Manchester United Have Three, AC Milan Have Three, Braga Have 12 - How Football Is Dominated By Brazilians assesses the global impact of Selecao stars who depart South America to further their career
By Robin Bairner

Brazilian football has set a unique standard for excellence during the game’s history, and since the beginning of player migration, no nationality of player is considered to hold the level of prestige as one from the former Portuguese colony. Europa League finalists Braga have made particular use of the country’s potential as a soccer trading post, and no less than 12 of their squad – more than half of their first team – were born in the world’s third biggest nation.

Virtually every top club in Europe has at least one player from the giant South American nation. Champions League finalists Manchester United have three in their ranks – Rafael, Fabio and Anderson – while Barcelona boast a similar tally, too, with Adriano, Dani Alves and Maxwell in Pep Guardiola’s squad. Recently-crowned Serie A champions AC Milan also have a trio of Brazilians. Consider any big club, and the likelihood is that they’ll have at least one player eligible for the Selecao.

Undoubtedly, however, it’s Portugal that benefits most greatly from the influx of samba talent. According to the Global Player Migration Report of 2011, the nation’s top two divisions command an astonishing 95 players imported from Brazil, with Braga’s contribution such that they will have considerably more players born in the South American nation than from their own land. And it should not be forgotten that Wednesday’s opponents, Porto, could have six players from Brazil in their starting XI.

South Korea
An ability to speak the language, as well as historical ties, are undoubtedly important reasons for so many Brazilians choosing to make the leap to Europe via Portugal, and some are even so successful in their adopted nation that they are invited to play for the national side. Real Madrid centre-back Pepe is one example of a player who has elected to play for his adopted country, though he has spent his entire professional career on the Iberian peninsula. A better example would be Liedson, born and bred in Brazil, but naturalised Portuguese just in time to appear for the 2010 World Cup.

Yet not everyone who leaves South America for Braga, Benfica, Porto or one of their peers is a success, and a move to the Primeira Liga is typically followed by a switch to a lesser league by the majority of players, who are not strong enough to make a career for themselves in the upper echelons of the Portuguese game.

Players will typically re-export themselves to another league, which is why so many will end up in relative backwaters such as Cyprus, Romania or Armenia.

Of course, Europe’s South Western tip does not have a monopoly on importing Brazilians. Indeed, the Portuguese tally of 95 accounts for only around one-third of the entire worldwide score from the last year, and it must be remembered that of the 283 players counted in the study, this only captures professionals.

The east Asian leagues of South Korea and Japan are, somewhat surprisingly, the next most popular stopping-off points for players leaving South America’s most successful football nation. Fifteen were exported from Brazil to the K-League over 2011, while 14 made the slightly shorter journey to the J-League. It’s unsurprising that Pohang Steelers, the present leaders in Korea, boast Mota and Adriano Chuva, while the pace-setters a little further east, Kashiwa Reysol, have three Brazilians in their playing staff, not to mention a coach who hails from the same country.

Eastern Europe, and in particular Ukraine, has something of a love affair with Brazilian players at present. Shakhtar Donetsk, who reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League, did so largely because of a six-strong infusion of samba talent, and they are by no means the exception in their land.

Frequently sponsored off the back of oil money, clubs from Ukraine can afford to pay competitive wages to attract stars from South America, and the same can also be said of the Gulf States, who are also keen importers of talent from locations such as Sao Paulo and Belo Horizonte.

Iran ranks fourth over the course of the last year in signing Brazilians, having picked up 10. Amongst the squad of champions is Fabio Januario, a player who came to Europe initially via Portugal but hit his limit with Belenenses and was forced to move on.

There is a new phenomenon in the life cycle of Brazilian players, as they have started to move back to their homeland at the end of their careers, with 135 returning over the course of the last year, including 10 to Flamengo alone. This has been publicised all the more by the likes of Adriano, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho all going home, while there was even talk of Kaka switching back to Brazil for a period.

With Brazilian exports still continuing to soar, there is little doubt that the samba nation still holds a unique place in footballing romanticism, and everyone wants to get in on the act. Whether it’s Manchester United, Barcelona or Sepahan, to have a Brazilian is to have your fans dream; to evoke a unique footballing ideal.

On Wednesday evening, Braga and their 12-strong crew of imports hope to realise that against Porto, and their band of six.

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Manchester United have three, Milan have three, Braga have 12 - how Europe is dominated by Brazilians