Flag of BrazilDavid Haigh tweeted news of a meeting with the President and Directors of Brazilian side Fluminense earlier today, a tweet which instantly led to speculation amongst Leeds United fans on social networks and forums as to what this could mean for the club.

Commercial link-ups are a possibility, though I doubt the South American’s have much to teach a member of the world’s richest football league system when their own leagues continue to suffer from the wealth of the European elite.

Another benefit of close-relations with Fluminese could be player development, whereby we spend our pre-seasons out there and learn how to play football in the same mesmerising way as the Brazilian’s do. An interesting and possibly advantageous option for sure, but shipping an entire squad on tour to South America isn’t cheap, though this does seem the most likely outcome.

But the possibility causing the most discussion is that Leeds United will see an influx of Brazilian players, ready to destroy the Championship and lead us back to the promised land. As delightful an idea as that sounds, it’s incredibly unlikely.

The 75% rule

There are a couple of reasons why we’re unlikely to see an influx of Brazilian players at Elland Road, most important of which is the United Kingdom’s immigration policies.

Footballers from outside the European Union can only ply their trade in England if they’re deemed to be exceptionally talented. The ridiculously simplistic way in which the UK Home Office decided players could demonstrate this was by percentage of games played for their home country’s international side. 75% being the percentage of games they must have played for their international side (and it must be one of the higher ranking international sides too) to qualify.

As with every rule, there are exceptions. Robbie Rogers’ transfer to Leeds was one such example, but these are very rare and Jurgen Klinsmann assured the decision-makers that Rogers would be appearing in 75% of the United States’ games thereafter. Unless the player we’re attempting to sign is on the fringes of world domination for Brazil, any such appeal would be rejected.

While some Brazilian clubs have players which meet the 75% criteria, those who wish to play football in Europe very rarely choose England (and certainly not the Championship). There’s numerous reasons for this such as climate, the language barrier and style of football. Brazilian players have a much easier time adapting to Spanish and Portugese football than they do the English league, which is why 152 played in the Spanish and Portugese leagues in 2012, compared to just 16 in the Premier League.

Third-party ownership

An equally troubling issue for English teams attempting to sign Brazilian players is their ownership structure. South American teams rarely own their players, instead, they tend to lease them from management firms, agents and companies who receive a fee for their services.

In South America, many believe the leasing system levels the playing field for them a little. Since South American leagues simply can’t compete with the wealth of the European elite when it comes to transfer fees and wages, by leasing players from mega-rich businessmen, they’re spreading the cost out over time and managing to retain some of their biggest stars.

But it doesn’t really matter how the payment comes, the fact remains that Europe’s elite can pay more. Whether that’s a transfer fee, a leasing fee, wages, signing-on fees, it’s all trivial. More money gives you the edge. The trouble is, third-party ownership isn’t allowed in England (this is what caused problems for West Ham and Carlos Teves) so whether we can afford to beat someone else’s offer or not, it doesn’t matter. We’d be breaking FA rules.

The Spanish and Portugese leagues on the other hand have no such restrictions and allow third-party leasing without issue. This puts the English leagues at an obvious disadvantage. We could of course buy the players out of their lease, but it can be very messy (see Manchester United’s purchase of Carlos Teves) and usually costs a lot of money – something Leeds United don’t have.

EU passports

There is a loophole however that many South American’s have exploited. Luciano Becchio had Italian ancestors which allowed him to secure an EU passport at the age of 19, enabling him to join Leeds United years later and this is how some South American players end up in Europe.

However, it’s not quite as easy or as common as it sounds. The process can be very expensive and complicated, get extremely messy and isn’t an option for most players who want to play in England.

But some countries are more relaxed than others when it comes to passports and will use the most tenuous of links to allow Brazilian footballers to play in their leagues, Portugal being the most obvious example. After ruling Brazil two centuries ago, there’s usually some link which allows the Portugese to give them passports. That’s why there’s more Brazilians playing in Portugal than any other European country.

The UK are nowhere near as relaxed however. Instead, English clubs have to be more inventive when they want to sign South American players who don’t hold an EU passport or meet the 75% rule. Manchester United had an interesting approach to this, scouting the best Brazilian youngsters who they signed and then planned to ship off to FC Twente when they turned 18 until they qualified for Dutch citizenship (or met the 75% rule). Like Portugal, Holland’s policy is far more lenient than the UK’s, but if the player can gain citizenship there, they then qualify to work anywhere in the EU.

So while there are ways to circumvent the 75% rule, they aren’t as simple as finding a distantly related European relative and claiming dual-citizenship. Many will qualify in Portugal (and other EU countries) if they plan to work there, but unless they already hold an EU passport, they’ll have a much harder time coming to England – I doubt other EU countries will hand passports out if there’s no benefit to their own economy.

We’re in no position to use anyone as a feeder club so Manchester United’s solution isn’t an option and I can’t imagine there’ll be many Brazilian players who meet the 75% criteria queueing up to play in the Championship.

But even if we could get by all the other problems, the ownership of the player would still be an issue. We can’t lease the players like Spanish and Portugese clubs do, so we’d have to buy them from their owners. This can be very messy (as it was with Teves) and quite costly too.

I know it’s harsh to call David Haigh’s efforts at expanding the Leeds United brand an exercise in futility, but I don’t see much of an advantage from such a partnership in Brazil. Pre-season tours may help some of our players develop and there may be some benefits to a link-up that I haven’t considered, but a production line of talented Brazilian superstars won’t be one of them.

  • fernando

    Excellent article, well written and you covered most the points, except you forgot that the next World Cup and Olympics will be hosted here, and forums like Wyscout (that just happened this past week by the way) and Soccerex both Global Conventions happen here till 2014…

    There were only few mistakes in your article, like not considering the other way arround (Fluminense youth teams in tours in Europe, and visiting Leeds U21 for a friendly or for a small pre season tournment – for example).

    The other point you missed is that a lot of Brazilians have Italian heritage, which makes life for these people very easy for getting the EU passport, as the Italians have very close relationship with Brazilians, especially the ones from São Paulo and other Southern States. Players like Kaka (Milan), Pato (Corinthians), Oscar (Chelsea) Leandro Damiao (Internacional), Beletti (former Chelsea), just to name a few, are examples of Brazilians with Italian citizenship too. Major clubs from Southern States and São Paulo state should have at least between 5% – 10% of their squad with players that carry EU passport.

    Leeds United could be the ideal mid table club to develop young and promissing South American players, so they could prove themselves in the England style, and be later on, bought by the big London-Manchester clubs – turning into a good investment possibility.

    The third party ownership is not an issue anymore. Since the Tevez-Mascherano case the English clubs can sign players from any origin, including the ones with third party ownerships, as long as when signing they secure the total control of the player, and while they are under a professonal contract in England, the club owns 100% of the player’s rights.

    Plus, as far as market, Brazil is the top 6 world economy, the English leagues and football teams are popular among the Brazil football fans and the cable tv audience increases on yearly basis, so there is potential for Brazilians to become consumers of brands like Leeds United, which is by the way, regardless of the league you’re playing, one of the most traditional football brands of England.

    • MrBoom

      Think you need to read the article again.

    • TSS

      Third-party ownership remains an issue, especially in England where there’s all sorts of legal wranglings involved, UEFA have actually been lobbying FIFA for a blanket ban on the practice, so the issue is far from over. Owning 100% of players rights is buying the player out of their contract, I mentioned that above – too expensive for Leeds unfortunately.

      In terms of Brazil being one of the world’s top economies (6th or 7th depending on which measurement you use), that is indeed true, but also somewhat irrelevant I’d argue. When you’re trying to break into a new market I don’t think it matters what the country makes as a whole (especially when a lot of the money is made from national resources and goes to the central government), the important thing is how much the residents of said country have. We’re effectively looking to expand our fanbase abroad and to be financially successful at that, you need countries where the average citizen has a large amount of disposable income. Per capita GDP for Brazil ranks them 60th in the world, which is very low and suggests the average citizen doesn’t have the money to waste on replica kits of foreign football teams, travel abroad to watch us play or pour money into the club in any other way.

      This is why the big European clubs concentrate their efforts on places like Japan, Australia, the USA, Scandanavia and places where the average citizen has huge amounts of disposable income. The same holds true for retail and any other worldwide industry that has something to sell. The wealth of the average citizen rises and you start to see big global brands appearing on street corners. Brazil is developing fast and in the not-so-distant future, you’ll see more and more clubs expanding their brand in that direction, but it’s not quite there yet. For now, they’ll continue to try and capitalise on places like Japan and the US because the rewards are currently far greater.

      • fernando

        Ok! Maybe he was only on vacations there anyways :)

      • Irving08

        Goldman Sachs in 2007 put them 12th in the world’s income per capita, with an average of around 7,000 dollars per head (UK = around $45,000 in 2007). Even in 2050, when GS predicts Brazil will be the fourth biggest economy (but way behind China, the US and India), her per capita income will only be a little over $40,000, and she will in fact have slipped down the league table, in this respect, having changed places with China.

      • Chicago White

        Brazilian clubs have huge debt issues Fluminese & Botafogo are $185 & $245M in debt as of 2012 with revenues smaller than LUFC’s so we could have a real opportunity to strike 1st even if we don’t get the cream of the crop I’d take 3rd, 4th or 5th string Brazilians over some of the over priced players available from the UK.

        3rd party ownership may be an issue but here we could have an opportunity to get in early and put young players on professional contracts and then lease them to Brazilian clubs bringing a number over to the UK at the appropriate time.

        The international rules can be worked via EU passports & LUFC could target Brazilians with EU eligibility even if LUFC incurs the costs of getting the passports I suspect its in the margin compared to agent fees and standard legal feels incurred with any typical player deal.

        Anyway I’m not sure it hurts us to look at the opportunity especially if it doesn’t diminish any local academy efforts.

  • Irving08

    Pretty conclusive,I’d say: good stuff. More expenses……
    Haigh would be better off working with Leeds City Council to get close to Borussia Dortmund (our twin city – as anyone will know who’s seen the man with the barrel in the eponymously named Square in Leeds). Maybe they would let us play their reserves in a pre-seaon friendly !

  • Matthew

    I genuinely wouldn’t mind seeing a few foreign players at the club, if they can add to us in a positive way and help us achieve promotion, I say welcome aboard.

    As long as we do it sensibly and not do a Watford, It could only end well for us.

  • igiveup

    Blah blah blah blah blah

  • Matthew

    I think the only positive from today is that we’re scoring goals again and could of had more, we’ve struggled for goals lately and they seem to be coming thick and fast.