By Robbie Blakeley, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – With Brazilian football on its summer break, national team coach Mano Menezes has the chance to observe those playing in Europe while he prepares for 2012’s upcoming test, London’s Olympic Games. Menezes hopes to become the first Brazil manager to win the gold medal in sport’s oldest tournament, a competition that will give him the perfect platform to note how home talents perform on the international scene as he begins to mold his team for 2014.
For Menezes, Brazilian players in Europe have not been the answer however. Since taking the reins from Dunga in August 2010 after Brazil’s quarter-final World Cup exit, he has sought to find the solution to Brazil’s problems at home.
Brazil’s 23 man squad for South Africa contained just two domestic based players; Kleberson and Gilberto, then of Flamengo and Cruzeiro respectively. It seems a certainty this will not be the case come the 2014 World Cup, with some of the nation’s most exciting talents pledging their futures to Brazilian clubs.
Starlet Neymar recently signed a mammoth new contract with Santos and Vasco center-half Dedé has also confirmed that staying in Rio for the foreseeable future is a distinct possibility.
Alongside these two high profile cases, left-back Cortês has moved from Botafogo to São Paulo after a highly successful 2011, which saw him make his debut for the national side.
Despite interest from Italian clubs Juventus and Napoli, Brazil’s increasingly strong economy, paired with huge investments from marketing companies, means that clubs selling their best players to Europe is becoming less frequent. Brazil’s top clubs now have the financial clout to match Europe’s most established outfits.
The attacking duet of Internacional’s Leandro Damião, who has all the attributes to become one of the world’s most lethal strikers, and Fluminense’s Fred, means the spine of Brazil’s World Cup starting XI in thirty months’ time could have a far stronger Brasileirão presence than any squad in the last two decades; playing in Brazil is now of interest to payers, a notion that never registered a decade ago.
With a number of players on the international radar plying their trade at home, the link between footballer and fan is closer than it has been in a long time. In addition to better known names, a plethora of others are knocking on the Seleção door.
Botafogo goalkeeper Jefferson, Corinthians midfielder Ralf and the São Paulo pair of Lucas and Casemiro all point to a more ‘Brazilian’ Brazil.
Another financial factor that Flamengo and Santos hope to reap rewards from with Ronaldinho Gaúcho and Neymar is the marketing star-power.
The World Cup’s return to Brazil is breathing much needed life into the country’s domestic game and shaping the national side in a more familiar image.
Three more to look out for in 2012 are Lucas (São Paulo), who has overtaken Ganso as the potential heartbeat of the Seleção. Mário Fernandes (Grêmio) did himself few favors by turning down the chance to play for Brazil in 2011 but looks a natural successor to Maicon and Dani Alves at right-back.
Oscar (Internacional) scored a hat-trick in the FIFA U-20 World Cup final against Portugal, and is probably just behind Lucas in Menezes’ eyes.