From Rivaldo, Ronaldinho and Ronaldo to a sudden drought of Brazilian wizardry, Serie A looks to have waved goodbye to the last of it’s samba stars
The Italian peninsula was once, in the not too distant past, something of a second home to Brazilian football players.
While it was certainly the place to be for any footballer toward the back end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st, calcio has long had a particular attraction for it’s Brazilian superstars.
The love affair reached a new intensity during the 1980s when Falcao, Zico and Socrates graced the Italian public with Roma, Udinese and Fiorentina respectively. The trio gave football fans across Europe a glimpse of the flair and close control that seemed second nature to Brazilian footballers, honing their skills in the countries’ tight streets or in the favela.
As the wealth of the Italian game soured, so too did it’s influence in recruiting the very best Brazil had to offer.
Serie A in the 90’s saw a proliferation in great players. AC Milan led the way, with back-to-back European Cup trophies and welcoming Leonardo and Serginho before the turn of the century.
Roberto Carlos, Cafu, Claudio Taffarel, Dunga and Ronaldo were among others to set up shop in Serie A in the 90s. The success of Brazilian imports in Italian football toward the end of the 20th century coincided with a return to prominence for the Brazil national team, winning the World Cup in 1994 and 2002, while finishing as runners up in 1998.
The 21st century would host, arguably, the greatest array of Brazilian talent in the history of Serie A. The emergence of Adriano, who earned the nickname L’Imperatore – The Emperor – during his time in Italy, gave fans a more familiar style of striker: a tall and powerful ‘bomber‘ that could crash through the opposing side’s defences.
Dida began his ten-year stint with the Rossoneri, winning one league title and lifting the Champions League trophy twice; the highlight being his three crucial penalty saves in the 2003 final.
Having established his reputation as one of the greatest players of his generation at Barcelona, Rivaldo joined Dida at Milan in 2002 and played his part in their triumphant Champions League campaign.
Just months after lifting the prestigious trophy, the Rossoneri signed perhaps their most influential and successful Brazilian import: Kaka. The dashing, athletic midfielder could glide through the field at breakneck speed, but with the grace and poise of a professional dancer. His consistency in both Serie A and in European competitions earned him the Ballon d’Or, the last player to be awarded the trophy before the dominance of both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Inter were quick to follow in the footsteps of their city rivals, recruiting one of the best goalkeepers of the last decade in Julio Cesar and adding defensive stalwarts Maxwell and Maicon a year later.
Roma would soon eclipse both Milanese outfits with three Brazilian goalkeepers at one stage in Artur Moraes, Julio Sergio and the long-serving Doni.
Rodrigo Taddei, who became something of a cult-figure for the Giallorossi, made close to 300 appearances for the capital side. Former Real Madrid star Julio Baptista, Juan, Cicinho and Mancini were others to pull on the Roma shirt in this time.
The years that followed represented the peak in Brazilian dominance of the Italian game. Milan went to another level with Ronaldo arriving to complete his tour of Europe’s elite and serve as little more than a marketing ploy by the Rossoneri.
His decline saw Alexandre Pato, a skinny striker from Internacional, arrive and establish himself as one of the hottest young prospects in football. Ronaldo made way for his international teammate Ronaldinho, who arguably contributed the most to enhancing Milan’s global status and fan following.
With the departure of Robinho and Thiago Silva, the latter to considerable public outcry, the club ended their long association with Brazil’s greatest talents. Inter and Roma continued to bolster their squads with new and exciting additions, namely Philippe Coutinho and Marquinhos, but were soon lured away by lucrative offers elsewhere.
The current state of affairs in Serie A has seen the disappearance of the skilful, attacking-minded Brazilian players from the scene. Third party ownership, inflated prices and gambling on players from a less competitive league have attributed to this decline.
Miranda, Dani Alves and Alex Sandro have ensured some of the nation’s best defenders are on show, but followers of the Italian game are sure to be mourning the absence of Brazil’s famous samba football up front.
For the moment, Brazil is being represented by Lazio star Felipe Anderson and Inter’s young prodigy Gabriel Barbosa in the attacking third.
While the talents of Anderson have been clear, the future of Gabigol is at something of a crossroads. The 20 year-old appears to have everything to succeed at the highest level, and certainly, his brief appearances in an Inter jersey conjure up images of Ronaldo breezing past opposing defences in a flash.
In many ways the youngster from Sao Paulo could be a source of hope for fans of the South American style of football, acting as a springboard for a new generation of Brazilian superstars.