Stars lured by Brazil’s irresistible pull

There was a party atmosphere at the Estadio Engenhao on Sunday as Dutch star Clarence Seedorf ran out on his Brazilian league debut for Botafogo, the home fans providing a spectacular backdrop with banners welcoming the new hero, mosaics and a giant flag bearing a photo of the No10.

The warm reception was well justified. After spending two months assessing his options, the former AC Milan midfielder turned down offers from a number of other clubs and chose to join O Fogão, becoming the biggest signing of the latest Brazilian transfer window and one of the most important acquisitions in the country’s history.

Botafogo’s big-money move for the former Netherlands international is not the only one Brazilian football has seen lately. Just a few days before Seedorf signed on the dotted line, Internacional swooped for the South Africa 2010 adidas Golden Ball winner Diego Forlan, while Corinthians reinforced their squad ahead of the FIFA Club World Cup by luring ex-Hamburg star Paolo Guerrero, who top-scored at the last Copa America with Peru.

This latest round of recruitment activity provides yet further proof that Brazilian clubs, after many years of exporting talent, now have the financial clout to compete with what have traditionally been seen as more attractive markets, strengthening their line-ups with top-class players from overseas.

“The Brazilian championship is now among the best in the world and the quality of the players who are coming here shows that. It’s all very positive, there’s no doubt about that,” said veteran midfielder Ze Roberto, another big-name signing in the last transfer window, in conversation with FIFA.com.

“With all the star players we’ve got here, the championship is becoming the biggest in the world, with several contenders for the title. And the level of the players who are coming in is going to make Brazilian clubs even stronger.”

The Brazilian championship is now among the best in the world and the quality of the players who are coming here shows that.
Ze Roberto, Gremio midfielder

As Ze Roberto points out, this fast-growing trend brings numerous benefits for everyone involved. For the clubs, such signings help to raise their profiles and project their names, while for the players a switch to the booming Brazilian league puts them in the spotlight before the upcoming 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. Such deals are also a great advertisement for the country’s number one sport.

“The trend from now on will be for more players to take this route,” continued Ze Roberto. “Many players are going to be tempted and that’s good for the country. It’s definitely going to help for the next World Cup.”

The lure of Brazil 
The unprecedented purchase by Brazilian clubs of a four-time European champion in Seedorf and the best player of the last FIFA World Cup in Forlan represent the latest developments in a general pattern that first began to emerge in the last decade, when the strengthening of the Brazilian Real made the country an increasingly attractive destination for players based in other South American countries.

The influx has seen confirmed stars from Argentina, Chile and Uruguay join Brazilian sides along with talented prospects from Paraguay and Peru. In decamping to Brazil, Forlan and Guerrero are pursuing the trail blazed by the likes of Andres D’Alessandro, Jorge Valdivia, Walter Montillo, Pablo Guinazu, Marcelo Moreno, Jesus Datolo, Hernan Barcos, Luis Ramirez and Alejandro Martinuccio.

That Spanish-speaking contingent has been joined in recent times by a clutch of exiled veterans of Brazil’s national side. While Gremio made a wise move in snapping up Ze Roberto, rivals Internacional proved equally shrewd in bringing in former Roma centre-half Juan, both players following stars of the calibre of Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Adriano, Luis Fabiano, Juninho Pernambucano, Elano and Gilberto Silva. Having all made their names in Europe, they returned home with plenty still to offer and with dreams to fulfil.

“A lot of people see you as old once you get past 30, but the fact is Seedorf had offers from European clubs,” said the 37-year-old Ze Roberto. “Some of the other people who came before him and are still here and doing very well. There are a lot of players breaking new ground.”

The in-form Gremio midfielder is an authority on the subject and was at the Engenhao this Sunday, lining up against his former Real Madrid team-mate. And Ze Roberto it was who helped spoil Seedorf’s big day, setting up Bolivian international Moreno for the game’s only goal.

All in all it proved an unspectacular debut for Botafogo’s new idol, who will need to find his feet fast as he attempts to adapt to the high-tempo football of the Brazilian league, a challenging task that also awaits Forlan and Guerrero.