BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil – Brazilian soccer is stronger than ever.
In light of the current state of the Seleção, which was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the World Cup 2010 and now sits in fifth place in FIFA’s rankings, such optimism might seem out of line.
The appreciation of Brazil’s currency (real), the increased revenue of Brazilian soccer clubs, the assistance of financial partners and the country’s investments in preparation for World Cup 2014 have thrust the spotlight on Brazilian soccer.
In fact, the country is experiencing a flurry of homecomings, a veritable tidal wave of talent.
Strikers Ronaldinho (Flamengo), 31, and Luís Fabiano (São Paulo), 30, are examples of the game’s best players who have decided to leave their European club teams to return to play in their native Brazil.
Midfielders Deco (Fluminense), 33, and Rivaldo (São Paulo), 38, also have returned to play soccer in South America’s largest country, which is home to the Campeonato Brasileiro Série A, one of the most competitive leagues on the planet.
“The national football scene was in shambles, so the return of our star players is a very positive development,” says professor Silvio Ricardo da Silva, coordinator of the Study Group on Football and Fans at the Federal University of Minas Gerais. “The presence of stars gives fans old and new justifiable pride that the greatest players in the world are [playing again] in Brazil. This is very important because it spurs identification between fans and their idols.”
The last to make the homeward journey was leading scorer Luís Fabiano, who scored three goals for the Seleção in South Africa and recently signed a four-year, €7.6 million (US$10.7 million) deal to play for São Paulo. Luís Fabiano starred for São Paulo from 2001-2004, when he scored 61 times in 87 games before signing with Portugal’s F.C. Porto. He signed with Sevilla in 2005.
“Today is a very special day in my life,” Luís Fabiano tweeted after his transfer was made official on March 11. “I’m going back to my beloved team, the team I dreamed of returning to.”
São Paulo intends to cover the millions it paid for Luís Fabiano by charging fans a monthly “sponsorship” fee and by selling memorabilia with Luís Fabiano’s image.
Luís Fabiano will join another superstar, midfielder Rivaldo, on São Paulo. Rivaldo is one of the more accomplished Brazilian players in the past dozen years, as he was a member of the country’s squad that won the World Cup in 2002. Rivaldo, who was voted FIFA’s Player of the Year in 1999, is signed through 2011.
Corporations on the field
Marketing makes these major player acquisitions possible, says Lanes Paulo Lobato, a professor and sports management specialist of the Federal University of Viçosa.
The player’s likeness is a valuable commercial commodity, allowing a club to make a profit by placing a player’s image on memorabilia or selling his jersey, Lobato says.
“In many cases, the club earns more from marketing rights and the sale of licensed products than from anyone playing ball,” he says. “Financing has become the priority, but of course that is what allows us to bring the best players back to our pitches, raising the overall level of the sport in Brazil.”
But not all of the money made from this revenue stream lands in a team’s bank account.
Since most of the teams in Campeonato Brasileiro Série A are in debt and aren’t prepared to manage and leverage their assets, they count on the assistance of financial partners, which in turn receive a share of the profits.
Case in point: Flamengo’s signing of megastar Ronaldinho.
Ronaldinho, a two-time FIFA Player of the Year (2004, 2005), reportedly signed a three-and-a-half-year contract worth about R$72 million (US$43 million), meaning the country’s highest-paid player makes about R$1.7 million (US$1 million) monthly.
Eighty percent of Ronaldinho’s contract will be paid by Traffic, a sports marketing company, with the rest picked up by Flamengo.
Ronaldinho’s monthly salary rivals the approximately R$1.8 million (US$1.07 million) that Ronaldo Nazário Da Lima earned per month playing for Corinthians before announcing his retirement in February.
But some say the contracts don’t make sense.
“Brazilian soccer has grown, the market has improved and revenues from broadcasts of games have increased, but I think the salaries we are paying are absolutely insane,” says Eduardo Maluf, director of Clube Atlético Mineiro. “We’re bringing back players at the same wages they earned in Europe. There is no club in Brazil that can afford to pay what these athletes are earning.”