Unlike many of the world’s major leagues, where the number of title candidates can usually be counted on one hand, picking a favourite for the Brazilian crown has never been an easy task. That much is confirmed by a glance at the history books, which show that on the 56 occasions the Brasileirao title has been contested since its inception in 1959, it has been won by 17 different clubs, three of whom – Guarani, Sport and Palmeiras – are not even in the top flight this year.
Yet what makes the forthcoming 2013 season, which begins this Saturday, more appealing than most of recent vintage is the sheer number of current national team players who will be taking part in it. As Seleção coach Luiz Felipe Scolari’s recently announced squad for the FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013 confirmed, there will be a wealth of top-class talent on display in the Brasileirao this year.
Felipão’s 23-man list contains no fewer than 11 players who ply their trade in Brazil, six more than featured in the Brazil squad for the last FIFA Confederations Cup in 2009 and a whole eight more than appeared in the team Dunga took to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. That trend continued under Mano Menezes, who picked just six home-based players in his squad for the Copa America 2011. Indeed, the last time local representation in the Seleção squad reached double figures was back at Korea/Japan 2002, when Scolari, in his first spell in charge, named ten Brazilian league players on his shortlist.
A member of the celebrated side that won Brazil’s third world title at Mexico 1970, Tostao commented on the development in his column in last Sunday’s Folha de S. Paulo: “The fact that 11 home-based players have been selected is a sign of Brazilian football’s increased ability to hold on to and sign better players. It’s also a reflection of how few Brazilian players there are at Europe’s leading clubs at the moment, and of the attempt to captivate the fans and forge a strong emotional bond with them.”
The phenomenon can largely be explained by the position Brazil has taken up in the football marketplace. According to Global Transfer Market 2012, the FIFA Transfer Matching System’s latest annual review of international player transactions, not only did Brazil lead the way in terms of outgoing transfers last year – far from a recent development – it also topped the list of countries with most incoming transfers: 696 in total.
Scolari’s FIFA Confederations Cup squad reflects that developing trend, with only four of the 11 home-based members having never played outside Brazil: Bernard of Atletico Mineiro, Gremio’s Fernando, Leandro Damiao of Internacional and Santos superstar Neymar, all of whom are under the age of 23. The remaining seven are all players who have made the journey back home from Europe within the last five years: the Fluminense trio of Diego Cavalieri, Fred and Jean, Rever of Atletico Mineiro, Jeferson of Botafogo, Paulinho of Corinthians and Sao Paulo’s Jadson.
“Aside from playing for Sao Paulo, my aim has always been to make it back to A Seleção,” said Jadson in a recent interview with FIFA.com, commenting on his decision to leave Shakhtar Donetsk at the start of 2012 after winning 12 trophies in seven years with the Ukrainian club. “I won several titles in Ukraine, but I was more or less out of the limelight, which was one of the reasons why I’ve come back. I’m very pleased that Felipão has recognised the work I’ve done. I was trying to catch his eye.”
Those 11 players are from the only star attractions of the new season. Among the famous Brazilian names who missed out on a Seleção slot but will also be appearing in the league are Atletico Mineiro’s celebrated triumvirate of Diego Tardelli, Jo and Ronaldinho, Corinthians forward Alexandre Pato, Cruzeiro centre-half Dede and Sao Paulo’s veteran striker Luis Fabiano, not to mention newly returned veterans such as Ze Roberto (Gremio), Alex (Coritiba) and Gilberto Silva (Atletico Mineiro).
“The level is better than I expected,” FIFA World Cup winner Gilberto Silva told FIFA.com on his return home in the middle of 2011. “When I came back I heard a lot of people talking about the low standard of Brazilian football, but that’s not the case. The arrival of more and more people with international experience like Diego Forlan at Internacional and Clarence Seedorf at Botafogo is only going to motivate clubs here and the players who decide to come and play in Brazil.”
Joining the Brazilian contingent this season are an ever-growing band of foreigners, including Botafogo’s Uruguayan midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro, Corinthians’ Peruvian forward Paolo Guerrero, Atletico Paranaense’s young Spanish midfielder Fran Merida and American international Freddy Adu, now with Bahia. With a cast like that and any number of teams in with a chance of landing the title, the Brasileirao 2013 promises to be intriguing at the very least.