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 By Tim Vickery
Aug 10, 2014

Brazilian football's refusal to evolve

The ESPN FC crew are joined by Sporting KC's Matt Besler to discuss the success of preseason friendlies and continued growth of the MLS.

An article in Sunday's version of Lance! -- Brazil's sports daily -- examines a potential problem for the long-term growth of Major League Soccer: the salary cap system and the consequent difficulties of producing and retaining high-level homegrown talent.

The mere existence of the article is in itself significant. It was the column dedicated to international football; normally one might imagine that it would deal with the kickoff in the French league or the Community Shield curtain raiser to the English season. But suddenly, Brazil has woken up to the consolidated reality of MLS -- and some are getting worried.

One key moment was the publicity given to the reaction of the U.S. public to the World Cup, with even Barack Obama getting involved. The other was the Michigan crowd of 109,000 that turned out to watch Manchester United and Real Madrid.

This match attracted the attention of Lance! columnist Jose Luiz Portella. The size of this crowd, he wrote, "brought to life the sensation that the United States is taking leadership of football in the Americas. In truth," he continues, "this is a process that has been going on for some time, without us taking any notice, because we are so used to staring at our own belly button."

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Indeed, for a few years now, average crowds in the MLS have been higher than those in the Brazilian first division -- a statistic that seemed absurd until events in the World Cup, on both sides of the Rio Grande, show it in a new light.

There are two sides to the story. One, as Portella outlines, is that the progress made by MLS and U.S. football "is something which has happened in an organised form, without improvisations, in the way that the Germans do things."

A Brazilian financial consultancy, Pluri, which specialises in football finance, recently highlighted the planned growth of MLS and predicted that it will overtake the Brazilian league in terms of global importance within five years. It remains to be seen how local peculiarities, including the salary cap and the single-entity system, can cope with such growth. It also remains to be seen whether Brazilian football is capable of changing in response to the challenge.

Portella continues with the observation that "the Brazilian problem is the self-deception that we like to cultivate. It is a cultural trait of ours that goes deeper than football. We choose to believe that, despite the unbelievable mistakes which we continue to make, that our football will be a never-ending commodity. We are giving enormous help to the North Americans as they take over something which should be ours."

Kaka's arrival at Orlando City was yet another major signing for MLS, a league that is garnering attention in Brazil.

He has a point. In a globalised context, domestic Brazilian football is simply not set up to compete. Power is based on control of the small clubs, and the consequence is a calendar that makes not the slightest sense, that is drawn up as if the rest of the world did not exist and that actively works against the interest of the big clubs, making It all but impossible for them to hang on to their best players.

And while those in the media might be worried about the rise of the MLS and the place in the world of Brazilian football, these concerns do not seem to be shared by the CBF, the local football association.

Next year's calendar has been announced, on similar lines to the current model. Once again it is crammed with meaningless competitions, and will not pause for FIFA dates or next year's Copa America.

The humiliating 7-1 World Cup semifinal defeat against Germany has not shaken the power structure of the Brazilian game out of its  complacency. Nor has the fact that, despite paying salaries massively larger than elsewhere on the continent, not one Brazilian club made it through to the last four of the Copa Libertadores, South America's equivalent of the Champions League.

On Sunday the editor of Lance!, Walter de Mattos Junior, responded to the lack of progress by writing that "either we kick these people out, or we stay at 7-1, wasting time and falling further behind."

Tim Vickery

Tim Vickery is an English journalist who has been based in Brazil for the past 20 years. He is the South American football correspondent for the BBC Sport.

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