Tuesday 25 April 2017

Samba's own left in cold as Brazil roadshow rolls on

The South Americans' lucrative policy of playing friendlies in Europe is divisive, writes Jamie Jackson

At the Emirates Stadium this afternoon, the Premier League's Ramires, Sandro, David Luiz and Lucas Leiva will join their international team-mates in pulling on the famous yellow jersey of Brazil, when the five-times World Cup winners 'host' Scotland at the home of Arsenal.

This is the 19th time Brazil have played a non-competitive match on foreign soil at a neutral venue since Argentina were beaten 3-0 (also at the Emirates) in 2006. Brazil fans have been able to see only one friendly in their homeland in five years.

Yet the national football association (CBF) and Kentaro, the company they hire to organise what is billed as the Brazil World Tour, is clear that this nomadic existence is for practical and altruistic reasons rather than financial motives.

They state that it is pragmatic for the internationals who play in Europe (there are only seven Brazil-based players in today's squad) to avoid the 13-hour flight home by staging friendlies on the continent. And, in the nature of public-spiritedness, this also allows an opportunity for the CBF to spread the 'futbol arte' gospel to fans who count the nation of Pele, Rivelino, Socrates, Eder, Ronaldo, Cafu and Kaka as their second side.

Yet a counter-argument has arisen that claims the CBF have made mercenaries of the Brazil team and this has caused many fans to feel disenfranchised and badly disposed towards Ricardo Teixeira.

The CBF president is in charge of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and the local organising committee for that tournament may soon be under investigation by the country's parliament.

Since Argentina in 2006, London (five times), Sweden and the US (three each), Qatar (twice), Germany, France, Ukraine and Derby have been used by Brazil as venues for friendlies.

"The amount of interest is proportional to the quality of the opposition," an insider from TV Globo, the country's largest broadcaster, said. "If it's a big rival, there's a large amount of coverage and interest. A smaller team, and many people may not even be aware there's a game on."

Kentaro offer the opposing view. "Very much at the start, the CBF saw that their players were playing in Europe anyway, and they saw from a logistical and practical objective this was a way to manage that," said the chief executive officer, Jonathan Hill, who was previously the Football Association's commercial director.

"The CBF also understand, as we understand, that there is a demand for seeing Brazil play. We've had over one and a half million paying spectators since we had that first game [in 2006]. We get global TV audiences of over 200m for the games [and] all are shown live on Globo TV in Brazil."

Regarding the supporters' view of Teixeira and the CBF's strategy, the Globo source said: "I've been in a stadium where he was booed by large portions of the crowd. People understand the need to rake in money and increase the team's exposure. But many believe that it's gone too far and that the Brazil team have been turned into a cash cow that benefits only the CBF.

"There is a sense of a 'disconnection' between the team and the people, a feeling that Brazil are representing Nike [their sponsors], not the country."

"Would Brazil fans in Brazil like to see the team more in friendly matches?" asked Hill. "Probably. But remember they do get to see them in World Cup and Copa America qualification. And they are playing two home games in June, against Holland and Romania."

Admission to the game today costs between £35 and £65, according to the Arsenal website.

Scotland are making enough to cover their training camp in La Manga last week, while Brazil pick up the lion's share.

Asked whether, if there was no financial gain in taking Brazil around the world it would still be done, Hill said: "It's a hypothetical question. There's money to be made for the CBF in playing international football matches wherever they play them."

Surely, though, as a business, there is no shame in Kentaro accepting that one motive behind the global tour is to make money?

"We are a business and is it good for our business being associated with the Brazil national team? Of course it is," said Hill.

"Every other sports marketing team in the world would love to have the CBF as a client."

Yet have the trips to Doha, for Brazil to play England in 2009, and Argentina last year, or to the United States in 2008 to take on Venezuela, not cheapened the Samba brand?

"There's going to be 50,000-plus people at the Emirates [today], it'll be one of the great football occasions, and it will be watched by millions of people around the world," said Hill. "Your question is almost like saying: 'Have Fifa cheapened the World Cup by taking it to Russia [in 2018] and Qatar [in 2022]?'"

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