Will Clarence Seedorf’s arrival see Brazil’s Serie A rival La Liga and the Premier League?
Some say the only prize that matters for Brazilian football this summer is Olympic gold. Not a bit of it. The Brasileirão is also gearing up for a serious stab at the World Masters 6-a-side trophy. Joining Deco, Juninho Pernambucano, Luis Fabiano, Ronaldinho Gaúcho and other greybeards in o país do futuro last week were Diego Forlan (Internacional) and Clarence Seedorf (Botafogo).
The new arrivals were big news despite their advanced years, and both were greeted with the usual rowdy airport welcome parties. The signing of Seedorf, a bona fide member of the footballing aristocracy, made the biggest splash, turning normally sober journalists as giddy as schoolgirls. “The Biggest Signing in the History of Brazilian Football!” shrilled more than a few headlines, whilst others speculated that Seedorf would represent some kind of footballing Year Zero. After Clarence, it was suggested, more and more European players might fancy dipping their toes in the murky waters off Copacabana.
Not quite. There is no doubt that the arrival of a player of Seedorf’s status is a momentous event for Botafogo, a club often overshadowed by its brasher Rio neighbours, Flamengo and Fluminense. And the presence of such a footballing dignitary in the Brasileirão is a major boost for the domestic game, one likely to generate headlines well beyond the Baía de Guanabara. What the Seedorf signing does not mean is that Brazil is now a legitimate footballing destination for top European players.
As has already been extensively documented, Seedorf (a native of Surinam, rather than Rotterdam) is married to a Brazilian, owns an apartment in Leblon, and speaks fluent Portuguese. These reasons, together with his age and a whopping pay packet, are likely to have weighed on his mind rather more heavily than the prospect of testing his wits against Figueirense or Atlético Goianiense. Seedorf is a case apart, as is Forlan, officially another foreign signing, but one who will play only a few hundred kilometres from his hometown of Montevideo, and whose father Pablo was a stalwart for São Paulo in the 1970s. Take away these very specific push and pull factors, and Brazilian football remains a seller´s market. It is likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future.
A glance at the probable career moves of some of Brazil’s top younger players confirms the theory. Last November, Neymar signed a new contract that would keep him at Santos until after the 2014 World Cup. The Brazilian economy was booming, the real was pulverisingly strong, and, so we were told, the European clubs would soon be running scared. Damião, Lucas, Ganso and others decided to keep the young princeling company for a while, half the diaspora came rushing back from the Old Continent, and it looked as though (in football terms at least) the country of the future, as Brazil has often been described, had finally arrived.
Now economic growth is faltering, the real is weaker, and Neymar apart, all three of the above look likely to be on their way out of Brazil, with Internacional’s exciting midfield tyro Oscar mooted to be joining them. The queue at international departures is often so long that many slip away without any fanfare at all. How many casual observers, for example, will have noticed Vasco’s excellent volante Romulo moving to Spartak Moscow a couple of weeks ago? Neymar, earning a fortune from commercial endorsements and his own dizzying club salary, is a longstanding devotee of Santos´ rich footballing tradition, not to mention his own place in it. Like Seedorf, his decision to stay in Brazil is likely to be the exception rather than the rule.
Ganso is a useful case study. Not long ago, his name seemed symbiotically linked with that of Neymar, the pair an emblem for Brazil´s bright international future and a marker for the new found economic strength and ambition of the domestic game. Now, while Neymar has gone from strength to strength, Ganso has been left behind through a mixture of injury, poor form and the peculiar air of negativity that surrounds the player. As things stand, he is in danger of becoming a Garfunkel to his chirpier teammate´s Simon. Ganso’s exit from Santos seems inevitable, though few clubs, either in Brazil or abroad, will be keen to meet the club´s stiff asking price.
Not all is doom and gloom. Brazilian clubs are arguably richer than ever before, although this is a curious definition of rich, where increased revenue streams are used to pay elevated player salaries and occasionally service the clubs´ mountains of debt. After an underwhelming start, Serie A, replete with handsomely remunerated veterans and the usual gaggle of burgeoning youth, is serving up some exuberant fare, with Ronaldinho’s Atlético Mineiro setting the early pace. Progress is slowly being made, and will become more visible still when the country´s most storied stadiums, refurbished for 2014, begin to reopen in a year or so. For now, though, the day when the Brasileirão can stand toe to toe with the Premier League and the rest of the European big guns remains some way off.Tagged in: Clarence Seedorf, Deco, Diego Forlán, football, Premier League, South America
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