The distance observed by my friend and column neighbor, Juca Kfouri, between the quality of the semifinals of the Champions League and the group stage of Libertadores is really amazing. It’s just not new.
When Kaká was the best in the world and Milan, the main club in Europe, the contrast between Champions League afternoons and Brazilian Nationals was already stark.
15 years ago, when Brazil last had a player elected by FIFA as the best on the planet, the semifinals of the Champions League had ten Englishmen, seven Italians and two Brazilians – Dida and Kaka.
The semi-finalists were three English clubs and one Italian.
This year, the semifinals Manchester City 4 x 3 Real Madrid and Liverpool 2 x 0 Villarreal had 44 starting players, including seven Brazilians, seven Spaniards, five French and four English.
There was more Brazilian than English!
At the start of the spectacular Manchester City v Real Madrid, there were five Brazilians, three Spaniards and two Englishmen. In other words, the sum of those born in the two host countries of the semifinalists was tied with the number of Brazilians.
It’s Champions League… of Europe.
Of the seven Spaniards in the two semi-finals, one is Thiago Alcântara, who can be selected from Spain, but who was born in Italy, grew up in Brazil and dreamed of playing for the national team. He just didn’t adopt it because the CBF understood disrespect for the under-20s here to summon a young man from a European team.
The last Champions League champion without Brazilians was Liverpool, in 2005, and the last final without Brazil on the field was in 1999, Manchester United 2 x 1 Bayern. In the 21st century, all the finals had players from this country passionate about football and, amazingly, it is the only nation present in all the Champions League finals since 2000. Not even France, England, Germany or Italy had players in all of them.
And yet the quality of the game is not here.
It is as unlikely a Manchester City 4 x 3 Real Madrid spectator not to fall in love with football as someone who wakes up to work at 5 am not turn off the TV before the end of Corinthians 2 x 0 Boca Juniors. And Corinthians played well, Libertadores standard.
With all our disadvantages, you still hear more people talking in the streets of Corinthians, Palmeiras, São Paulo, Santos and Flamengo than about Manchester City’s next game against Leeds United.
The world will forever watch the most important games, which means Champions League afternoons for many decades to come. But things are not immutable, to the point that the Premier League today is the coolest of all and the Italian relegates a title dispute between Inter and Milan to the fifth floor of interest. It was different.
For Brazil, it is essential to advance in the formation of players, who will continue to shine in Europe. Improve the cultural development of the game and work every year for the tournaments here to improve.
It won’t be better than the Premier League, but it could be more attractive than the French, German and Italian ones.
The crossroads is set. The Brazil of football is in a moment like that of basketball, in the early 1990s, when the NBA was growing and the separation of the Soviet and Yugoslav republics created strong teams, while Brazil, an old two-time world champion, was left behind.
There is more talent in American basketball than in Brazil. There are more Brazilians in the semi-finals of the Champions League than English and Spaniards.
We all want to see, with the same pleasure, both Manchester City vs Real Madrid and Corinthians vs Boca Juniors.
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