They Can Play has selected 10 players plus the 1970 World Cup team to illustrate the historical links between Brazil and Europe.
Some Brazilian players had long careers in European football while some only briefly played in Europe but all created abiding impressions, which continue to endure.
The exhibition does not claim that these are the best Brazilian players to have played in Europe.
1. The Early History of Brazilian Football
The origins of Brazilian football were a reflection of the country’s transnational roots.
Organised football in Brazil began in São Paulo in 1895. Its pioneer was Charles Miller who was born in São Paulo to Anglo-Scottish parents and educated in England. Early São Paulo clubs comprised different nationalities, including Brazilians, Germans, Italians, Portuguese and Britons.
2. Football and Brazilian Society
Football was initially a game for young, rich Brazilian men, which was reflected by early clubs like Fluminense.
Until 1918 Afro-Brazilians were banned from football. In 1923, however, Vasco Da Gama, a mixed race team, won the Rio championship. One Afro-Brazilian player, Leônidas da Silva, was the Brazilian star at the 1938 World Cup who was famous for his ‘bicycle kick’.
3. Early Migration of Brazilian Footballers
Central to the relationship between Brazil and Europe has been the migration of Brazilian footballers to European clubs.
First, in the 1930s Italian clubs recruited some (non-Afro-Brazilian) Brazilian and other South American footballers known as the Rimpatriati.
The second wave was called the Orundi. Between 1949 and 1964, 35 Brazilians – including Afro-Brazilian players – played in Italy. They included José Altafini (‘Mazzola’) who joined AC Milan and represented both Brazil and Italy.
4. The Internationalisation of Football
The 1958 and 1962 World Cups brought the skills and style of Brazilian football to television audiences for the first time.
1958 saw the emergence of Pelé – arguably the greatest footballer of all time and the world’s most famous Brazilian. Other great players included Didi and Garrincha known as “Little bird” said that, as a forward, Garrincha was ‘the greatest player I’ve ever seen’.
5. Television and the ‘Beautiful Game’
The Brazil team of 1970 has become legendary and Carlos Alberto’s brilliant final goal has been endlessly replayed on television. The skills of players such as Gérson, Rivellino, Tostāo, Jairzinho, and, of course, Pelé have lingered long in the memory.
The 1970 World Cup made a huge impression on the European public. It was the first World Cup to be televised in colour and magnified the brilliant yellow and blue Brazilian shirts.
6. The Commercialisation of European Football
From the 1980s a greater commercialisation of European football brought a new generation of Brazilians. This development can be represented through three players:
Romário was only 22 when he joined PSV Eindhoven, highlighting how European clubs began to cultivate young Brazilian footballers. He later played for Barcelona.
Early Brazilian migrant footballers suffered from homesickness but Roberto Carlos spent the majority of his career at one club, Real Madrid.
In 1995 Middlesbrough signed the Brazilian footballer of the year, Juninho Paulista, signalling the growing economic power of the English Premier League.
By the 21st century, Brazilian football and its renowned style became a global brand. No-one more than Ronaldo symbolised this process. Arguably the best Brazilian footballer since Pelé, Ronaldo spent the majority of his career at major European clubs, Barcelona, Inter Milan and Real Madrid.
8. The Rise of Women’s Football
Perhaps no other footballer, even Pelé, has had a greater impact on Brazilian society than Marta. Because of her exceptional ability Marta has played a key role in changing perceptions of women’s football.
She has played professionally in Sweden and only
gained recognition in Brazil after she won her first FIFA World Player of the Year award in 2007.