Two of Brazil’s biggest football clubs presented newly hired foreign imports on Saturday, in the latest manifestation of the newfound spending power that has recently helped keep some of the country’s own talent from moving abroad.
That’s how I started this piece for Reuters this weekend.
The stars in question were Clarence Seedorf, who left AC Milan and signed for Botafogo, and Diego Forlan (right) who left one Internazionale, of Italy, and signed for another Internacional, of Porto Alegre.
Both are big names, even if they are getting on.
Seedorf, 36, has won four Champions League titles with three clubs, and Uruguayan Forlan, 33, was voted the best player at the 2010 World Cup.
The deals were unusual because Brazilian clubs rarely sign foreign stars from European clubs. They often repatriate their own ageing stars when their careers in Europe are over, with Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldinho Gaucho and Luis Fabiano, among those who’ve returned home recently.
Now, however (as my story goes on to say)…
Growing wealth among Brazilian teams has also enabled them to keep young talents like Neymar, the ascendant Santos forward, from following their predecessors across the Atlantic, much less to developing leagues in China, the United States, or the Middle East.
A strong Brazilian currency, and lucrative sponsorship deals, mean many young Brazilian players can earn as much as they would by making the move to Europe.
With more than 30 million Brazilians having entered the middle classes over the past decade, advertisers are investing heavily in sponsorships. Television companies this year more than doubled the amount they pay clubs for broadcast rights.
So the arrival of Forlan and Seedorf marks a new willingness by Brazilian clubs to invest in banner players.
However, it should be noted that neither of the two teams paid transfer fees. That is still a deal too far for Brazil’s heavily indebted clubs.
And if it were not for personal reasons, neither Forlan nor Seedorf would likely even consider coming to Brazil.
Forlan’s new club is based in Porto Alegre, just a 90-minute flight from his home city of Montevideo. And Seedorf, who is married to a Brazilian, already owns property in Rio. Those were key factors in the deals.
Brazilian clubs are also going to have to keep selling their young prospects when the right offer comes in. Forlan’s arrival has prompted speculation that Internacional could sell Leandro Damiao or Oscar to teams abroad. Spurs are said to be among those most interested.
Whatever happens, fans were out in force in Rio and Porto Alegre to welcome their new heroes.
When Forlan arrived in the southern city of Porto Alegre on Saturday, 3,000 fans turned out to greet him.
Seedorf, meanwhile, was flown to Rio de Janeiro’s Engenhão stadium in a helicopter before being presented with his No. 10 shirt ahead of the game against Bahia, which Botafogo won 3-0. A crowd of 20,000 people turned up, three times the number present at Botafogo’s last home game against Ponte Preta.
It remains to be seen if these deals will be followed by others. There may be one or two.
But I doubt it is the start of a real trend. The quality of life in Brazil is still to precarious for that to happen. There has to be a very good reason for a European star to swap life in Rome or Paris or even Manchester, for Rio or Sao Paulo.