South American appeal may grow in Brexit Britain

WITH Britain now divorced from the European Union, the early indications suggest it will be a little harder for FA Premier League sides to sign players from some of their traditional markets. At the same time, in the new order, South America could become a more accessible market. Anyone thinking that leaving the EU may give young English players a better chance of making the grade could be mistaken. The transfer market is an industry in itself, those who work in and around it will ensure activity continues in some shape or form. Wherever there are hurdles in business, there’s a sub-industry that works on solving the problems.

South America is already an attractive market for European clubs. Across the main leagues, there are some 200 players from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile and other countries. There are just under 50 currently with Premier League clubs, half of which are Brazilian.

Global force

Spain, Portugal, England and Italy are the biggest European takers of South American talent, but Brazilians can be found all over the world, even in the most remote places. In fact, Brazilians constitute the only truly global force in the football labour market. According to CIES Football Observatory, there are over 1,300 Brazilians playing across the Americas, Europe and Asia. Players from Argentina and Brazil represent just under 10% of all recruitments across the big five leagues in Europe.           

England’s big six clubs have, over the past 20 years, been increasingly interested in Latin American talent. Firstly, they are technically superior to many European players and secondly, they offer good value for money. Thirdly, they are marketable and can produce good returns in player trading.

In the past, South Americans were rare in English football and often, they struggled to adapt. Of course, the most high profile arrivals in the pre-Premier era were Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricardo Villa, who joined Tottenham in 1978 just weeks after being part of Argentina’s World Cup winning squad. Ardiles was a success, but Villa struggled at times. Others, such as Alberto Tarantini (Birmingham), Juninho (Middlesbrough) and Mirandinha (Newcastle) had mixed fortunes.

Adapted

In the modern era, South American players have adapted better, largely because of the global nature of football and also a reflection of how the English game is now played. Television has made South Americans less of a mystery package, but climate and culture still means there can be an adjustment period.

There’s another important factor and that’s the commercialisation of player movement from South America to Europe. The number of expatriate Brazilians and Argentinians tells you there is an established trade route and a system in place to take young talent from these countries to Europe’s major clubs. Portuguese clubs have been especially adept at acquiring players from Brazil and other countries and making good profits when trading them at a later stage in their careers. Portugal, especially clubs like Porto, Sporting and Benfica, has become a stepping stone for many players.

Porto, for example, have spent € 150 million on Brazilian players and generated income of € 307 million over the past 10 years. Barcelona have spent € 542 million on Brazilians, while the biggest buyer of talent from Brazil in England has been Manchester City (€ 252m) and Chelsea (€ 212m). As for Argentina, the Italians lead the way, Inter spending € 217 million and Juventus € 190 million.

In the same timeframe, Porto’s total income from the transfer market has topped € 1.12 billion and their net balance was € 526 million. Benfica, their big domestic rivals, have generated € 1.18 billion with a net balance of € 637 million.

At the same time, selling players has been a vital source of income for South American clubs. River Plate and Boca Juniors, over the past decade, have enjoyed positive transfer market balances of € 303 million and € 216 million respectively, and in Brazil, São Paulo (€ 222m) and Santos (€265m) have had healthy surpluses.

Values

There’s good money to be made in taking players to Europe. A prime example is Lautaro Martinez, the 23 year-old Inter Milan forward, who was signed from Racing Club Buenos Aires for € 25 million and is now valued between € 80 and € 100 million. Richarlison, is another player whose value has shot up, signed for € 12.5 million by Watford from Fluminense and, under a year later, sold to Everton for double that price. He is now valued at upwards of € 60 million.

There’s an added competition to the traditional trade route in that the US is now appealing to young South American players and by 2019, there were 100 registered on Major League Soccer (MLS) rosters. One of the big attractions is the financial stability of MLS – wages are guaranteed and in South America that isn’t always the case.

However, there’s more South Americans among the top English clubs than at any time in the past 20 years. The “big six” have 23 on their books at the moment, a decade ago it was just 15 and in 2000-01, it was five. Tottenham have half a dozen at the moment and all the others have at least three.

The Football Association has issued a lengthy document on the rules concerning the signing of overseas players. It makes clear that from the start of 2021, clubs cannot sign players freely from the European Union. There are now major restrictions around how many players can be signed and how many signings can be under-21 years of age. Also, it is clear that players under the age of 18 cannot be signed. Like the immigration rules, the FA is operating a points-based system. Players will have to meet the required number of points to gain a Governing Body Endorsement which allows them to work in England.

The prospect of South Americans playing in the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A and Bundesliga still excites the fans. Brazil and Argentina may not be the powerful forces they once were on the world stage, but football is still a second religion in these countries. They can still produce brilliance in abundance.

@GameofthePeople
Photos: PA Images

Copa Libertadores: Last eight dominated by big two nations

WE ALREADY know there will be one Brazilian team in the final of this year’s Copa Libertadores, thanks to two all-Brazil quarter-finals providing an all-Brazil semi-final. There is no danger of a repeat of last season’s domestic squabble but there are a number of big guns left in the competition, including the 2018 finalists, River Plate and Boca Juniors.

The last eight includes four heavyweights from Brazil (Palmeiras, Grêmio, Flamengo and Internacional), the Buenos Aires giants, River and Boca, and two dark horses in Ecuador’s LDU Quito and Cerro Porteño from Paraguay. On first glance, River and Boca are set to meet in the semi-finals, which may provide some headaches for CONMEBOL.

Brazil and Argentina have dominated the Libertadores in recent years – in the past three seasons, they have provided 19 of the 24 quarter finalists. Brazil had a lean spell in the competition, underperforming despite the financial status of its leading club. South America struggles to compete against Europe these days, but Brazilian football is far wealthier than its local rivals, including Argentina.

Grêmio and Palmeiras meet this week just a couple of days after their clash in the Brazilian league. They drew 1-1, a result which keeps Palmeiras among the title chasers. They’ve lost just once in the league this season in15 games. Flamengo, who meet Internacional in the quarter-finals, are in second place in Série A, won 4-1 at Vasco da Game in their most recent match.

Flamengo and Internacional is the other all-Brazil tie. Flamengo recently entertained Mario Balotelli with a view to signing the mercurial striker. The club’s fans were very excited by the prospect but they couldn’t agree a deal, even though Flamengo offered him a two-year deal reputed to be worth US$ 10 million, and he elected to join Brescia in Italy.

Flamengo have benefitted from the goals of Gabriel Barbosa, a 22 year-old who is on loan from Inter Milan after failing to impress in his first season with the club. Barbosa has netted 23 times this season but will return to Italy at the end of December. Internacional have yet to lose a game in the Copa Libertadores this season and have attacking power in the form of Paolo Guerrero and Nicolas Lopez.

Holders River Plate are in good form at present having beaten Racing Club 6-1 away from home. They’re second in the league after three games and they’re got a big derby with Boca coming up on September 1. River’s defence is their strong department and they’ve got an excellent goalkeeper in 32 year-old Franco Armani, who was the club’s hero in a penalty shoot-out in the last 16 against Cruzeiro. They’ve also got a few injuries to contend with when they face Cerro Porteño, a team renowned for its commitment to attack.

Boca Juniors face a tricky away leg at LDU Quito in Ecuador. While Boca have been in good form, their away record in the Libertadores this season is average. Boca recently signed Roma’s Daniele de Rossi, a World Cup winner with Italy, at the age of 36. He scored on his debut for the club and has the ambition of playing in the Libertadores. “I’ve been passionate about this club since I was little. This club allows me to play at an excellent level and in the way I enjoy,” he told the media. Boca are currently second in the Argentine league and their opponents are eighth in the Ecuadorian top flight.

De Rossi is just one of a number of European-based players who have been attracted to South America at the back-end of their careers. Dani Alves left Paris Saint-German and Juanfran departed Atlético Madrid for Sao Paulo while Flamengo signed Rafinha from Bayern Munich and Filipe Luis from Atlético. While most Europe-South America transfer are usually players returning home, De Rossi and Juanfran may represent the start of a new trend – players prolonging their careers outside of Europe. Some are actually attracted by the passion and glamour of the Copa Libertadores.

This season’s competition is the most lucrative ever. CONMEBOL has increased the pot by a substantial 56% from US$ 104 million to US$ 162 million. This still pales into insignificance when compared to UEFA’s Champions League cash pool, which totals € 1.94 billion.

However, last season’s final debacle may have created some positives. The negative publicity raised the profile of the competition and it will be interesting to see if this creates a huge buzz around the final in Santiago’s Estadio Nacional in November.

Photos: PA