Much has been written in the past around the ability of Brazilian players to adapt to life in the Premier League. It’s difficult to pontificate on the subject without lapsing into cliché – a challenge Rob Brown met manfully at the outset of this series. Rob was correct to point out cultural differences between the two countries. The punctuality of the Premier League training regime is at odds for a country for whom ‘antes tarda do que nunca‘ (‘better late than never’) is an ingrained cliché. I attended a graduation ball in Minas Gerais back in July and I was already yawning by the time we arrived at the event shortly before 1am.
Football is more of an art than a science in Brazil and its national league, Brasileirão, bears those traits for better and for worse. The league is temperamental to say the least. Not simply because of the amount of yellow and red cards you can expect to see, but the league table is capable of turning itself upside down from season to season. Most clubs are basket cases financially, which prevents any one team from dominating. Teams are generally very evenly matched; one or two astute signings can see you leap up the table. Cruzeiro, who have ostensibly fought relegation in the last 3 seasons, currently lead Serie A by 12 points.
The appointment of Marcelo de Oliveira Santos as coach and canny additions such as Dede and Everton Ribeiro has been enough to catapult them to champions elect. Yet it’s likely that Cruzeiro’s promising players will be picked off soon enough and they will have to start again. Meanwhile, Fluminense (1st in 2012) and Vasco da Gama (5th) are all in a relegation battle in 2013 due to tumultuous club politics. Again, without wishing to stereotype, the Brazilian game tends to be honed ‘na rua’ (‘in the street’) which isn’t necessarily conducive to the tactical rigidity often required in the Premier League.
Consequently, Brasileirão contains a fair sample of players who have tried their hand in the Premier League. It’s far too simplistic to say that Brazilians don’t “do” tactics, this is a nation with five World Cups after all. In truth, Brazil’s last two World Cup triumphs, in 1994 and 2002, weren’t achieved with anything close to the flair of the 1970 squad, who still leave a deep imprint on the popular perception of Seleção. Brazil has always been renowned for the flair that they have given the game. “Futebol art” and “jogo bonito” are football clichés applied to the nation. Yet Brazil are not as renowned as they ought to be for the quality of their “volantes” the Brazilian term for defensive midfielders. “O volante” literally means “the steering wheel.”
Clodoaldo and Dunga have been as much a part of Seleção’s Coppa Mundial triumphs as Ronaldo, Jairzinho and Romario. Of course, in 2002, Gilberto Silva starred in Brazil’s 2002 World Cup triumph. Selected initially as an understudy to Emerson, Gilberto played every minute as Brazil took the title in Japan and South Korea. Shortly afterwards, he left his home state of Minas Gerais, signing for Arsenal from Atletico Mineiro. Gilberto, nicknamed “The Invisible Wall”, was an undisputed success in England, forming a key part of one of Arsenal’s greatest ever teams. He won a Premier League title unbeaten and two F.A. Cups in his time in North London, as well as captaining Seleção to a Copa America whilst a Gunner.
Now aged 37, Gilberto has returned to Brasileirão following a spell at Panathinaikos. He rejoined Gremio for two seasons in 2011. Having returned to his home country, he reinvented himself in his original position too, earning plaudits for his performances at centre half as Gremio finished 3rd in Campeonato Brasileiro in 2012. In December 2012, he made a sentimental return to Atletico Mineiro (‘Galo’). Galo fans waited at Belo Horizonte’s TNC airport for his plane from Porte Allegre to welcome him home. Gilberto told them upon his return, “I’ve been away for 10 and half years, far from home, my family and friends. I’ve decided to come back to the club that made me get noticed, the club of my heart. All this helped me to make this decision.”
Though a bit part player, Gilberto won the 2013 Copa Libertadores with his hometown club in Belo Horizonte. At the trophy parade, Gilberto told Galo fans that the achievement meant as much to him as winning the World Cup. I was at the second leg of the Libertadores final at Estádio Mineirão in July. Though Gilberto didn’t get on that night, I saw him speak with each of Galo’s penalty takers shortly before the shootout, before he cajoled the whole squad into a huddle. Gilberto’s return home has been one of a well-renowned elder statesman, whose reputation in Europe and Brazil is revered. Despite currently suffering from a torn meniscus, Gilberto is still active in Brasileirão. He is one of the spokesmen of “Bom Senso FC” (Good Sense FC) a collegiate of Brazilian based players campaigning for a fairer and much less congested domestic calendar.
However, not all of Brasileirão’s Premier League repatriates have returned as vaunted veterans, medals draped around their necks and acclaim ringing in their ears. Gilberto Silva’s Galo club mate Jô is a prime example. Jô showed great promise at Corinthians early in his career, becoming a first team player aged 16. By the time he was 18, he undertook a move to CSKA Moskva, where he shone, netting 30 goals in 52 appearances. This resulted in a swift move to the Premier League. Aged just 21, he made an £18m move to Manchester City. His timing proved to be bad. He joined a City side undergoing a steady revolution under the stewardship of controversial billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra.
30 days after joining City, ADUG bought City and their gentle revolution became an all out coup with a new level of investment available to them. They immediately bought Jô’s compatriot Robinho and the young striker wilted under the lights somewhat. He managed just 1 goal in 21 league appearances for City and was loaned to Everton six months after joining. He enjoyed a bit more success on Merseyside with 5 goals in 12 appearances. David Moyes wanted to make the move permanent but the Toffeemen didn’t have the funds to do so. They took him on loan again in the 2009-10 season.
Moyes was privately relieved that Everton didn’t purchase Jô permanently. He didn’t score in 15 appearances in his second spell in Blue. Moyes sent him back to City for breach of conduct as Jô returned to Brazil for Christmas without club permission. City loaned him to Galatasaray the same day. But the Brazilian striker couldn’t settle in Istanbul and became increasingly homesick. He returned to Manchester City and made a slightly better impression in 2010-11. But by now, City boasted the likes of Tevez and Balotelli in their forward line and he found games hard to come by. Had City not had such an upheaval in ownership and investment shortly after arriving, he might have been a success in England.
He returned to Brasileirão with Internacional in 2011 but struggled to realise his potential, scoring twice in 16 appearances. In July 2012, it seems Jô finally made the right move. Cuca purchased him for his Atletico Mineiro side. He’s consequently forged a potent partnership with Ronaldinho. In fact, the two have concocted a notorious flying chest bump celebration, which is celebrated in Galo’s official club store as a wall sized photo. Jô perfectly suits Galo’s direct style, with Ronaldinho finding him with balls in behind, as well as some fleet footed wide players, such as Bernard, Fernandinho and Tardelii serving him from wide.
Subsequently, Jô has fought his way back into Seleção, taking advantage of both a lack of options upfront for Scolari to ponder, as well as fitness issues for Fred and Alexandre Pato. He has 4 goals in his last 4 international appearances. Jô also won Copa Libertadores this year, finishing as the tournament’s top scorer and helping himself to a goal in the final, along with a successful penalty conversion in the victorious shootout. It’s hard to think, aged just 26 and with a World Cup spot almost assured, fitness permitting, that Jô won’t again try his hand in Europe.