The seemingly bottomless pit that is Brazil's reserve of talented youngsters continues to churn out players at an impressive rate. According to figures released by the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF), no fewer than 857 players left the country's sunny shores for foreign leagues in 2004. Though just short of the previous year's record, the number is further proof that Brazil's dream academy is alive and well.
Despite losing to the hosts in the Final of the 1998 FIFA World Cup™ in France, Brazil found itself once more in the sights of the talent scouts as the millennium approached. The spiralling transfer fees being demanded for top players forced many clubs to look further afield, and what better place to start than South America's most fertile breeding ground. No less than 658 players left Brazil in 1999, and the number rose steadily to 701 in 2000 and 736 in 2001. The trend was reversed, however, in 2002 (665) with demand from two of its main markets, Portugal and Japan, falling off sharply.
The desire to make it overseas coupled with the potential for huge earnings often proves an irresistible combination for players. No sooner have they broken into the top flight in their country, than the ambitious youngsters are pleading with their agents to angle for a move abroad. For all of that, very few have the quality or good fortune of, say, a Ronaldo, a Ronaldinho or a Kaká, with most ending up, not in "El Dorado", but in mediocre sides with relatively modest incomes.
With its shared language and historic ties, Portugal is, unsurprisingly the most popular destination for Brazil's foreign legion, with Japan, Korea Republic and Greece second, third and fourth respectively. Even when traditional markets become saturated, new destinations are emerging all the time. The rising demand throughout Asia is testimony to this, while in Russia the market is positively booming.
While the US$16 million transfer of Luís Fabiano from Sao Paulo FC to the Portuguese side FC Porto was the most lucrative deal of 2004, no less important was the arrival of Argentine idol Carlos Tévez from Boca Juniors to Brazilian side Corinthians. The purchase, funded in its entirety by the proceeds of overseas transfers, was just one of 499 similar deals that brought foreign players to the home of the pentacampeo last year.
The pros and cons of the footballers' flight
Undoubtedly, the clubs involved stand to make huge sums of money by parting with their top players, but whether or not this is ultimately in the best interests of the club is a moot point. League placings in recent years would seem to support the pro-export argument. Atlético Paranaense, who were runners-up in the 2004 championship, led the way in transfer activity this season with no less than eighteen players sold abroad. Not far behind were Cruzeiro, the previous year's champions, on 14, followed by Vasco da Gama on 13.
However, this mass exodus is not without its downside. One of the staunchest critics of the trend is Brazil's coach Carlos Alberto Parreira, who said recently: "A few years from now the Brazilian league will be reduced to an U-20 or U-21 championship."
On more than one occasion, the outspoken coach has warned that the situation could have damaging repercussions for the national side. Many of the top players, who have to combine marathon domestic seasons with the gruelling long haul flights that come with international duty, frequently suffer from exhaustion. Take, for example, the selecao's next game against Hong Kong on February 9. Of the 23 players called up for the friendly, only three are based in Brazil.
And it is not only Brazil's footballers who are packing their bags in record numbers these days, but their coaching staff as well. One of the more recent appointments at club level was that of Vanderlei Luxemburgo, who, as Real Madrid coach, currently holds perhaps the highest profile job in world football. Then there are the many Brazilians, like René Simoes, who are lending their expertise to national side around the world. A footballing journeyman if ever there were one, the much-travelled Brazilian has managed the senior sides of Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Honduras and Qatar.
And as fans of the women's game will attest, the sublime talent of Brazilian footballers is not restricted to the men. A series of impressive displays by the women's side in recent years has put the team's star players very much in the shop window. Subsequent interest from foreign sides coupled with the limitations of the fledgling national league has led to some of the country's top players following the men overseas. The mercurial Marta, who is currently delighting fans at Swedish side Umea, was one of the first to make the move, while her compatriot Cristiane is about to embark on her own adventure with Potsdam of Germany.
Whatever the pros and cons of the matter, and there are plenty, one thing is abundantly clear: the whole world wants a slice of samba magic.