- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 20, 2008

Brazil’s elite soccer players continue to flock to Europe, where the world’s biggest clubs pay the biggest salaries.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter and UEFA president Michel Platini have urged clubs to field more domestic players, but a new survey on the soccer labor market in Europe reveals the tide of foreign talent still is rolling onto those shores - and Brazilians lead the way.

The study, conducted by the Professional Football Players Observatory and titled “Demographic Study of Footballers in Europe 2008,” encompassed 11,015 players on 456 clubs in the top divisions of 30 European leagues. On average, clubs in Europe employ 8.6 expatriates, an increase of 30 percent since 2003.

According to the report, 551 Brazilians played this year in Europe - a 72 percent increase since 2003. The most notable Brazilians, stars such as Ronaldinho, Kaka, Lucio, Adriano and Marcelo play in Italy, Spain or Germany.

Weather and language have influenced where Brazilians play - 137 Brazilians compete in Portugal - but now it seems many are lured to the colder climes of Eastern Europe and the English Premier League. Bulgaria is home to 24 Brazilians, with the leagues in Ukraine, Romania and Russia also big attractions for the Latin maestros.

For a long time, Brazilians shied away from playing in the EPL, where the game is fast, physical and played throughout the cold winter months.

That has changed: Brazil has the second-largest foreign contingent of players in the EPL, behind France (44).

Robinho’s recent move from Real Madrid to Manchester City for a record $60 million caught many by surprise, but it was more evidence that players will go anywhere if the price is right. Robinho joined 19 of his countrymen in the EPL, including Elano and Jo at Manchester City, where playing on a cold and rainy night in late December is a far cry from life in Rio de Janeiro.

According to the study, 38 Americans played in the top divisions in 12 different European countries. The biggest importer of U.S. talent is Norway, followed by the EPL Denmark and the Germany’s Bundesliga. Six Americans competed in Norway’s top division this season, including former D.C. United goalie Troy Perkins.

After Brazil, the biggest contingents of expatriates playing in Europe came from France (233) and Argentina (222).

Nigeria (94) sent the most players to Europe from Africa, followed by Cameroon (87) and Cote d’Ivoire (59).

- The U.S. men’s team ended the year at No. 22 in the FIFA rankings. Spain tops the list, followed by Germany, Netherlands, Italy, Brazil, Argentina, Croatia, England, Russia and Turkey. The U.S. beat out Germany for the top spot in the women’s rankings.

U.S. Soccer, meanwhile, named U.S. men’s national team goalie Tim Howard its male athlete of the year and U.S. women’s national team midfielder Carli Lloyd the female athlete of the year.

- European champion Manchester United plays South American champion LDU Quito of Ecuador in the FIFA World Club Cup final Sunday in Yokohama, Japan, for the $5 million prize.

- Defending champion Manchester United will face Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan in the last 16 of the Champions League. Mourinho is the former coach of London club Chelsea. His old club was drawn to play Italian giants Juventus, while Liverpool has a tough task against Real Madrid. Arsenal will play Roma. In other games, Barcelona takes on Lyon, Atletico Madrid plays FC Porto, Sporting Lisbon faces Bayern Munich and Villarreal meets Panathinaikos.

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