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Jun 7, 2006

United nations of Brazilians

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - Marcos Senna was born in Brazil but he wants nothing more than to see Spain win the World Cup.

Alexandre Guimaraes was born in Brazil but will be coaching Costa Rica. And Luis Felipe Scolari was born in Brazil but will be doing everything in his power to help Portugal lift the trophy.

All of them, and many more Brazilian players, managers and support staff, will be at the World Cup Finals in Germany this month representing countries other than their own. Some, like Zico, will be coaching and others, like Senna, will be performing for adopted countries.

Either naturalised to play for their new nations or simply as hired hands, all are perfect examples of the seemingly innate talent that has helped make Brazil the only country in the world to win the tournament five times. They also illustrate how, as football has gone global, Brazil has established itself as the main exporter in the world's game.

'It's partly numbers,' said Simon Kuper, author of the prize-winning book Football Against the Enemy.

'Brazil has ten times the population of Cameroon say, which also has tremendously talented players. Very important is the relaxation of labour barriers. And there are lots of little factors connected to globalisation. And Brazilians always stay in fashion. They have something that the rest of us don't.'

That something extra has attracted managers from across the globe and five Brazilians will turn out in Germany for nations other than their own.

In addition to Senna, Francileudo Santos is in the Tunisia squad; Barcelona star Deco, who won Champions league medals with both Porto and Barcelona, is with Portugal; Antonio Naelson, known as Sinha, will wear a Mexico shirt; and Alessandro dos Santos, or Alex, is hoping to add to the 50 caps he has already won with Japan.

Others came agonisingly close to joining that select club. Rio-born Kevin Kuranyi has scored 14 times for Germany in 35 games and his omission from the host nation's squad raised eyebrows.

When Dudu was left out of the Croatia team fans in Zagreb took to the streets to protest, and the surprising absence of Francileudo's team mate Clayton from the Tunisia squad robbed him of a chance to appear in his third World Cup Finals.

Coaches, too, are in demand. Although Brazilian managers have rarely been given the chance to prove themselves in Europe, they are treated with great respect in Latin America, Asia and the Arab world.

This year, five Brazilians will lead out teams to hear a national anthem they might not recognise, much less understand. Brazilians will take charge of Costa Rica, Saudia Arabia, Japan and Portugal, as well as Brazil itself.

Although the relaxation of labour restrictions has made it easier for players to move overseas, these illustrious names are hardly blazing a trail. The first Brazilian defectee was in the 1930s, when Filo played for Italy in the 1934 World Cup.

More famously, Jose Altafini played for Brazil under his nickname Mazzola at the 1958 World Cup and then changed his name back to Jose Altafini and played for Italy in the 1962 tournament.

Since then dozens of Brazilians have change their nationality, usually to enable them to play for African, Asian or Latin American nations. Lists show that Brazilians are now eligible to play for more than a dozen countries.

Many of them - and dozens more from other nations who made the same decision - opted for a new country after realising they stood little chance of representing their own country. Some, however, have long-standing ties to their adopted homes.

Deco and Alex went to their adopted countries as teenagers and Guimaraes moved to Costa Rica as a boy. The towering defender played for Costa Rica in the 1990 World Cup and was in the side that surprised Scotland 1-0 in Genoa.

Zico's ties to Japan are well established, the former Flamengo star playing there for Kashima Antlers in the twilight of his career. Luis Felipe Scolari, meanwhile, can point to historic, cultural and lingusitic reasons for his association with Portugal.

The case of Marcos Paqueta is slightly more obscure. Paqueta made history in 2003 when he became the only man to led teams to world titles in the same year.

The former Flamengo and Fluminense manager took Brazil's Under-17 squad to the World Cup in September 2003 in Finland and then just three months later led the the Under-20 squad to victory in the United Arab Emirates. When Argentine Gabriel Calderon was surprisingly sacked after guiding Saudi Arabia to the finals, the Saudis chose Paqueta as the man to lead them to the promised land of the second round.

The Arabs' desire to sign up Brazilians - their club sides also shell out big bucks on Brazilian players and coaches - is understandable given their reputation.

Having a Brazilian in the line up gives a club cache and perhaps even a psychological advantage over rivals, coaches say. It is the reason teams in Kazakhstan, New Zealand, Thailand, Haiti and 79 other nations signed 804 Brazilian soccer players last year.

'The other side is subconsciously aware that he can do something and that unpredictability gives you an advantage,' said Charlie Howe, coach of a New Zealand team who last year signed a Brazilian named Leandro de Souza.

De Souza was merely holidaying in the Antipodes but after turning up for a trial, officials signed him up for the country's winter league. He left shortly after but if he had stuck around he would have played in the tougher summer league as well, Howe said.

'He certainly had all the skills,' Howe said. 'Brazilians bring character and spice and that adds value to our game and gives spectators something to look at. It improves our game. It's good for young players to see players like that.'

Although a select few that go to Europe and Japan earn multi-million dollar salaries, the overwhelming majority leave in search of more pay, security and a better life. Most players who play professionally in Brazil earn the minimum wage, around 85 pounds per month.

They can earn much more even in remotest outposts, as well as play a cross-cultural role, said Alex Bellos, author of the book, Futebol. The number of soccer players who leave Brazil is four times the number of diplomats sent to work in Brazilian missions abroad and their effect is often similar, he said.

'There are so many Brazilian footballers around the world, spread across so many countries that they function like a parallel dimplomatic service,' Bellos said. 'They are cultural ambassadors as well as sporting ones since Brazilian lifestyle is so closely linked to how they play football.'

How they play football is well documented. Whether they can help their adopted countries to the same kind of success as their homeland remains to be seen. What is certain is that many of them will play this World Cup with one eye on home.

'I support Brazil, I always have and I always will,' said Zico, whose Japan team plays Brazil in Dortmund on June 22. 'But now I am the opponent and I have to work to find a way to beat Brazil. Of course, I want Brazil to get to the final too, preferably against Japan.'


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