Why it pays Brazilians to go Dutch
While silly-money transfers such as Robinho’s move to Manchester City quite naturally grab all the headlines, there are a myriad of deals involving Brazilians that hardly get a mention and many involve a trip to Holland.
Three centuries ago, the Dutch were busy plundering Brazil’s riches after they took control of the city of Recife. Now they are at it again though this time the prize is Brazil’s rough footballing diamonds. And it’s not only the big name clubs such as Ajax and Feyenoord who are getting in on the act. FC Twente, AZ Alkmaar and even Second Division side, FC Zwolle, have their own Brazilians.
Holland of course, has a long history of spotting potential and then getting in quick. Romário, Ronaldo, Alex (Chelsea), Afonso Alves (Middlesbrough) and Gomes (Tottenham), all got their first chance in Europe in Holland. More recently, Ajax almost had Palmeiras’ centreback Henrique – until they were gazumped by Barcelona.
This highlights the problem that most Dutch teams have: they simply can’t compete with the big guns in Europe when it comes to the transfer market. That is why many sides in Holland have developed an eye for spotting raw talent long before anyone else.
Very often, the Dutch scouts target players who have only made a handful of appearances for a club in Brazil and have yet to make any real impact in their profession. A recent example is Feyenoord’s signing of the 18-year-old midfielder, Manteiga, (David Henrique dos Santos) from Gama.
Though this policy is a bit of a gamble, there is a clear logic behind it and the strategy can pay dividends. With most European footballers regarded as far too expensive when it comes to transfer fees and salaries, the South Americans are seen as better value for money as they usually have lots of natural ability and their wage demands are much lower.
While all this sounds good for the clubs, the situation also works well for the Brazilians.
The verdict of most professionals who’ve played in Holland is generally positive. First, there’s the image. Many in Brazil still remember the attractive football of Dutch teams and footballers from the past. Holland is also regarded as a place were young untried Brazilians can get some decent playing time. The clubs are set up well and have acquired an excellent reputation when it comes to developing players. Just as importantly, the Brazilian’s earn a lot more than they did back home. Add to this the fact that the Eredivisie and Jupiler leagues act as shop-windows for Europe’s big spenders and it becomes clear why playing there makes sense for both the players and clubs.
Naturally, not every Brazilian is cut out for life in Holland and the Dutch sides do their homework in their search for the right type of footballer. Locating potential signings is made easier because many clubs are invited to watch players in specially arranged tournaments in South America. Often, these competitions include only players who have dual nationality, which is a major advantage when a European team wants to sign an unknown footballer from outside the EU. From the Dutch perspective, the importance of a player having a European passport cannot be stressed enough. Without it, the transfer would be prohibitively expensive.
FC Zwolle are already planning a trip to the New World next year. The Jupiler League team are pushing hard for a place in Holland’s top flight; the Eredivisie. Zwolle already have four South Americans on their books including Brazilians midfielder Thiago Grizolli and centreback Eric Fernando Botteghin, and are looking for more.
Football agent, Henk van Ginkel, is the man behind many of the transfers. Van Ginkel knows his way around the international scene and was also responsible for Zwolle’s most famous old boy, Jaap Stam, moving to Manchester United. Through his company, World Soccer Consult, Van Ginkel has established a network in South America, which concentrates on picking out undiscovered potential. Van Ginkel has a long-standing relationship with FC Zwolle and only makes money on the players when/if they are sold on.
As well as Van Ginkel’s agency and competitions in Brazil, a number of the Brazilians are spotted playing in tournaments in Holland. This was the case with recent arrival Jonathas de Jesus who has reportedly joined AZ Alkmaar from Cruzeiro for around 600,000 euros in August. The forward was first noticed when he became top scorer in a youth tournament in The Hague. The 19 year-old had a trial with Ajax but the Amsterdam club turned him down and he returned to Brazil where he rejoined Cruzeiro.
Inter Milan’s leftback, Maxwell, was also turning out for Cruzeiro but was snapped up by Ajax in 2001. At just 19, he went on to become Holland’s player of the year and then secured a move to Inter in 2006.
However, it doesn’t always work out for all the Brazilians who opt for Holland. Centreback Márcio Santos was a World Cup winner in 1994. The following year he signed with Ajax but his move coincided with the club’s purple patch in Europe and Santos soon found himself behind Frank de Boer and Danny Blind in the pecking order. Atlético Mineiro’s current captain, Marcos Joaquim dos Santos, had a miserable spell with PSV at the end of the nineties before he was forced to switch to Portugal’s Sporting.
PSV have also come unstuck with a couple of young Brazilian imports. Rightback Fagner (ex Corinthians and Brazil’s Under 20s) has been released after the club alleged the player had an ‘attitude problem’. Forward Jonathan Reis (ex Atlético Mineiro) may also be shown the door. The 19-year-old broke his foot earlier this year. He then removed the cast prematurely, which resulted in another injury. PSV coach, Huub Stevens, labelled Reis ‘unprofessional’ and the player is now with the reserves.
But for those Brazilians who do make an impact, the rewards can come quickly. Douglas Franco Teixeira was a centreback playing in relative obscurity at minnows, Joinville. The 20-year-old defender made just 14 appearances for the Santa Catarina outfit before switching to FC Twente and then turning out in the Champions League (although that experience was short-lived as Twente went out to Arsenal in the qualifying round).
Another player who appears to be on the verge of making it is FC Zwolle’s Eric Fernando Botteghin. The 21-year-old defender’s journey to Holland and his experience there is typical. Botteghin was bought as an unknown in 2007 and has already been sounded out by the likes of Feyenoord, Stuttgart and Fiorentina.
Born in São Paulo, the centreback has Italian and Brazilian nationality and turned pro at 16 with small fries, Barueri. Short spells at Palmeiras, Corinthians, Juventus (São Paulo), followed but it was Botteghin’s performances for Barueri in the Copa São Paulo de Futebol Júnior that brought him to the attention of big guns, Internacional. The Porto Alegre side signed the player as ‘one for the future’ and he went straight into Inter’s B team. In 2006, Botteghin, alongside the likes of midfielder Taison who broke into Inter’s first team this year, were part of the junior side that beat AZ Alkmaar in the final of the Eurovoetbal in Groningen, Holland. This was the first time that a Brazilian club had won one of the biggest youth tournaments in Europe and it created a good deal of interest in the Brazilians. Botteghin was offered a four-year contract and apart from an injury that kept him out for two months, the defender has not looked back.
The centreback has received rave reviews playing in the Second Division. Naturally, Zwolle supporter’s compare him to Jaap Stam (even though Stam actually played as a fullback in his short career at the club). It’s easy to see why Botteghin is being watched so closely. He is tall, strong, a good passer and appears mature for such a young player. The defender may not be the quickest and has picked up more cards than he should. But 7 goals in 47 appearances for Zwolle is not a bad return for a centreback. While Botteghin is clearly a notch above most of the players in the Dutch Second Division, he still has to prove himself at a higher level. For now, Zwolle and their fans are relieved that he should be around at least until January to boost their promotion drive. Botteghin himself is happy at the club and wants to repay Zwolle’s faith in him but he’s likely to be off early next year.
Zwolle, and Dutch clubs like them, have already proved that they have an eye for spotting potential long before anyone else. The strategy of bringing in untried teenagers has its risks but it seems to be paying off for the Dutch and for the Brazilians who want to make a go of it in Holland.
*special thanks to Emiel Klaassen Bos whose help in writing this article was invaluable
Related article: Brazil: the talent factory
Entry filed under: Brazilian football. Tags: Ajax, AZ Alkmaar, Brazilian football, Douglas and Aston Villa, Douglas and Newcastle, Douglas centreback, Douglas FC Twente, Douglas Franco Teixeira, Douglas Franco Teixeira and Newcastle United, Dutch football, Eredivisie, Eric Botteghin, FC Groningen, FC Twente, FC Zwolle, Feyenoord, Henk van Ginkel, Holland, Jaap Stam, Jupiler league, Manteiga Feyenoord, Maxwell, Newcastle United, PSV, Robinho, World Soccer Consult.