The opening decade of the 21st Century was arguably when one of the most marked trends in Brazilian football, the export of young and as-yet undeveloped talents to the European game, was at its peak. What is more, the results of that phenomenon are highly noticeable in A Seleção Brasileira at this year’s FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil.
In the 23-man squad selected by Luiz Felipe Scolari, no fewer than nine – Daniel Alves, Thiago Silva, David Luiz, Marcelo, Dante, Filipe Luis, Luiz Gustavo, Hulk and Jo – all left Brazil between 2003 and 2007, and all before turning 21. Most of these players, aside from those who later returned to their homeland, share another common trait: they have little or no affiliation with the fanbases of any Brazilian clubs.
It is as if supporters in their homeland must first 'get to know' a player via his displays in the famous Canarinha jersey, and only later on can they gradually begin to associate them with a Brazilian club or city. Whatever fans’ feelings towards them, however, the players’ bond with their own respective home cities remains strong.
Indeed, though many of the spectators at Saturday’s Brazil-Italy encounter in Salvador’s Arena Fonte Nova may not realise, the game represents an emotional homecoming for four key Seleção stars. Two of these are Bahia state natives Daniel Alves and Dante, while David Luiz and Hulk are ‘adopted’ Baianos.
“This return is going to be a pretty special moment. It’s definitely going to feel not quite real,” said Alves, a Bahia youth product who in 2003 at the age of 20 moved to Spain’s Sevilla, when speaking to FIFA.com. “It was there, in that place, where everything started for me in life. And being able to go back and play for A Seleção Brasileira at that stadium is going to be a one-off event in my life. I hope that it’s a really special day, from start to finish.”
In a similar mood was Dante, when he described his sense of anticipation in conversation with FIFA.com prior to Brazil 2013. “I’ve not been able to think about anything else for some time!” said the Salvador-born central defender.
“It’s true, I’ve known the Confederations Cup fixture list off by heart for ages now, and I’m really hoping to be involved in Brazil-Italy in Salvador on 22 June,” added the Bayern Munich man, who used to cheer on Bahia from the terraces and passed through the youth systems of several Baiano clubs before joining Juventude, in Caxias do Sul in Rio Grande do Sul state, aged just 18.
Feeling the passion
Though Hulk hails from Campina Grande in Paraiba state and Luiz from Diadema in Sao Paulo state, the Italy clash can certainly be classed as a return to their footballing roots. Both players turned pro after emerging from the prolific youth ranks of Vitoria and, having featured relatively little, were both off to foreign soil before turning 20 – Hulk to Japanese football in 2005 and Luiz to Benfica two years later.
Only they know what it truly means to them to go back to a place which, though not their place of birth or current hometown, remains a source of positive memories from the early phase of their careers. “I’ve got friends from the club who helped me when I was there, and it’ll be nice to see them again,” said the Chelsea defender to FIFA.com.
“One guy who really helped me in my career was ‘Uncle’ Peixoto and he’s going to be at the game. He lives in Salvador, he works for Vitoria and he’s mad about football. He really helped me from when I first arrived at the club, he was always there to guide me and was there to support me when I needed it too. I’m sure it’s going to be great seeing those people again and having the chance to play in Bahia.”
Yet though Luiz did play enough games for Vitoria to make an impression, Hulk in contrast only enjoyed around 70 minutes’ playing time for the first team before moving on to pastures new. “Ah... it does make it a little more difficult [to bond with the Brazilian fans]. Even now, after a lot of games for A Seleção, there are still question marks, aren’t there?” said the Zenit St. Petersburg forward, when interviewed by FIFA.com back in October 2012.
“Not everyone knows who I am, or how I play. I left Brazil at a really early age, so it’s normal there is still some uncertainty when people talk about me.”
Even so, said situation will not take away, for Hulk or any of the other members of this particular quartet, the ‘homecoming’ flavour from the match that will decide which team tops Group A.
“What we experienced in Fortaleza gave us an idea of what to expect in Salvador,” said Alves, in reference to the passionate backing from the fans in the Estadio Castelao during the 2-0 win over Mexico. “Baiano people love A Seleção and we love playing here even more.”