The irony of players from the world’s leading football nation failing, often spectacularly, in the game’s biggest and most popular product isn’t lost on anyone. Brazilians have set foot on European soil and lit up the game in a way that only they can, from Ronaldinho’s otherworldly talents guiding Barcelona to greatness, to Juninho Pernambucano carving out a reputation as the finest free kick specialist any of us have ever seen. The Premier League, however, has been seen as dangerous and unpredictable ground for those from Brazil.
It’s not to say there have been no success stories. Juninho Paulista springs to mind from his days with Middlesbrough, and Gilberto Silva and Edu enjoyed league title success with Arsenal. After that, you struggle to think up names who made a positive impression in the Premier League prior to the last few seasons.
At Manchester United, Anderson has gone no way to achieving the goals that would have been set for him as a player during his days at Porto. His trophy cabinet is well-stocked, but he’s not the player most expected him to be. He often struggles, not just for a place in the United team but also for a sense of identity. Is he marketable as a clearly defined player? Is he good enough to be an all-rounder who does more than one job to a high enough level?
Lucas Leiva at Liverpool has certainly improved since he arrived as a Rafa Benitez signing in 2007. He’s developed well into a defensive midfielder, and his presence was undeniably missed when he suffered long-term injury. Though has the 26-year-old made such an impact that he can be deemed a categorical success in English football?
They aren’t the only ones. Denilson and Julio Baptista at Arsenal; Kleberson at Manchester United; Elano, Jo and Robinho at Manchester City.
Fernandinho and Paulinho have an opportunity to help set a new trend. David Luiz, provided he isn’t sold to Barcelona this summer, could have a fantastic career at Chelsea alongside compatriots Oscar and Ramires. If last season is anything to go by, United’s Rafael is set for a bright future in English football.
The former Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder may be weighed down by the sizeable transfer fee that was needed to acquire him from the Ukrainian heavyweights, but his ability and impact in high-profile games in the Champions League were there for all to see. Alongside Willian, Fernadinho was one of the key figures of Mircea Lucescu’s often enterprising team.
Fernandinho is labelled as a defensive midfielder but he does more than just hold his ground in the centre of the pitch. More akin to a technically proficient box-to-box midfielder, Fernandinho would launch attacks from deep, continue his runs into the box and often grab a goal for himself or further help in the assisting of one for a teammate.
The former Shakhtar midfielder does have the tools to be an exception to the rule in England. He’ll be in the right hands with Manuel Pellegrini at Manchester City, and a midfield double pivot alongside Yaya Toure should help him quickly adjust to life in the Premier League.
The hype isn’t totally absent from Tottenham’s new signing either. Paulinho arrives with plenty of promise following a very good Confederations Cup. He has long been on the wanted list of some of Europe’s bigger clubs, and credit to Tottenham for winning the race for his signature.
Like his compatriots who ventured to these shores before him, Paulinho isn’t a bad player and should have a positive environment to succeed at White Hart Lane. But is the difference between failure and success as clear-cut as the climate, heavy schedule and good surroundings? As trivial as it may be, all of those factors do count towards the end product. It’s a matter of culture too, and bringing South Americans straight over to England has always been a risk, where the transition is far easier in, say, Spain.
There is already a familiar face in Sandro at Tottenham, and the pair could help to form a winning unit in Andre Villas-Boas’ midfield three. It will be a similar set up to what Paulinho is used to with the Brazilian national squad and it will more than help him win a place at next summer’s World Cup.
What we’re seeing now is a variation in what Brazil has to offer, with powerful midfielders playing alongside their creative counterparts. Gilberto Silva was a typical Premier League player in terms of build, but it wasn’t to say that only strong defensive midfielders could succeed in England.
The opening of the floodgates has allowed the Premier League to become a home as much as the leagues in Europe are. The fear and apprehension may be diminishing, as well as the likelihood for failure. As we’ve seen a wave of new Brazilians enter English football, stories like Anderson and Denilson are becoming the exception rather than the rule. Like in most cases, the very good players will almost always succeed, regardless of nationality. Though it’s also vitally important that clubs do all they can to offer a smooth transition.
Like the Brazilians of yesterday, Fernandinho and Paulinho will continue to push the door open for their countrymen to consider the Premier League as a very realistic option alongside La Liga and Serie A. The next step: a real Brazilian superstar.
Will Fernandinho and Paulinho continue to help set a new trend for Brazilians in the Premier League?
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