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Staying power (cont.)

Posted: Wednesday December 26, 2007 10:36AM; Updated: Thursday December 27, 2007 12:50PM
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It's far less likely now that a foreign star like Carlos Tévez can emerge anonymously in the Brazilian championship, as he did in 2005.
It's far less likely now that a foreign star like Carlos Tévez can emerge anonymously in the Brazilian championship, as he did in 2005.

A short season and playoffs give a chance to the little guys. When the season is long and a win in the first week is worth the same three points as a win in the 38th, the clubs with the best structure tend to come through.

So Brazil's representatives in the Libertadores (which, in this edition, are São Paulo, Santos, Flamengo, Fluminense and Cruzeiro) now tend to be the best around, which wasn't necessarily the case before.

The second reason is the fact that the Brazilian currency, the real, has gained considerably in value over the past couple of years. For example, in October and November, I tried to fly from Rio de Janeiro to Buenos Aires to catch Argentina's home games in the 2010 World Cup qualification campaign.

Both times I was unsuccessful -- the flights were all full. The dates coincided with vacations in Brazil, and Argentina is now so comparatively cheap that the Brazilian middle class had gone south en masse for long weekends.

In soccer terms, the consequences of the currency valuation are clear. Brazilian clubs have more bargaining power; not so much to retain their players (salaries in Europe are still much higher and the dream of a move abroad is as strong as ever), but to bring back players who want to wind down their careers or whose move to Europe hasn't been a success.

The stronger currency also impacts on the third reason for believing that Brazilian clubs will become dominant in the Libertadores: the slow but growing moves towards continental integration.

Brazil is the Portuguese-speaking giant surrounded by Spanish-speaking neighbors. The country can be extraordinarily insular, exemplified by the unfortunate fact that all foreigners, whether they be from Peru, Colombia, Italy, Sweden or the U.S., are referred to as gringos -- a term whose pejorative content varies from very mild to very strong.

Such insularity means that Brazilian clubs have consistently missed out on players who could, in some small part, compensate for the exodus of talent to Europe -- the most interesting talent from elsewhere in South America.

Brazilian clubs can offer higher salaries than those in the rest of the continent -- a process amplified by the valuation of the real. But they have to have their eyes open for the opportunities. This entails a shift in mentality. Back in '05, some Brazilian club directors were proud to boast of the fact that they had never heard of Carlos Tévez, the Argentine who led São Paulo club Corinthians to the domestic title that year.

In today's world, such a blind approach can be summed up in one word: incompetence. The logic of the situation is already beginning to force a change, with, for example, River Plate's excellent Colombian striker Radamel Falcao García in negotiations to join Fluminense.

Brazil has been dubbed "the country of the future" so often that many are understandably tired of the term, fed up of waiting for the promised land to appear. But when it comes to the Copa Libertadores, the prediction looks to based on firmer ground.

They won't monopolize the competition or win it every year, but Brazilian clubs will surely be among those putting up the strongest challenge for South America's leading club title.

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