As the man who coached Barcelona to two UEFA Champions League titles and two FIFA Club World Cup triumphs, Pep Guardiola appreciates the importance of Brazil’s footballing values.
“My parents and grandparents told me that is what Brazil have always done, and we want our players to do the same; get on the ball,” he once said, establishing a link between his Barça and the land of A Canarinha.
The ties that bind Spanish and Brazilian football date back much further than Guardiola’s recent reign at the Camp Nou though; all the way to the start of the 20th century.
It was in 1914 that the outfit now known as Jabaquara Atletico Clube was founded in Santos, Sao Paulo, under the name of Hespanha Foot Ball Club. And while that name has not survived the passage of time, the team’s red and yellow colours have, and are still on show at the club’s home ground, Estadio Espanha, built in 1963.
Meanwhile, up in Salvador, Bahia, Galicia Esporte Clube came into being. Set up in 1933 by Spanish residents of the north-eastern city, the club sought to establish closer ties between Brazilians and galegos, as the Spanish were known by the locals, regardless of whether they hailed from Galicia or other parts of Spain.
One of the powerhouses of Bahia football right up to the 1990s, Galicia are now languishing in the second division of the state championship, though they continue to invest in youth football. The finest and most recent example of that policy is the central defender Dante, a member of the Brazil side currently contesting the FIFA Confederations Cup.
Speaking to FIFA.com, the 29-year-old Bayern Munich man identified Galicia as an excellent career move for local young players: “It’s a really interesting club, founded by Spaniards, and it’s built up a reputation in Salvador as a youth academy. Any kids who try to get a place with Bahia or Vitoria and don’t make it end up going to Galicia. It’s the easiest way.”
The export market
The strongest and most enduring footballing link between the two nations was forged by some of the stars of yesteryear, who in the 1950s began crossing the Atlantic to play for Spain’s biggest sides. The pioneer was Evaristo de Macedo, who left Rio giants Flamengo in 1957 to sign for Barcelona and stayed in Spain for eight years, spending three of them with Real Madrid.
“It was a very good experience for me,” he told FIFA.com, discussing his productive stay there. “I played for more years in Spain than I did in Brazil. I learned and experienced several European styles of football, which all added to the educational process. I played with great players and saw how they carried themselves on and off the pitch. I picked up a few things from each one and started to put it all together.”
Evaristo was the first of many and was followed in the 1970s by the likes of Palmeiras duo Luiz Pereira and Leivinha, who both went to Atletico Madrid. It was in the 1990s, however, that Brazilian players began making the journey to Spain in considerable numbers. Many of these moves followed the same pattern: an outstanding striker earned adulation at a big club, more often than not either Barcelona or Real Madrid, and capped it all by winning the FIFA World Cup™ with A Seleção.
Bebeto and Romario are cases in point. Both departed Vasco da Gama for Europe, the former going on to shine for Deportivo La Coruna, while O Baixinho moved to Dutch side PSV Eindhoven and went on to play the best football of his career for Barcelona. Together they formed a deadly partnership as Brazil won the world title at USA 1994, the year in which Romario won the FIFA World Player award.
The following generation were no less talented or successful, with Ronaldo starring for both Barcelona and Real Madrid and Rivaldo and Ronaldinho both excelling for the Catalans. FIFA World Player of the Year winners to a man, like Bebeto and Romario before them they would team up to conquer the world, this time at Korea/Japan 2002.
When asked why Brazilian players have had such success in Spain, Evaristo had this to say: “It’s the way they live football, really. The Spanish are passionate people, and the club directors and fans are very accepting of us Brazilians. We get a very warm welcome there. They understand the way we are and the way we behave.”
A new frontier
While the path from Brazil to Spain has been well trodden, the route heading in the opposite direction has seen less traffic, which can be put down to the sheer wealth of talent in the Brazilian game and to money issues as well.
Few Spanish players have ever tried their luck in the land of the five-time world champions, though that has not stopped 23-year-old midfielder Fran Merida from searching for success in Brazil. After failing to make the headway he had expected at Arsenal and Atletico Madrid, Merida signed for Atletico Paranaense earlier this year.
“It’s a different type of challenge,” he said after arriving in the country. “I’ve never played so far away from home before, but it’s a chance for me to get to know a different type of football that I feel’s well suited to my style of play. I’m very happy, and I’m going to do my best to help the club succeed and for me to succeed here too.”
While the exchange between the two countries has been a little imbalanced up to now and while Guardiola was right to laud Brazil’s huge influence on the world game, there is every reason to believe that if Spain continue their domination of the global scene, then they could well provide the template that future generations of players will follow, Brazilians among them.
As he explained in a past interview with FIFA.com, Rivaldo certainly believes Spain are setting the standards: “I’ve never seen so many concepts worked on in training than in Spanish football, and that’s the secret. A style of play that’s as well crafted as that doesn’t come about by chance.”