The South American Model

The South American Model

By Kane Prior

Football in South America is huge. Wherever you go, kids are playing on the streets hoping to be the new “Maradona”, “Pele” or even the new “Messi” (remembering the original Messi is still only 24). This love affair with football saw the continent start to produce more talented footballers for Europe than the Europeans themselves. Brazil have become synonymous with their Samba style (even in their defenders, like David Luiz), Argentina have Messi to parade (despite him being brought up in Spain) and there has been a notable rise in the other countries’ profiles, with Uruguay reaching the semi finals of the last World Cup.

This rise in demand for South American footballers makes sense, as players are cheap to buy and are happy to accept relatively low wages compared to their European counterparts. This is arguably bad for the players themselves, as they are coerced into moving to another continent at a very young age (most players are still in their teens), thrust into the public eye and usually from the poorer regions of South America where they have seen little other culture and never experienced the amount of money that is in football. A case in point is Brazilian centre-back Breno, who moved to Germany’s Bayern Munich at a young age from Brazil. He rarely got games and had extreme difficulty adjusting to his new surroundings, culminating in Breno being arrested in 2011 and suspicions of depression.

This lead football clubs in South America to adopt an economic model of concentrating on finding talented players and selling them for high profits. The downside was that these clubs would constantly have to reinvent their sides as the best players were sold, losing any long term stability and seeing a decline in both results and quality. The best example is to look at Barcelona, they have produced one of the best teams in history by keeping talented players together and letting them build up chemistry with one another, which would be impossible for any clubs in South America.

But perhaps we are now seeing a change in the South American model. With the European economy looking worse for wear and the South American economy growing, money is now flowing back into these regions. Brazil leads the way with the biggest economy and the best football league. They currently boast the talent of players like Ganso and Neymar, potential world class players, but the difference now is that they are staying put. Neymar was coveted by all the big clubs last summer, but instead signed a contract until 2014 with Santos that was on par with any potential contract in Europe. It still seems doubtful he will fulfil that contract, and will probably leave in the next few years, but the fact he was persuaded to stay in Brazil and the fact Santos could afford to pay him a European-like salary shows a change in the tides of football. Furthermore is it not just the young players being persuaded to stay, older players near the end of their careers have transferred back to South America to claim big contracts and be closer to their family – with historic players like Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Juan Roman Riquelme all returning to their home nations.

South America has a vast population and the big clubs can boast millions of fans, making the market an ideal situation for investors – advertising and marketing have become central policies for football clubs in South America now (catching up with the top clubs in Europe). The fact that clubs can now sell their star players when they want for incredible profits makes it even more appealing and we should see the quality of the football leagues increase, bringing in more fans and more potential revenue.

But we shouldn’t get too far ahead of ourselves. South America still lags far behind Europe in revenue and still loses it best stars in the long run. Brazil is also far ahead of its neighbours in player power, with nations like Paraguay and Columbia still unable to lure its best players into staying. In fact, Brazil has become one of the biggest buyers of its continent’s stars, sweeping up the best talent before they decide to move to Europe. This is seen as a vital test for footballers who are leaving their homes for the first time; if they can’t make it in Brazil, then their chances in Europe are near impossible.

Maybe one day, we will see a Brazilian club paying 20 million for the newest Spanish or Greek talent, but that day, in truth, still seems a long way off.

You can read more from Kane at Economic Interests or follow him on Twitter.

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