Reversing the trend?

(Article first featured on Own Goal Podcast 19/07/12)

The transfer market is changing.  This summer has seen a number of big names such as Didier Drogba and Seydou Keita move to China and the Qatari-banked Paris Saint Germain have splashed the cash on Thiago Silva and Zlatan as they attempt to become a major force in European football.

To a certain degree things are also shifting in South America too.  Traditionally South American squads chop and change regularly as clubs have to deal with the economic necessities of cashing in on their top players and promising youngsters.  But in Brazil at least, it seems that this tendency is altering.

Brazil’s economic boom, new television and sponsorship deals has seen the top 20 clubs income increase by 73 per cent in four years and means that they have been able to lure big name stars (Ronaldinho, Luis Fabiano, Vagner Love etc) but also keeps European sides from poaching the finest prospects.  The case in point is Neymar who has rejected advances from Barcelona, Real Madrid and Chelsea when in the past he would have almost definitely moved by now.

While this is not exactly a brand new phenomenon, the signing of Clarence Seedorf by Botafogo does however mark another interesting shift.  The highly decorated Dutchman becomes the highest paid foreigner in the league, reportedly earning $350,000 a month, and was greeted with a rapturous reception upon his arrival in Rio.

Being able to attract a big name European star is indeed a massive coup but realistically it is not a watershed moment.  At 36, Seedorf is reaching the twilight of his career and the move therefore is not as revolutionary as if he were say 30.  Furthermore, he was born in Suriname and has a Brazilian wife which helps explain his choice.

Another European player linked with a move to Brazil is Florent Malouda.  Like Seedorf, the French international also has links to South America; he was born in French Guyana and is married to a Brazilian.  Nevertheless, the likes of big name non-Brazilian names like Seedorf and Diego Forlan, who has swapped Inter for Internacional, along with the continuing flow of repatriated Brazilians is a huge positive for improving the quality of the Brasileirão.

Nevertheless, this does not signify the end of players swapping Brazil for the old continent and there have already been some big names making their way across the Atlantic this summer. The biggest move so far is probably young midfield starlet Oscar, who looks set to complete a £25million move to Chelsea. An intelligent player with all the hallmarks of a versatile modern midfielder, I expect to see him flourish in the Premier League.

Other big names linked to Europe are Manchester Utd target Lucas Moura, colossal defender Dede and languid playmaker Ganso.  Furthermore, promising holding midfielder Romulo has gone to Spartak Moscow and Corinthians defender Leandro Castan’s Libertadores performances have earned him a move to Roma, with teammate Paulinho another linked to a move to Italy.

Elsewhere in South America, the main news in Argentina is firmly focussed on the future of Juan Roman Riquelme.  The Boca captain announced he was leaving the club following their Libertadores heartbreak, stating that “I am very grateful to the club and the team, I know I am, but I have nothing left to give the club, I’m empty”. The news even sparked protests by fans in an attempt to get their talisman to stay. Potential destinations have ranged from Flamengo in Brazil, Rosario Central in Argentina and a return to relegated Villarreal in Spain.  Boca are now faced with the difficult task of how to replace the irreplaceable.

The biggest arrival is Maxi Rodriguez’s return to Newell’s Old Boys from Liverpool.  At 31, Maxi will have plenty to offer his boyhood club, most likely in a more central role, and will be a highlight of the Primera.  Newell’s will need his quality as they begin the season with a worryingly low points average despite a promising Clausura under Tata Martino.

When talking of returns, the new season also sees River Plate back in the top flight.  They have strengthened with keeper Marcelo Barovero and defenders Lucas Orban and Gabriel Mercado all signing up.  If they can hang on to exciting prospects like Lucas Ocampos and Ezequiel Cirigliano and with David Trezeguet – Argentina’s very own star European import – up front, they will hope to make a big impact after a year of hurt.

Over in Chile, tri-champion and hipster favourite Universidad de Chile once again are paying the price for their success.  Midfield metronome Marcelo Diaz has moved to Basel and striker Junior Fernandes has gone to Leverkusen with more potentially still to follow. They have brought in Enzo Gutierrez from O’Higgins, Ezequiel Videla from Instituto andLuciano Civelli from Libertad but perhaps key is whether sought-after boss Jorge Sampaoli stays or not.  An opening day 5-2 win against Serena shows El Chuncho still has a good core of players and young prospects such as Angelo Henriquez will ensure they continue to challenge.

There have also been a few lower profile South American transfers who could potentially make an impact in Europe.  Universidad Católica have lost star man Felipe Gutierrez to Twente and Unión Española striker Emiliano Herrera has moved to Montpellier, while over in Colombia Dorlan Pabon’s sparking Libertadores campaign has earned him a 4mil move to Parma and fellow Colombian Jackson Martinez has moved from Mexican side Jaguares to Porto.

There will undoubtedly be plenty more changes to come during the transfer window and Europe still remains the most popular destination for many South American players.  However, the disparity in Brazil’s wealth compared to the rest of the continent means that they are able to challenge this traditional flow of talent across the Atlantic. In the shifting alignments of footballing power, Seedorf’s presence will further boost the profile of a burgeoning Brazilian league.