Moves abroad aren't for all insular Brazilian phenoms
Posted: Tuesday January 8, 2008 11:54AM; Updated: Tuesday January 8, 2008 11:54AM
In the summer of 1988, Brazilian striker Müller left São Paulo to join Torino of Italy. Some 19 years later, in the middle of 2007, Corinthians attacking midfielder Willian embarked on his own European adventure, moving to Ukrainian club Shakhtar Donetsk.
Last week, the pair were together in a roundtable debate on Brazilian TV, and it made for a fascinating contrast of what has happened to soccer and society over the past two decades.
Müller was 22 when he crossed the Atlantic. At the time, he was considered relatively young for such a move, but he was taking plenty of baggage with him. He was a senior international, had appeared in the '86 World Cup and had won the Brazilian Championship with São Paulo.
Willian was nearly 19 when he received the call, and whereas Müller was already proven, Willian had little more than potential. He played for Brazil last January in the South American Under-20 Championships, and while he showed flashes of promise, it was clear he was well short of being a finished product. And after scoring just two goals in senior Brazilian soccer, he was on his way.
This, though, is the trend of globalization. The concentration of talent in a small number of top European clubs has consequences at both ends; the clubs want to buy and mould the South American players at an ever earlier age. And the players, who used to dream of playing for Flamengo and Corinthians, now have their sights set on a move abroad. I have spoken to promising 8-year-old Brazilian kids who couldn't find Europe -- let alone Spain -- on a map, but know they want to play for Real Madrid or Barcelona.
The fact is, though, is that living abroad isn't for everyone. In the '80s, when British players were still tempted abroad, the great Scottish writer Hugh McIlvanney commented that the average one was "more tourist than emigrant, a man so reluctant to immerse himself in the ways of his adopted country that he might be expected to take the field with a return ticket tucked into his sock."
Nowadays, with the rivers of money flowing through the Premiership, British players are more inclined to stay home. Their footballing education may well suffer as a result -- in Brazilian soccer there are those, such as Carlos Alberto Parreira, who argue that their players develop in tactical terms from playing abroad. Current national-team coach Dunga prefers to emphasize the opportunities to grow as an adult and a professional that arise from leaving Brazil's paternalistic culture.
But whatever the potential gains, they come at a cost of dealing with the inevitable culture shock. The Brazilians can be every bit as insular as those British players McIlvanney was describing -- the difference is that these days, to fulfil their earning potential and be considered world-class players, Brazilians are obliged to move overseas.