Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Samba madness down under

They are inimitable nicknamers, are loved the world over for their seemingly peerless brand of individual brilliance and have, finally, arrived en masse down under.

It's taken two seasons for the fledgling league to finally wake up to the unique combination of attributes Brazilian footballers of almost any standard can deliver to a new competition.

Like any nationality, Brazilians vary enormously in playing power - but they almost never fail in generating an unrivalled marketing hype and booming interest from the footballing fraternity.

With the A-League's kick-off less than a fortnight away, season three will be the judge of just how good the dozen or so new South American arrivals are, particularly as the bulk have been awarded just single-year contracts despite champions Melbourne Victory falling foul of such a decision during the close season.

Melbourne's Fred - full name Helbert Frederico Carreiro da Silva - was undeniably the player-of-the-year last season, only missing out on the league's official award by virtue of the competition small print which disallows players who've served a suspension from being nominated.

But he subsequently switched to the Major League at the end of last season - after snubbing a three-year contract with the Victory - thanks to the bulging wallets of DC United where he reportedly became the club's third-highest earner.

The disappointment surrounding the departure of Fred, a cult hero with the Melbourne faithful, was tempered considering his countrymen who arrived in Victoria at the same time - defender Alessandro and striker Claudinho - failed to reach the same playing standard.

But many believe that even if only one-in-three of the new Brazilian recruits make a similarly meteoric impact as Fred this coming season, the league will have taken a definite step forward on all measures.

Particularly, of course, given the marvellous pick-up by Sydney FC of 2002 World Cup winner Juninho, the little magician who originally burst into consciousness during his first Premiership spell with Middlesbrough.

Little needs to be added of Juninho that hasn't already been said about a career which has taken him from Sao Paulo to Palmeiras via Boro, Athletico Madrid and Celtic and bought 50 national team caps including a winner's medal in the Far East five years ago.

Sydney have tempted the 34-year-old to the Harbour City with a marquee deal reportedly worth in the region of a million Australian dollars for his one-year stint.

On the other hand, his compatriots couldn't have arrived in a more contrasting manner.

If pre-season form acts as an accurate barometer of what is to come, Adelaide's free-kick taking left full-back Cassio, or Jose de Abreu Oliveira if you will, is making Australian football fans take notice with goals in each of his past three games.

The 27-year-old defender, who has also enjoyed brief spells in the Mexican and Paraguayan domestic league, is understood to have been recommended to Adelaide by former Brazilian national team coach Marcos Paqueta.

Queensland Roar playmaker Marcinho is also being touted as pivotal to the club's ambitions of breaking into the top four for the first time.

Partnered by countryman Reinaldo in Queensland's frontline, the 26-year-old former Sao Paulo junior has bragged to local reporters that his best mate is Real Madrid's Robinho and that he wants to claim Fred's mantel as the league's premier overseas recruit.

Another classically-skilled Brazilian No.10, Daniel Lins Cortes, is a veteran of the Campeonato but has also played in Europe and, briefly, the national team with a friendly appearance off the bench against Saudi Arabia during the 2002-03 season.

Daniel is one of a quartet of Brazilians signed by canny coach Ricki Herbert for newcomers Wellington Phoenix with perhaps Cleberson, a central defender who's represented PSV Eindhoven, the other likely first team candidate.

But the signing which has polarised local opinion is that of striker Mario Jardel who has turned up at the Newcastle Jets on a one-year deal.

Everyone knows the quality of Jardel's scoring record (he has twice been the recipient of the European Golden Boot award but then again so has Kevin Phillips) but it is his continued off-field troubles which marks his acquisition as a huge gamble.

The 33-year-old has not played a full season since the disappointment of missing out on a place in Brazil's squad for the 2002 World Cup and has a notorious tale of poor fitness and suspect self-discipline.

Copyright © Marc Fox and Soccerphile.com

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