Perhaps it started off as a homecoming; an alternative to hawking one’s fading talents for a few more substantial paychecks in Eastern Europe (Welcome to Tashkent, Uzbekistan!), the Middle East (I have sand in my eye again) , Asia (You can taste the smog) or MLS (It’s nice here, but where are the fans?).
As a Brazilian star, why not come home and end your playing days where you built your legend? Be close to your family. Enjoy the beach. Maybe check out your old favorite brothel… well, maybe they should get some advice from Ronaldo about that first. Whatever the reason, I can only imagine that it’s a lot more comfortable than being in some far-flung locale. Unless your Roberto Carlos, who just can’t seem to make up his mind about whether he wants to play at home or not.
Older European-based players moving back to Brazil has been the norm for quite some time. It works out great for some, for others, they slowly disappear into the Brazilian mist. And really, it makes a lot of sense that they do. Many players return home as they inch towards retirement. One last hurrah at their old stomping ground, then retire to a nice little pad outside of your old neighborhood.
But over the last year, it hasn’t just been the old men coming home. While we’re still seeing the about-to-retire sect return to Brazil, we’ve also seen a host of “big name” young players coming back in the prime of their careers.
Ronaldinho leaving Milan for Flamengo at the peak-ish age of 30 is probably the most famous example of this increasing trend. Though his rapid decline in ability from his glory days at Barcelona may take some of the luster from this example.
Robinho is likely a better example. Though his was only a temporary return and was a necessity in order to keep the spoiled little bastard from rotting on the Manchester City bench, wouldn’t you think that some side in Europe might fancy a 6-month rental? Since the answer to that question has to be yes (he can’t be that big of a prima donna, right?), that means that Little Rob rebuffed those advances in favor of going back home. But why?
I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but up until about five years or so ago, Brazil was essentially (massive generalization warning) a giant slum. So for a player coming home from a financially rewarding European pilgrimage, playing a year or two more in Brazil wasn’t something that would substantially contribute to one’s bottom line.
Today’s a different story though, as players are no longer being paid just peanuts to leave the glitz and glam of Europe… they can now return to see paydays above, at or near their European wages. Five years ago that wouldn’t have been possible, but with the Brazilian economy raging like the fire of billion burned rain forest trees, the clubs started throwing cash around like a Lil’ Wayne video. This can also help to explain why emerging talents like Neymar have hung around the homeland a little longer than most of his predecessors.
Whether or not this is sustainable trend in a possible bubble economy with a rich tradition in corruption is another topic all together.
But money alone can’t be the reason for such a large migration to the Brazilian homeland.
As mentioned in my last round-up post, Brazilian flair and the value it brings is on the decline. In general, it used to be a double win for a European club to bring in a Brazilian player. For one, he would wind up being one of the better players in your squad. And secondly, the acquiring of a Brazilian player would be inject an “oooh-ahhh” factor into the club and make their fans salivate. However, Brazilian players aren’t anymore a sure-thing and often can be the subject of frustration for supporters.
So coming back to Brazil can allow a player the chance to resuscitate a stalling career. It’s fair to say that it would be a bit easier in Brazil, with far less scrutiny, expectation and pressure
Robinho found himself in just this situation at City, and his return to the old continent has been marginally better after his ego boosting encore at Santos (at the age of 23). Serial-idiot Adriano has had multiple returns (at 26 and 29) to Brazil to do battle with weight, attitude, and self-esteem… though they’re all battles he has seemingly lost. Other examples abound too:
- Cicinho (aged 27) spent 6 months on loan from Roma at his former club, São Paulo. He’s now back in Europe, on loan again at Villareal.
- Easily my favorite example is Elano’s return to Santos (28). I’ve been a big admirer of the curly-haired midfielder since his days at Shakhtar Donetsk, and was disappointed that he was shunted during his time at Cit-eh. But he has resumed his development and is playing wonderfully again, easily one of the standout performers for the Seleção in recent friendlies.
- Luís Fabiano (30), also just cemented a return to São Paulo from Sevilla. In doing so, he also crushed my hopes of Tottenham finally signing their first quality international striker since Berbatov.
Ultimately, the reasons for top players returning during their prime all vary based on each player’s circumstances. We haven’t even examined causes like homesickness, but then again, that’s an issue that probably plagues players regardless of their home country.
Look around Europe now: with a host of european-based players maybe not able to reach the high bar of expectations set by some of their fellow compatriots, maybe we’ll see this trend continue.
Anderson, Denilson, and Jô: are you debating this very idea right now?
With the comforts of familiar surroundings, the prospects of a decent wage, and the lessoned levels of expectation, maybe they should be.