History would suggest the archetypal Brazilian’s adaption to the Barclays Premier League is usually one fraught with danger, but there appears to be something of a new generation; one that at the very least, fancies itself to conquer rigours of English football. Are the likes of Chelsea new boy Oscar et al, ready to break the hoodoo of their underperforming predecessors?
When you think of dodgy imports, you wouldn’t usually associate Brazilian footballers with suspect polo shirts from Eastern Europe. But whilst both have the capacity to make you look like a bit of a lemon, a penchant for fake Lacoste won’t set you back several million quid. You’d imagine Middlesbrough chairman Steve Gibson would rather don a truckload of counterfeit clobber than fork out another £12 million for Afonso Alves.
It might seem unfair to use Alves as the flagship for Brazilian quality in the Premier League, but there has been something of a negative trend set by many of his countrymen in the English top flight. Kleberson and Roque Junior both came to England with lofty reputations, and left with egg on their face. Robinho and Heurelho Gomes impressed in parts, but ultimately failed to have enough of an impact on the Premier League. And the likes of Claudio Cacapa and Mineiro were simply so bad, we’ve erased them from memory.
Of course, for every Mario Jardel, there is a Lucas Leiva. But even the Liverpool midfielder, who has since won an array of plaudits, saw his Premier League career move to the edge of a cliff before he fired on all cylinders. Ramires, David Luiz and Sandro all have a lot of quality, but it is perhaps only former Arsenal midfielder Gilberto Silva who has left a real, sustained legacy in English football.
And maybe it won’t be until any of the aforementioned players produce the goods consistently, over a number of seasons like Gilberto did, that this perceived hoodoo will ever be broken. But with the level of Brazilian talent that’s currently about or ready to arrive on these shores, surely it is only a matter of time.
Chelsea new boy Oscar arrives with at least the reputation to match the price tag. The attacking midfielder has shown he has genuine magic in his locker during his short career with Internacional, but at 21, he has every chance of succeeding in the Premier League. And he seems to be part of a growing trend amongst his countrymen. Tottenham’s Sandro arrived from the same club at the same age. The Da Silva twins both went to Old Trafford before their 18th birthdays. Lucas Piazon has already made a huge impression at Stamford Bridge behind the scenes – he came to England aged 17.
Coming to England at such a young age has given all of the above the best chance of succeeding in English football. To a certain extent, they’ve all finished/are finishing their footballing education in England. They’re learning as much as they are acclimatising. But even then, it seems difficult to understand that Brazilians have some intrinsic inability to adapt to a faster or more physical brand of football. Carlos Tevez was no more aware of English football than Kleberson was when he came from South America. Sergio Aguero was just as established in Spain as Robinho was once upon a time.
It’s not as much that Brazilians have just suddenly figured out how to play in England. It feels more as if the Premier League has evolved into an environment better suited to their strengths.
The Premier League today is an almost completely different beast to what we saw ten years ago. Both are massively entertaining models, but tactically, English football has evolved – in no small part due to the influx of foreign players and the culture that they’ve brought with them.
It’s not a cliché – rigid 4-4-2’s built around a fast-paced, physical and, in some parts, largely aerial game are not particularly commonplace back in Brazil. And whilst the top teams in the Premier League were more accommodating to more fluent styles back in 2002, the rest of the league perhaps wasn’t. Footballers can adapt to all formations and cultures given time. But England probably offered the least likely chance of success to South Americans moving over to Europe.
But we’re now experiencing a level of tactical fluidity and evolution in the Premier League that feels a lot more continental. The 4-4-2 is never going to be consigned to history, but we’re seeing a lot more teams adopt the more astute 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3. This is naturally more likely to aid the acclimatisation of the traditional Brazilian footballer – technically accomplished, tactically aware and better with the ball on the deck.
Debunking myths isn’t an easy task in football. Stereotypes stick in all walks of society, but they’re almost bred in the beautiful game. In reality, there have been just as many failed Italian and South American imports, as there have been Brazilians. Gianfranco Zola, Ossie Ardiles and Jurgen Klinsmann, to a certain extent, don’t particularly represent the majority of their countrymen in terms of the impact they had on English football. But we’re still waiting for a real samba-induced legacy in the Premier League.
But if there is something of a stigma that Brazilians carry when English clubs are looking to purchase, surely that is now set to be blasted into oblivion. There is now real, genuine Brazilian talent within the league and at the age of which so many of them are, they have a superb opportunity to go and put their watermark on English football. Oscar’s transfer may just be the catalyst for a Brazilian revolution.
High hopes for the current crop of Brazilian talent? Sick of hearing how they can’t prosper in this country? Tell me how you see it on Twitter, follow @samuel_antrobus and bat me your views.