For a competition widely regarded as the benchmark in world football, the Brazilian bar has been set surprisingly low in the Premier League. Samba (the dance, not the QPR defender) skills and a cold, wet winters night in the north of England have hardly gone hand in hand over the years and the success of Brazilians in the Premier League has been relatively low.
Multiple successful foreign imports can’t masquerade the fact that Brazilians players have always struggled to adapt to English football, but the trend might be about to change with Rafael, David Luiz, Ramires, Oscar and Sandro developing into pivotal figures for their clubs, following in the path of Gilberto Silva, Edu and Juninho.
The two cultures are miles apart, and not only geographically. Disheartening weather and unsatisfying food are often mentioned by Brazilians as reasons to flee England to return back home or to opt to move to other European leagues, whose culture and lifestyle are more similar to the Brazilian way.
Furthermore, the Brazilian league has recently benefited of a huge influx cash, meaning that players are no longer as desperate to seek greener pastures in Europe as they were until five or ten years ago. Spurs target Leandro Damiao, for example, has repeatedly stated his desire to remain in Brazil for another while, something that would have been inconceivable until a couple of years ago.
The Brazil team that will take the field at Wembley tonight, is packed with quality players, most of them likely to be approached by European clubs in the near future. Unfortunately for Premier League clubs, the likes of Ganso, Neymar and Damiao will need convincing before moving to these shores for Brazilians, perhaps more than players from other countries need to feel at home and happy if they’re to translate their talent into results.
Chelsea Brazilian contingent’s case is emblematic to explain how highly Brazilians regard being around their countrymen. David Luiz has transformed a corner of West London into a little Rio in Putney, so popular in fact, that even Spurs’ midfield machine Sandro and QPR’s shot stopper Julio Cesar leave local rivalries aside to join their fellow countrymen.
This sense of feeling at home away from home goes some way to explain why Luiz, Ramires and Oscar have been in such good form recently, as any footballer would confirm that a positive mindset is pivotal to performances on the pitch.
Undoubtedly the Brazilian stars of today and tomorrow will be advised by the current crop of Brazilians playing in the Premier League, meaning that we could see an ever growing influx of Brazilians, but perhaps only in teams that already have a strong Brazilian influence.
On the other hand, Middlesbrough cult hero Juninho settled on Teeside, arguably not England’s most glamorous spot, and went on to score 27 goals in 126 games during his three spells at the club, lifting the League Cup in 2004. The Brazilian was at home on Teeside, despite not being surrounded by countrymen.
Even 2002 World Cup winner Kleberson went on to play only 20 Premier League games over two seasons for Manchester United, before being shown the door without much fanfare.
SW6 is not plain sailing for all Brazilians either. Lucas Piazon has shown the odd flash of brilliance but is yet to establish himself at the club something that Mineiro was never given the opportunity to do, playing only twice for the Blues before being shipped out to the Bundesliga.
Juninho’s success offers a stark contrast when compared to the misfortunes of fellow Brazilians at Boro like Branco, Afonso Alves and Doriva or Anderson Silva and Rodrigo – forgotten figures even by Everton fans, despite spending the 2006-07 and 2002-03 seasons at Goodison – and Cacapa and Fumaca, whose contributions to Newcastle’s fortunes were insignificant.
Of course there are also bittersweet tales, such as Elano’s and Geovanni’s. Arrived at Manchester City in the summer of 2007, the former was gradually phased out of the team as City’s wage bill grew, while the latter is best remembered for scoring a cracking goal against Arsenal when playing for Hull, club he had joined after leaving the Etihad.
Having stoked the hopes of the blue half of Manchester on deadline day in 2008, Robinho never became what City had hoped he would and was rather unceremoniously told to find another club in 2010 but remains arguably the biggest Brazilian name to have played in the Premier League.
Still, he did fare better than another City’s import, one Glauber who spent the 2008-09 at the Etihad, or of Bolton’s Mario Jardel, whose appetite for goals had long dried up by the time he joined Bolton in 2003, but unfortunately for the Trotters his appetite for food was very much alive. Jardel’s countrymen – and, amazingly, former Real Madrid player – Julio Cesar Santos didn’t fare much better either at the Reebok.
Playing against Brazil, is always going to be a glamorous event regardless of the occasion, but tonight’s game won’t be window shopping exercise it would have been a few years ago for English clubs. Neymar and Ronaldinho are likely to grab the attention and the former will undoubtedly fuel speculations over his future.
Whether he would want to swap the carnival in Rio for the one in Notting Hill remains to be seen.