Would Premier League Clubs Benefit From South American Affiliations?
Pele, Zico, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho. There has been a plethora of Brazilians to have scaled the heights of world football, not only being considered the best of their era, but up there with the greatest of all time. However, England has not played host to anywhere near enough of the greatest players from across South America. Would the Premier League clubs benefit from setting up increased affiliations with other sides from across the Atlantic Ocean in order to discover some of the greatest talents to ever play the game?
Manchester United first spotted twins Fabio and Rafael da Silva from Fluminense when they were just 15-year-olds and a deal, along with a long-term partnership between the two clubs, for the two players was eventually agreed. However with the law dictating that any footballer under the age of 18 cannot move to a foreign team the duo faced a year at the Brazilian club before they could leave. It is thus understandable why the Rio de Janeiro giants did not offer either player a chance in the first team.
Although the Red Devils were hugely frustrated at this there was nothing they could do. In order to avoid such a situation arising again United set up an affiliation with Desportivo Brasil, a club based just outside the city of Sao Paulo. The club is owned by sports marketing agency Traffic, the organisation that until recently was paying a 75 per cent of Ronaldinho’s immense wage at Flamengo.
Desportivo however are not your typical team as they solely operate within the Brazilian youth leagues. This is exploited by United who will scout a young player that they are interested in Brazil and Traffic will bring them to Desportivo. Their focus on youth development comes into its own as they aim to nurture the talent with the aim of securing a move to Manchester. United can therefore purchase raw Brazilian talent earlier, and start cultivating it from a much younger age.
The benefit for Traffic comes in the fact that all players at Desportivo are owned by the agency. Effectively, United operate as their scouts. If the Red Devils decide not to buy a player, he remains the property of Traffic, if they do then the company receive a fee.
Tottenham Hotspur are another club who have an affiliation with a team in Brazil. Their link that gives them the first option on all of the academy products of Internacional was the driving force behind the purchase of Sandro. The 23-year-old has gone on to become a fixture in the first team for the London side despite a slow start.
But it is an affiliation they have not fully utilised. Other fantastic talents including Leandro Damiao and Oscar have emerged at the Porto Alegre club yet Spurs have failed to bring either to England. They have left it too late for Damiao and now face an inflated transfer fee due to interest being shown in him.
Stringent immigration laws in the UK make it hard to get a work permit for young players outside of the European Union. Unless they can be classed as a ‘special talent’ the young players are frequently loaned to a team elsewhere in the EU, in the case of Manchester United they may go to Twente in Netherlands.
The wealth of talent in South America is relatively untapped by Premier League clubs. Some of the greatest players in the world have emerged from the other side of the Atlantic yet a disappointing number have featured in England. Clubs that fail to compete for big name signings such as Everton, Newcastle United and Fulham could all be well served by expanding their network of affiliates and trying to uncover potential gems before the big clubs.
Not every player would succeed, but there are also potential benefits in the resale value. It could only take unearthing a few impressive talents to return the expenditure of the investment. This could also help provide a boost to the parent clubs financial standing and ultimately move them on to greater things.
Of course everything comes with a risk. Not all players will be worthy of a place in the Premier League, something displayed by the failure of any Desportivo Brasil player to break into the first team at Manchester United. But creating a link with a club and inviting their players to train provides an advantage in the transfer market as a player will already have a relationship with the club.
The expense on the logistics of implementation may be costly at first but it is an investment that offers huge potential returns. With many English clubs struggling to produce impressive youngsters and frequently paying over the odds for more established players in the European game, casting an eye towards South America may well be the best way forward.