Hanvar Boltfelag, meaning Harbour Football Club, is one of the oldest and most successful in the Faroe Islands. Established in 1906 with 22 national championships to their name, the most recent in 2013, this tiny club is one of two top flight teams that play in the capital Torshavn, a real outpost of European football. There were twenty players in their first team squad for the 2015 season. Nineteen are from the Faroe Islands. The 20th man is Alex Jose dos Santos, who was the sole Brazilian.
Hanvar’s official website has a small English section, but nothing on the composition of the squad.
In terms of Brazilians footballers, dos Santos is far from the only to have played in the Faroes. When HB, as they’re also known, won the title in 2013, IF Fuglafjaroar’s Clayton Nascimento, was the fifth highest goal-scorer, with 14. The previous season, he scored 22. Last season, the 10-team Effodeidin, as the league is known, had two Brazilian players.
That mightn’t seem like a lot, but it seems virtually every league across the world has Brazilian footballers contracted to clubs. The country may have won the most World Cups, but that doesn’t mean every player to emigrate is a good footballer. Do the Brazilians have brilliant agents, or are clubs attracted to the passport more than the resume?
What we must commend, though, is the willingness of Brazilian footballers to leave their homeland to make a living and a career abroad. There are few contrasts as sharp as the South Atlantic beaches of Brazil and the North Atlantic wind-swept shores of the Faroe Islands. But there we find Alex Jose dos Santos, who has swapped the Maracana for the Gundadular Stadium.
My first experience of the token Brazilian player came in March 2011. Gwangju FC had risen from the ashes of the much-hated Gwangju Sangmu FC, the football club tied to the sporting wing of the Republic of Korea military. Sangmu was not allowed to sign foreign players; in fact, they couldn’t sign anyone at all. Their squad was made up of players doing their mandatory two year military service.
Sangmu played at the 44,000-capacity Guus Hiddink Stadium in the southern city of Gwangju, where Korea had eliminated Spain on penalties in the 2002 World Cup. Home games for the club would rarely attract crowds of more than two thousand people. When a player was leaving the field, he would salute his superiors in the deserted main stand.
So when Sangmu departed the city and eventually relocated elsewhere, there was a noticeable sense of excitement when the new club announced a fresh squad with two travelling Brazilians. ‘Home opener’ attracted more than 15,000 and the carnival-like atmosphere was enhanced by the Brazilian-themed events taking place on the pitch prior to kick off. In truth, it wasn’t anything as wild as Juninho’s first visit to the Riverside in 1995, but it was fun nonetheless.
I can’t remember who the two Brazilians were that day, and part of me doesn’t want to. They had a reputation only because of their nationality. Rumours at the time suggested one of them had scored 8 goals in 40+ Swedish second division matches. I’m not sure if this is true or not. No-one cared.
This was a break from the stale military team who drove crowds away for years. The only thing I recall from the game was when one of the new foreign superstars sprinted unchallenged towards the opposition goal, and inexplicably shot high and wide outside the box with acres of space still to run into.
The game ended 0-0 and it wasn’t long before the locals retired back to the baseball park instead. Gwangju FC were relegated and the Brazilians took off. This season, the club has defender Wellington and midfielder Fabio Neves, now in his third campaign, on the books.
There is a Wikipedia page which names the 3,247 Brazilian expatriate players, present and retired. I don’t know how up-to-date the information is, but it can be an interesting afternoon spent clicking on a few names. You’ll find players and clubs you never heard of before. Take Murilo de Almeida, born in Presidente Prudente, but a naturalised East-Timorese international who has played seven times, scoring six goals, for his adopted country. Murilo has had the standard wandering journeyman career, starting in Brazil with stops in Indonesia, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, Japan and, currently, Hong Kong for South China AA.
Ricardo Lobo, born in 1984, in currently contracted to his 17th club, Doxa Katokopias in the Cypriot first division. Jose Filho Duarte, a striker born in 1980, has played for Anapolina (Brazil), Club Brugge (Belgium), Hapoel Be’er Sheva (Israel) and Guangzhou Pharmaceuticals (China), amongst others. There are three Brazilians on the books of Luxembourg club side FC Jeunesse Canach.
The Eurorivals website also has a list of Brazilian players and the clubs they play for. It isn’t a short one.
In 2012, an article in Daily Mail reported that 606 Brazilians were playing top-flight European football, more than any other country. 130 were based in Portugal. Of the rest, 32 were in Cyprus, 25 in Ukraine and 21 in Malta compared to the Premier League’s 16.
Generally, Brazilian players and the national team have this unrivaled ability to draw people to a stadium, whether they are casual supporters or die-hard fans. When Brazil came to the Seoul World Cup stadium a year before the last World Cup, as part of their much-publicised global tour, we queued for hours to see the famous yellow and green kit (and David Luiz’ hair). The ticket cost $88 but the sponsors could justify the high price. The game was sold out.
Back in October, I saw FK Sarajevo play Sloboda Tuzla in the Bosnian Premijer Liga. The home team’s roster was decorated with two wandering Brazilians, Emerson Luiz and Cesar Augusto. Luiz had traveled to Sarajevo via Myanmar and El Salvador. Cesar Augusto started his career at Atletico Mineiro and arrived in Bosnia from the same Burmese team as his compatriot, suggesting some kind of double deal.
If the chance ever arises to take in a game at a far-flung destination, check out the squads of both teams. Chances are, there’ll be a well-travelled Brazilian lacing his boots.