Brazilian football sweated its way through another European transfer window this week -- although for somewhat different reasons than usual. Traditionally dreaded by Brazil's coaches and fans as the time when their teams are most likely to lose star players, this time around it was club directors and accountants who viewed events with a sinking feeling.
Player sales, generally to Europe and Russia, represent a vital source of income for cash-strapped Brazilian clubs, which are mostly mired in massive debt and frequently struggle to pay player wages. In 2013, transfer fees represented 23 percent of the earnings of the country's top clubs, second only to TV money (32 percent) and far outstripping the 10 percent that came from gate receipts. In recent seasons, the high-profile sales of Brazil's brightest young talents -- such as Neymar to Barcelona, Lucas Moura to PSG, Bernard to Shakhtar Donetsk and Oscar to Chelsea -- have made considerable waves in the European transfer market.
But this time around transfers involving Brazilian clubs caused barely a ripple. The sale of powerful young Botafogo central defender Doria to Marseille for a reported 5 million euros looks like a potential bargain, while Inter's skillful attacking midfielder Otavio was snapped up by Porto. And there were a gaggle of other youngsters on the move, such as Gremio left-back Wendell, who went to Bayer Leverkusen in a deal agreed to back in February; gifted attacking midfielder Anderson Talisca, who switched Bahia for Benfica; and Sao Paulo left-back Douglas, whose surprising move to Barcelona is perhaps another curious foray by the Catalan club into the Brazilian market, after the signings of Keirrison in 2009 and Henrique in 2008 (neither of whom played more than a handful of games for the club.)
In general, however, the star names of the Brasileirao, such as recent Brazil call-ups Everton Ribeiro and Ricardo Goulart of Cruzeiro, and Diego Tardelli of Atletico Mineiro, were left on the shelf, although Cruzeiro said they had received (and rejected) an 8.2 million pound offer from Monaco for attacking midfielder Ribeiro, voted the league's best player in 2013. Other big names who have stirred interest among European clubs in recent years, such as Sao Paulo pair Alexandre Pato and Paulo Henrique Ganso, and Santos' misfiring striker Leandro Damiao, once a Tottenham target, were similarly overlooked.
In part this reflects a policy among European clubs to snap up Brazilian talent as early as possible, no doubt exacerbated by the huge sums spent on Neymar and Lucas Moura, both of whom stayed in Brazil for a season or two longer than expected, allowing their profiles, and subsequently prices, to grow. The financial crisis in Brazilian football, as well as the influence of profit-hungry agents and third-party investors, means players can be snapped up at younger and younger ages. In such a context, players like Tardelli (29) and even Ribeiro (25) have a decidedly spinsterish look about them.
Moreover, the current trough of despondency, in which Brazilian football currently finds itself, cannot be ignored. The "Massacre at the Mineirao" in the World Cup semifinal on July 8 against Germany resulted in a mood of self-doubt and navel-gazing that has hardly been improved by the distinctly underwhelming return of Dunga as national team coach, and the frequently lacklustre fare on offer in the Brasileirao.
While Ribeiro and Goulart and the rest of the best that Brazil has to offer are good domestic players, they are more likely to be the subject of (relatively) modest offers from Portugal or mid-ranking Italian teams than they are to spark bidding wars between Real Madrid and Barcelona. Simply put, there have been no Oscar or Neymar deals for Brazilian players this summer because there are no players of that level in Brazil at the moment.
"It's the worst market for 30 years for Brazilian clubs," wrote ESPN's Paulo Vinicius Coelho in the Folha de Sao Paulo on Sunday, pointing out that the number of players who began, but did not complete, the Brasileirao season fell from 60 in 2003 (among them Kaka, Kleberson and Julio Baptista) to just 25 last year. "Brazil doesn't produce players like it did in the past. There are no obvious superstars in the Brasileirao at the moment."
There are other factors responsible for the withering of Brazilian football's diaspora. One is the high wages often paid by Brazilian clubs. "Some of the players earn more here than they would there," said Cruzeiro director Alexandre Matos recently. Work permit issues continue to restrict the activities of big-spending English sides in Brazil, while away from the richest teams, midlevel European clubs -- a traditional destination for Brazilian talent -- continue to operate under more straitened financial circumstances than in the past.
Then there is the globalization factor. With European football now accustomed to looking not just at South America but also to Africa and Asia for its new recruits, there is arguably more supply and less demand in the market than ever before. In such circumstances, why run the risk of signing an expensive Brazilian player, particularly as he may well have trouble adapting to a foreign culture? There is hardly a shortage of such examples.
"His behaviour is simply inexplicable. In 40 years as a coach I've never seen a situation like this. We haven't seen him for three months ... he hasn't even called to explain," Shakhtar coach Mircea Lucescu recently complained of Bernard's failure to return to the club after the World Cup.
The ongoing unrest in Ukraine is another worry for Brazilian clubs. Between 2011 and 2014, Ukrainian clubs spent more on Brazilian players than those of any other country -- 38 signings for a total of 92 million pounds, according to a report in the Folha de Sao Paulo, a figure that far outstripped income from Spain or Italy. This summer, however, not a single notable player has moved from a Brazilian club to Ukraine during the transfer window.
If there is any consolation for Brazilian clubs, it is perhaps that with their stars shining more dimly than in the past, domestic teams can be kept together for longer periods, helping to tackle one of the great ills of the Brazilian game -- its chronic short-termism. "Keeping squads together for longer can result in better teams and a stronger championship," wrote Vinicius Coelho. Assuming, of course, that clubs can afford to pay the bills in the meantime.