Boys from Brazil flock from Faroes to Malta in the great Samba migration
There are 1,169 players forced to kick a ball thousands of miles away to earn a living, writes Jamie Jackson
Clayton Soares do Nascimento has just landed in Rio de Janeiro from the Faroe Islands. Behind Nascimento is his most successful season, the target-man's 22 goals taking IF to second place in the Effodeildin and making the 33-year-old Brazilian joint-top scorer.
Now, with the 6,182-mile trip from the north Atlantic to the sunshine of Rio completed for another year he is happy to be reunited with his family.
"The weather today is fantastic, warm, the Faroe Islands is very cold," Nascimento says. "I am away for nine months. I miss my family but I am doing it to make sure they have a better life in Rio."
Nascimento is just one of the 1,169 footballing boys from Brazil who are scattered across the globe, the largest number of players by far of any itinerant nation. There are 606 alone plying their trade in the top divisions of 40 of Europe's 48 professional countries, with a further 263 playing in lower divisions.
France has the second biggest count of players in the continent's elite leagues, including its own Ligue 1, with 579. Perspective on this great Samba migration, which also includes a further 300 who play outside Europe, is found in there being only 327 Englishmen in Europe's top flights, of whom 181 are in Premier League 25-man squads.
The artisan forced to leave sun-buttered Brazilian pitches to kick a ball thousands of miles away to earn a living jars with the familiar tale of the jogo bonito played by Brazil's superstars. But the majority of the 1,169 are unheralded professionals. Beyond Kaka, Robinho, Alexandre Pato, David Luiz, Oscar and the Selecao's other headline exports, many are journeymen who are unable to obtain salaries playing league football at home.
Of the Faroese game, Nascimento says: "I like it, the football there is different. In Rio, Brazil, it is a different style -- more passes, and it is not so hard like in Faroe Islands. There is not so much long ball all the time -- not all the time but almost all the time. In Brazil they pass slowly. But I learned a lot."
This past season completed his decade on the Islands, an adventure that began through word of mouth. "I had a friend who was playing in Iceland and he moved to the Faroe Islands after a friend asked," Nascimento says. "He wanted one more player to come so I did. I didn't know where the Faroe Islands was."
Nascimento started at FS Vagur and, after two further moves, was signed last season by Olavur Larsen, the 28-year-old chairman of IF Fuglafjordur.
"Clayton looked like a good target-man so I contacted him but it was the day before he was leaving the Faroes for Brazil," he says. "We were emailing together to get a contract and I actually drove him to the airport and waved him off to Brazil."
Larsen describes the general standard of Faroese football as: "If you take English football, around the Conference. It's not very high, but we think it's OK. It's semi-professional."
Nascimento works in a fish-packing factory to supplement the income he saves for his wife and 13-year-old son, who remain in Rio. "I work every day for six hours, from nine in the morning to three, then train five times a week, from six in the evening. I have a contract for one more year so I talk to my wife.
"I moved away from Brazil for the money, for a better life. This was important. My wife moved to the Faroe Islands for seven years, then they moved to southern Spain and back to Rio last year. I will return for the new season at the beginning of February."
Larsen adds: "There are a lot of Brazilians here -- former players, but it's mostly economics: we don't have as many foreigners as we used to have."
Nascimento is one of only two Brazilian players in the Faroese premier league. In Finland there is the same number -- the striker Rafael, 33, and Dema, 28, both of FC Lahti.
Rafael says: "Another Brazilian player, called Rodrigo, was going to play for HJK [Finland's most successful club] in 1997. They needed a striker and Rodrigo asked me to go to Finland. In 2004, I was playing for Forssan and Lahti were interested in me so in 2005 I signed."
While the Faroe Islands have a relatively mild winter with average temperatures of 3-4C, Finland's can plummet to minus-34C. How was the adjustment? "The first years in Finland were difficult, it was cold and the language was difficult but I became used to it," Rafael says. "Now I feel that Lahti is my European hometown."
He is more settled in his adopted country than Nascimento. "I miss Brazil, of course, but less than years ago, and I don't visit Brazil every year. It is three years since my last visit," says Rafael, who unlike Nascimento does not need a second job. "I'm full-time. I don't know what else I could do. This is my dream profession. After a couple of years it will be time to do some other work but I don't know what."
Jussi Lumio, an FC Lahti board member, says that as in the Faroe Islands, the number of Brazilians has dwindled. "There were several good players in the 1990s and early years of 2000. But not any more. Our first ever player was in 1997, in 1998 we had three Brazilians. After that Rafael and some others came for a trial. Rafael is just like Finnish players. He's hardworking and gets along with everyone. He is totally an FC Lahti icon, a favourite player for our fans and he has won twice the title of Goal King in Veikkausliiga [the top flight]."
Across the continent, the map of the Brazilian diaspora includes Chelsea's Oscar and David Luiz who head the 14 currently in the Premier League, with 130 in Portugal, Europe's largest number. Italy has 46 exiles, Cyprus 32, Romania 26, Ukraine and Bulgaria 25, Russia and France 24, Spain 22, Turkey and Malta 21, and Azerbaijan 20. Croatia, Iceland, Estonia, Macedonia, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are the only nations who have none.
At Malta's Hibernians, where there are four Brazilians, Stephen Abela, the executive secretary, says agents play a more prominent role than at IF or Lahti. The signing of Edison Luis dos Santos in 2011 paved the way for the subsequent arrival of Rodolfo Soares, Anderson Mendes Ribeiro, Jackson Lima and Marcelo Mariano Dias.
"Although his [Dos Santos's] agent is Brazilian he had been living in Malta for 15 years. So as we needed to revamp our squad with new foreign players we told the agent what positions we needed and he got us the players," Alba says.
"You do need to have contacts to help identify players, since it is difficult to travel to Brazil every time. After a player is brought to our attention, we see his DVD, and get him over for a trial.
"It is also easy to sign Brazilians since a visa for them is not that difficult. There was a time when clubs were opting for African players but visa restraints have made us look to other options.
"Brazil is a big country producing football talents by the hundreds -- players who may not make the grade in Brazil are easily considered top players in Maltese football."
Of Brazil's European exiles, 5 per cent are goalkeepers, 35 per cent are defenders with the same percentage midfielders, and the remainder are forwards. What does the Brazilian fan think of their nation's staggering number of travelling footballers?
"It's almost a given; it's accepted that there are so many players who start their careers here and then go off to Europe or wherever it may be," says Jon Cotterill, a commentator for TV Globo, Brazil's largest broadcaster. "I've never really seen any complaints of: 'Oh there's so many of our players leaving.' Maybe just every now and then when there is a big star leaving."
Sunday Indo Sport