Foreigners illuminate the Brasileiro
© AFP

Exportation is central to everyday life in Brazil. A land of bounteous natural resources, it is one of the world's leading suppliers of iron ore, coffee, cocoa, sugar, oranges, soybeans, beef, tobacco, footwear and ethanol. This rule, quite indisputably, extends to footballers.

In 2005 alone, 878 Brazilian players were transferred abroad, a figure which rose to over 900 last year and continues to push towards quadruple figures. But while the departure lounge has long been crowded, the flow of footballers in the opposite direction has generally been stagnant. Brazilian clubs have been traditionally reluctant to employ foreigners and, of those who have tried their luck in the country, a majority have fallen by the wayside.

On occasions, though, gringos have taken the Brasileiro by storm. Sao Paulo, who claimed their fifth crown on Wednesday, had the Uruguayan pair of Dario Pereyra and Pedro Rocha to thank for their maiden triumph in 1977, and the former was still marshalling their defence when they repeated the feat in 1986. Meanwhile, their compatriots Hugo de Leon and Atilio Ancheta both gave admirable service to Gremio's rearguard, with the latter sharing the Placar Golden Ball in 1973 with Santos' Argentine keeper Agustin Cejas, who, ironically, would later join him in Porto Alegre.

Internacional's Chilean stalwart Elias Figueroa pocketed the same honour in 1976, and although it took until 2005 for Carlos Tevez to become the next overseas-born player to win the Bola de Ouro, several made their mark in the intervening period. Among them were Andrada of Argentina, who kept goal for Vasco when they won the Brasileiro in 1974, Paraguayan winger Romerito, scorer of the goal which made Fluminense national champions a decade later, and his countryman Carlos Gamarra, a star of Corinthians' triumph in 1998. And that is not to forget the likes of Francisco Arce (Paraguay), Freddy Rincon, Victor Aristizabal (Colombia) and Dejan Petkovic (Serbia).

Pet has long been a rare outsider in the country, but now on to his sixth club within its borders - Santos - he finds himself one of 23 foreigners in the top tier. Interestingly, a strong number have established themselves as leading lights in the Brasileiro.

Success stories
Sao Paulo's success this season may have been indebted to home-grown stars such as Breno, Richarlyson, Jorge Wagner and the inimitable Rogerio Ceni, but other sides have undoubtedly gained from the presence of foreigners, none more so than their Paulista rivals Palmeiras. The Verdão assigned the coveted No10 jersey to the Venezuela-born Chilean Jorge Valdivia, and they have since reaped the rewards - specifically, fourth place in the standings, which would be good enough to secure them a Copa Libertadores place, with four rounds remaining.

Blessed with a repertoire of tricks and passing ability to match the best of his Brazilian peers, the 24-year-old has won a legion of admirers on the Parque Antartica terraces and after fulfilling a suspension at home to struggling Juventude last night - a match Palmeiras lost - Valdivia will return to the starting XI for their trip to Sport on Sunday. If he can inspire Caio Junior's side to victory, he may just improve his chances of winning a player of the campaign awards.

Chilean midfield enforcer Claudio Maldonado, although currently sidelined by injury, has also been one of Santos' most outstanding performances once again this term, while Colombia's David Ferreira, who tormented Brazil during their recent stalemate in Bogota, has enjoyed another fine season for Atletico Paranaense.

Over in Rio de Janeiro, the instant impact Maxi Biancucchi has made for Flamengo has prompted his cousin to promise a trip to a cidade maravilhosa to watch him perform. That may sound like nothing special, but it is not the case when your cousin is a certain Lionel Messi. Nevertheless, the pick of the Argentines in the Brasileiro this year has undoubtedly been turning out for Flamengo's arch-rivals. Imported from Rosario Central in his homeland, Vasco have unearthed a jewel in Conca, a 24-year-old playmaker and firm favourite among the Sao Januario faithful.

Perhaps an even greater surprise has been the meteoric rise of Nautico's Beto Acosta. Few expected the Uruguayan, who operates in between the midfield and the frontline, to shine for the expected strugglers. However, the 30-year-old has refused to read the script and, largely thanks to his 18 goals - a figure surpassed only by Parana's 19-goal forward Josiel - the Timbu sit two places above the drop zone.

With contributions like these, don't be surprised if Brazilian clubs are more inclined to look abroad to fill the gaps created by the inevitable exodus of homegrown talent during the forthcoming close season.