Recognition rewarding early expats
© AFP

Seeing their club’s most talented players lured off to European football is a recurring theme for followers of Brazilian domestic football, with a veritable horde of big-name stars including Kaka, Robinho, Pato and Julio Cesar all leaving their homeland for the Old Continent over the past decade.

And as the time span between youth-team prospect to first-team regular and transfer target grows ever shorter, the phenomenon of Brazilian players forging successful careers for themselves abroad while remaining relatively little known at home is becoming increasingly common. The likes of Ederson and Hulk, all established in their respective leagues, are intriguing examples of this trend, with the former catching the eye of French scouts following the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2003.

A product of the Juventude youth system, the fleet-footed attacking midfielder was picked up by Nice after helping Brazil to the global U-17 title on Finnish soil. “My career was just beginning. I’d still not carved out a niche for myself in Brazilian football so I decided to try my luck abroad,” said the player, who overcame a slow start to earn a regular first-team berth, culminating in a sparkling 2007/08 campaign.

“It’s tough at the start, as the food and the weather are all different and you’ve even got to learn a new language. But it didn’t take me too long to get used to life in France,” added Ederson, who joined French giants Lyon in 2008. However, he is still searching for his finest form at the Stade de Gerland, thanks in part to being used out wide rather than his favoured central role, as well as the burden of replacing countryman and Les Gones legend Juninho, who left the club in 2009.

Making waves in Japan
Also well established in foreign climes is Kashima Antlers’ Marquinhos 'Cambalhota', though in contrast to Ederson he stayed in Brazil long enough to make a name for himself at Coritiba. A switch to Tokyo Verdy followed, thus starting the player’s lengthy adventure in Japanese football, a period which has featured four J-League titles.

This honours list includes firing Kashima to victory in the last three campaigns, in each of which he was his team’s top scorer, with his overall tally of 49 goals taking him to within just one strike of a club record. Barely able to go out on the streets of Japan without being mobbed, the 33-year-old’s time away has meant he remains a peripheral figure in his homeland, one reason why a return could be on the cards.

“I’ve achieved everything I could have wanted here, but I’m looking into the possibility of going back to Brazil next year. I’d like to earn the kind of recognition I’ve got in Japan back in my own country,” said the experienced front-runner.

Portuguese colony
One of the many Brazilian footballers to have made Portugal their home, FC Porto forward Givanildo 'Hulk' de Souza, one of the revelations of last season’s UEFA Champions League, was until a short time ago unknown back in Brazil. And this despite the 23-year-old representing A Seleção in friendly action against England and Oman as well boasting a release clause of €100 million in his contract with the serial Portuguese champions.

Os Dragões were not his first club in Portugal either, with a 15-year-old Hulk leaving behind a poor childhood in Paraiba to try his luck with Vilanovense in Vila Nova de Gaia, across the banks of the Douro river from Porto. Virtually bereft of funds and forced to depend on the generosity of club staff, he eventually headed back to Brazil, from where he was quickly snapped up by Kawasaki Frontale – the start of a prolific three-year spell in Japanese football which earned him the Porto switch.

Also performing in the Liga Sagres is Benfica midfielder Ramires, who arrived in Lisbon by a more conventional route after first establishing himself at Cruzeiro. “I was really shocked to see how many Brazilian players there are here,” said the Auriverde international. “Almost every Portuguese team has Brazilian players in their squads who didn’t carve out a career for themselves back home. There were even people who I didn’t know were Brazilian until I heard their accent.”

On the rise in England
Manchester United twins Fabio and Rafael, as well as Wellington Silva of Arsenal, are among the leading candidates to add their names to the list of players better known outside of Brazil. And of the trio, it is Rafael who appears furthest along the road to recognition, given his performances when called upon by Sir Alex Ferguson and the veteran status of right-back rival Gary Neville.

“The best way to get a higher profile in Brazil is by playing well in Europe and winning titles,” said Ederson, with the benefit of his own experience. “There are several other players who took this path and, even though they were unknowns when they left Brazil, they’ve managed to earn recognition.”

And with his team Lyon still in the Champions League, fresh from beating Spanish big-spenders Real Madrid, what better way to catch the eye of Brazil coach Dunga ahead of the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™?