- The Washington Times - Friday, December 3, 2004

Brazilian soccer players are everywhere these days and spicing up the world’s best leagues with their “samba” style.

They often arrive with single names and are their nation’s most prized sporting export. The most famous (Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Roberto Carlos) play in Spain, while upcoming stars Kaka and Adriano compete in Italy. Many are signing major contracts with clubs in Germany, Turkey, Japan, South Korea, Portugal, France and the Middle East.

More than 30 Brazilians signed with top German teams this season, and most of the top strikers in the Bundesliga are Brazilians. American star Landon Donovan will be playing alongside four Brazilians when he joins German team Bayer Leverkusen in January, including Brazilian national team star Roque Junior.

And then there’s Stuttgart’s Kevin Kuranyi, who was born of a German father and a Panamanian mother, grew up in Rio de Janeiro and chose to play for the German national team.

High-flying German club Schalke is spearheaded by Lincoln and Ailton, while Marcelinho and Gilberto star for Tony Sanneh’s former team, Hertha Berlin. Giovanni Elber was the leading striker at German giant Bayern Munich for many years before moving to France last season. Now there are rumors Elber could be joining the MetroStars in Major League Soccer.

The most famous Brazilian to play in MLS was 1994 World Cup star Branco, who had a short undistinguished career with the MetroStars in 1997.

In Spain, superstars Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos play for Real Madrid, alongside Zinedine Zidane and David Beckham. Ronaldinho plays for Barcelona, whose six Brazilians also include Deco, who became a Portuguese citizen and played for that nation at Euro 2004.

Brazil’s domestic leagues are so badly organized and blighted by corruption that the better players eagerly search for overseas contracts. Making the national team is another matter. In fact, there are so many talented Brazilians that the nation easily could field at least three strong national teams.

Oddly, the most cosmopolitan and richest league of all — English Premier — has few Brazilians. Edu plays at Arsenal and Kleberson at Manchester United, but it appears the cold weather and helter-skelter style of English soccer, which provides little time on the ball, keeps the samba stars away.

Brazilians first started arriving in numbers in Europe in the 1980s. Back then, only one player from Brazil’s 1982 World Cup team — Falco — played in Europe. Brazil’s 2002 World Cup roster had 11 players on overseas teams. Last month only one Brazilian-based player took the field in the nation’s stunning 1-0 loss at Ecuador in World Cup qualifying.

Brazil’s most celebrated star, Pele, never played in Europe. He was considered a national treasure and was pressured not to move overseas. However, Pele did come out of retirement in 1975 to play for the New York Cosmos.

Brazilian players also are finding jobs in Japan’s J-League and South Korea’s K-League. Dudu and Marcelo play for Korean giant Seongnam. Brazilians are especially welcome in Japan, where more than 250,000 young Brazilians migrated for economic reasons in the 1990s. Japan is said to have the largest Brazilian expatriate community.

Romario and Ronaldo, two of Brazil’s biggest names in the last decade, started their careers at Dutch club PSV Eindhoven. Last year the aging Romario was lured to play for Al-Sadd in oil-rich Qatar for $1.1million. He played in three games and failed to score.

Korean shocker — It was the game that stunned Asia. Saudi Arabia’s Al Ittihad came back from a 3-1 home loss to beat Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma 5-0 in South Korea in Wednesday’s second leg of the AFC Champions League 2004. Seongnam had given up just one goal at home in the competition.

The Saudi club will now go on to represent Asia at the 2005 FIFA Club World Championship, while the Korean team comes away with no major trophy for the first time in four seasons.

Corner kicks — Reports indicate former Leicester City and Celtic winger Steve Guppy, 35, wants to play in MLS next season. Meanwhile, England’s Mirror newspaper reports that the Blackburn Rovers are considering signing D.C. United defender Ryan Nelsen. …

Four Four Two magazine’s lists David Beckham ($125million) as the richest player involved in the English game, followed by Arsenal’s Dutch star, Dennis Bergkamp ($71.5million), England striker Michael Owen ($58million), Manchester City forward Robbie Fowler ($54million), former England captain Alan Shearer ($42.5million) and England defender Sol Campbell ($38.6million).

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