Soccer-Foreign hires showcase Brazilian league's riches

Sun Jul 8, 2012 4:52am BST

* Seedorf, Forlan move to Botafogo, Internacional

* Wealthy Brazilian clubs turn to ageing foreign stars

By Andrew Downie

SAO PAULO, July 7 (Reuters) - Two of Brazil's biggest football clubs presented newly hired foreign imports on Saturday, in the latest manifestation of the newfound spending power that has recently helped keep some of the country's own talent from moving abroad.

Clarence Seedorf and Diego Forlan debuted for Botafogo and Internacional, respectively, as the Dutch and Uruguayan veterans, long past their prime in the marquee leagues of Europe, keep their careers going in a Brazilian league that has been reinvigorated in recent years because of a recent economic boom in South America's biggest country.

Brazilian clubs often repatriate their own ageing stars when their careers in Europe are over. Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldinho Gaucho, Luis Fabiano, and others have come back to the country in recent years.

Growing wealth among Brazilian teams has also enabled them to keep young talents like Neymar, the ascendant Santos forward, from following their predecessors across the Atlantic, much less to developing leagues in China, the United States, or the Middle East.

A strong Brazilian currency, and lucrative sponsorship deals, mean many young Brazilian players can earn as much as they would by making the move to Europe.

With more than 30 million Brazilians having entered the middle classes over the past decade, advertisers are investing heavily in sponsorships. Television companies this year more than doubled the amount they pay clubs for broadcast rights.

Brazilian teams, however, have rarely signed marquee foreigners.

So the arrival of Forlan and Seedorf marks a new willingness by Brazilian clubs to invest in banner players. Forlan, 33, was named best player at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, while Seedorf, 36, won Champions League titles with Ajax Amsterdam, Real Madrid, and AC Milan.

Neither Botafogo nor Internacional disclosed how much they were paying their new recruits. Sports newspaper Lance, however, said Forlan would receive 415,000 reais ($204,000) per month, much of it from sponsors.

Forlan's three-year deal is with a club considered one of the best run in Brazil. Internacional has 100,000 dues-paying members - more than Spanish giants Real Madrid. When the player arrived in the southern city of Porto Alegre on Saturday, 3,000 of them were there to meet him.

"The reception has been incredible," Forlan said at a news conference. "I never thought I would arrive at an airport and see all this love. It's something new for me. It's spectacular."

When asked why foreign players might come to Brazil, he mentioned Brazil's increasing dominance in regional tournaments, with three different Brazilian teams winning the last three Copa Libertadores. Brazil's hosting of the 2013 Confederations Cup and the 2014 World Cup would mean even more attention for the sport in the country, he added.

"Players want to play here," Forlan said.

Botafogo, meanwhile, turned Seedorf's arrival into a banner occasion before the club's league game against Bahia on Saturday evening. The midfielder was flown to Rio de Janeiro's Engenhão stadium in a helicopter before being presented with his No. 10 shirt.

A crowd of 17,000 people turned up, almost three times the number present at Botafogo's last home game against Ponte Preta.

The former AC Milan player reportedly turned down offers from clubs in the U.S. and Middle East to sign the two-year deal.

Both players also have personal reasons for coming to Brazil. Forlan's new club is based in Porto Alegre, just a 90-minute flight from his home city of Montevideo. And Seedorf, who is married to a Brazilian, already owns property in Rio.

The newfound wealth of Brazilian clubs has limits, which has kept most of them from paying the exorbitant transfer fees required when some players break their contracts. Both Forlan and Seedorf were free agents, though.

Brazilian teams, meanwhile, are likely to keep selling their young prospects if the price is right. Forlan's arrival has prompted speculation that Internacional could sell Leandro Damiao or Oscar to teams abroad. (Editing by Paulo Prada and Patrick Johnston)

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