Brazil will go in to this summer’s World Cup as most bookmakers’ second favourites for the trophy. For generations, the Brazilian national side have been regarded as the world’s premier football team, a side synonymous with beauty, finesse, flair, grace and most importantly of all, success. Unfortunately, ‘success’ tended to elude Brazilians when taken out of their perceived ‘comfort zone’, with many Brazilian players thought to be unable to bring their domestic and national side form into English club football.
Fast forward to 2010, and it seems as though the perception of Brazilian players as ‘fair-weather’ footballers no longer exists; Spurs’ impending signing of Internacional anchorman Sandro means that there will at least twelve Brazilian players plying their trade in the Premier League next season, meaning that all but two of last season’s top seven sides will feature at least one Brazilian within their ranks. Finally, it seems as though top Premier League teams are benefitting from Brazilian talent, but how has this happened?
Whilst the 1990s success of the likes of Romario, Ronaldo, Cafu and Aldair proved that Brazilian players could adapt to European football in Spain and Italy, the prevalence of Brazilian talent within English football was scarce during the same period. For better or for worse, (with the exception of Middlesbrough’s little playmaker Juninho) Brazilian players were regarded as erratic luxuries, unable to handle the physical rigours and weather of football in England. In 1987, Mirandinha became the first Brazilian to play football in the English league, after signing for Newcastle United for £575,000. Whilst the midfielder has become somewhat of a cult hero upon Tyneside, many regard his time in England as one of a costly mistake, with his Newcastle tenure characterised by frustrating inconsistency and a string of injuries.
It was the north-east of England that again played host to Brazilian players during the 1990s, when Middlesbrough signed the trio of Branco, Emerson and Juninho. Although Juninho spectacularly succeeded in England, endearing himself to all observers of the Premier League, both Branco and Emerson vindicated English assumptions of South American players. One may consider the accomplishments of Juninho to be somewhat of an anomaly, due to the failure of similar Brazilian players to hit such heights in England.
With Denilson of Arsenal and Lucas Leiva of Liverpool making a combined total of 55 Premier League appearances between them last season, it is clear to see that Premier League sides are finally benefitting from the changing nature of Brazilian footballers. Neither player is blessed with what would one describe as the typical attributes of a Brazilian footballer – neither Denilson nor Lucas is renowned for their flair, or ability to shoot and dribble. With both being deployed as a holding midfielder the pair are heralded for the way in which they deal with the ‘ugly side’ of the game, eschewing traditional Brazilian panache in favour of tough tackling and positional discipline. Indeed, Liverpool fans jokingly ponder whether Lucas is actually Brazilian at all.
Aside from attempting to emulate the style of former Arsenal midfielder Gilberto Silva, both Lucas and Denilson are emblematic of the way in which Brazilians are adapting to English football, with their style mirroring the disciplined, hard-working manner in which national coach Dunga sets out his team.
Although 40 Brazilian players have plied their trade within the top flight since the inception of the Premier League in 1992, 25 of these have moved to England within the last four years. After years of being viewed as risky extravagances, it seems as though Brazilian players are finally settling in England.
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