played in a completely different position under his previous clubs FC Porto and Grêmio

It is also my wish, however, to avoid banging the drum of victimisation; of spouting the usual tropes that rapacious, fat, arrogant Europeans who are too possessed of money and too poorly endowed of talented footballing youth are pillaging Brazil of its resources in order to suit their need for armchair entertainment. First of all, the Brazilian clubs themselves are more than willing sellers, and whatever the machinations of agents and the understandable frustrations of fans who see their young idols whisked away, the Brazilian federation would be in a considerable position to at least staunch and regulate the flow of players, imposition of transfer windows, and compensation for all parties involved in the transaction, were it not so beholden to corruption and political chicanery.  Secondly, the ignorance of Brazilian footballing sensitivities on the part of European is to a great extent matched by insularity on the part of Brazilians towards non-Brazilian football.  As a country, Brazil has not become any poorer since the heady days of thelate 70s/ early 1980s when it could be argued that teams such as Flamengo were at least the equal of- if not better and more blessed in talent than- European giants like Liverpool. But I digress, as a sociological commentator I imagine my observations to be riddled with shoddy claims, as an economist, even worse so, and so I can only speak from the most superficial of vantage points as to how I perceive the present reality of the game here. But for all my cynicism and disheartenment at what I see here, I must profess a profound fascination with the dynamism and innovation of Brazilian football, and a resulting need to discuss it

After all, even in this global game with the economic realities underpinning it, the peculiarities of local culture cannot be completely trumped by the vicissitudes of the market and the blandishment of generic appeal.

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