Neymar! Reducing Brazil's Football 'Trade Surplus'

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 3/07/2013 12:38:00 PM
It's time for another sporting feature since we haven't had one for quite some time now. Fortunately, there's interesting stuff courtesy of TIME Magazine about the changing complexion of "the beautiful game." Even if the Brazilian economy has cooled off markedly in recent times, it has had a strong run-up and most folks remain optimistic about its economy's future. Contrast its fate with that of the European football powerhouses that traditionally import South American players in droves--especially Portugal, Spain,and the United Kingdom--and you begin to understand the reduced "trade surplus" of Brazil sending away its best footballers time and again:
That progress is nowhere more evident than in Brazil's professional soccer league. It's no surprise that a country famously overabundant with superb players should export its surplus — some 1,500 a year leave for foreign leagues — but in recent years, there's been a spike in the number of returning players: more than 1,100 went home in 2012, up from 974 in 2008. Brazil's trade deficit in footballers narrowed to 315 last year from 556 in 2008. In large part, this is because the Brazilian league, just like its economy, has become more sophisticated and profitable. Not surprisingly, struggling Argentina, Brazil's great rival, is the world's leading exporter of soccer talent — its brightest star, four-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi, plays in Spain.
The latest Brazilian superstar is Neymar of the venerable Santos FC. He is the latest in a long line of players coming from that storied footballing country who can readily dribble the ball past myriad defenders with dazzling moves in the great tradition of Pele and his successors. Supposedly, the career trajectory of Brazilian stars went like this before:
Until the economic boom, the traditional arc of a Brazilian superstar's career ran thus: at 14, his talent was spotted by a local club; four years later, he was traded up to one of the smaller European leagues, like Portugal's, where his prodigious performances marked him as the Next PelĂ©; he had a couple of good seasons before a superclub like Real Madrid, AC Milan or Manchester United came calling. At Neymar's age, he was a full-blown global celebrity, with flashy cars, model girlfriends and big endorsement deals. If he had the right temperament — and durable knees — he could stay at the top of the European tree until his early 30s. Slowed by age, he then moved on to second-tier leagues, like Russia's or Turkey's, where he could still pull down a million-dollar salary; by 35, he was squeezing out the last few paydays playing in Qatar or Japan. 
That's Ronaldo, right? Nowadays, though, local clubs can afford to pay considerably higher wages with growth in the Brazilian economy in general and the league in particular. Management of these clubs is also becoming more professionalized, as are the medical and fitness regimen for the players. Couple those with global sponsorship opportunities--the likes of Adidas and Nike seek the best endorsers wherever they happen to be in the world instead of belonging to a particular (European) league--and the choice to stay at home makes more sense:
They are going home to a new kind of football organization. "The infrastructure is much better than it used to be, the training grounds, the medical staff, the support staff," says Deco, who left Brazil as a callow 19-year-old in 1997 to play first in Portugal (where he became a citizen, as have Brazilian players in other nations), then Spain and England before returning to lead Fluminense to the 2012 Brazilian Championship.
It helps that the clubs are now able to recruit professional administrators. Rio de Janeiro corporate lawyer Elena Landau, a former director of privatization at Brazil's national development bank, recalls the struggle to hire business managers at her favorite club, Botafogo, in 2003. "We were calling friends who had retired from corporate jobs and pleading with them to come and help run the club," she says. "Now, you can hire smart young people with sports-management degrees from university." 
However, the persistent question for players like Neymar is, are they truly world-class in being able to compete with the best talent European leagues have week in and week out? I guess Brazil expects that a home victory in the 2014 World Cup will be the best way to silence critics of players who decide to remain.