Reds’ Brazilian deal pushes boundaries of taste and legality

March 27, 2011 Tags: , Reads 38 comments

Manchester United’s path to young Brazilian talent is now well beaten. In recent seasons Anderson, Rodrigo Possebon, and the da Silva twins have all appeared in Sir Alex Ferguson’s first team – to varying degrees of success. While Anderson arrived via Porto at astonishing expense the latter trio joined directly from their homeland for little more than loose change in compensation. It’s a policy that legendary coach Carlos Alberto called the “rape of Brazilian football.” The 1970 World Cup winning right-back has demanded that FIFA outlaw youngsters moving abroad before the age of 21 but to United it is a simple financial equation; the club spent €30 million on Anderson and less than 10 per cent of that on the da Silvas.

Far from heeding the 66-year-old’s words, United expanded the policy in 2009, inking deals with sports management firm Traffic and the agency’s Porto Feliz-based ‘academy’ Deportivo Brasil. Squaring the circle through a partnership with Dutch club FC Twente Enschede, United now intends to bring young Brazilians to Europe and enable them to qualify for either a European passport or a UK work permit if selected for the national team.

Indeed, in the past fortnight five Traffic players attended United’s 1-0 victory over Bolton Wanderers at Old Trafford. Alongside coach Osmar Loss, midfielders Gladstony, Rafael Leão, Agnaldo and Lucas Evangelista, and striker Aguilar watched the match. That, quite laughably, the nation’s leading journalists couldn’t tell this group of Brazilians from Shakhtar Donetsk’s Douglas Costa is another matter altogether.

The quintet has pedigree too, with Aguilar recently breaking into the same Brazilian under-17 side from which both Rafael and Fabio graduated three years ago. The striker played for Twente’s youth side this week along with Lucas Evangelista and Agnaldo, while Rafael Leao and Gladstony also joined training at the club in eastern Holland. It was the first match in a long road that heads inextricably towards Old Trafford.

There is no hiding United’s attempt to bypass the UK work permit system either. Non-EU nationals are required to have played in 75 per cent of their country’s internationals over the past two years or pass a special “exceptional talent” excemption that is now widely abused.

“Twente are a partner, helping United to resolve the problem of their EU passports,” Jochen Losch, president of international business for Traffic, told

“For two reasons it’s good that a player goes first to Holland. First, after two or three years he’s considered to be European. And of course it’s easier to play in the Dutch league than the Premier League.”

It’s a road United has not required for the da Silva twins, who have Portuguese passports, while Possebon obtained Italian citizenship before returning to his homeland last summer. Anderson and Mexican Javier Hernández each qualified under the exceptional talent provision. It’s a wonder why the work permit rules exist at all when leading clubs so openly flout them.

Moreover, the quintet is not the first group from Deportivo Brazil to attend training at United over the past two years. The Brazilian ‘club’ has more than 120 youngsters aged between 13 and 20 on the books, with Traffic maintaining 100 per cent ownership of the boys’ economic rights. It’s the kind of third-party ownership that is now banned in the Premier League.

Traffic, whom those of a more cynical bent might conclude is an appropriate name for the agency, boasts on its website of “total control over assets” prior to players’ sale to “big-spending markets” in Europe and the Middle East. “Players are loaned out to top-clubs in Brazil, while Desportivo Brasil (= Traffic) keeping (sic) the transfer rights of those players at all times,” concludes the agency.

Some might argue that this is the meat market for players that Roy Keane so voraciously complained of, played out to the ultimate globalised degree. United’s policy is, after all, one aimed at delivering not only talent but saving on transfer fees, with the risk to the club minimised. While the financial terms of the club’s involvement is unclear, United will have to pay Traffic a transfer fee should any of the five – or other boys – actually sign at Old Trafford. It is also not unreasonable to assume that the club is already paying Twente or Traffic, or both, in lieu of the boys’ wages.

Yet the Dutch club claims there is no agreement to fast track the players into the first team, where the standard is presumably higher than at Royal Antwerp: “Our technical staff will determine whether a player is good enough to come to Twente and also whether he plays or not. Manchester United will not interfere,” Twente chairman Joop Munsterman told the Daily Mail this week.

Antwerp acted as a proving ground for more than a dozen United players over the past decade but has not served the Reds well in terms of circumventing UK work-permit laws. Danny Higginbotham, Ronnie Wallwork, John O’Shea, Phil Bardsley, Danny Simpson, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, Fraizer Campbell, Jonny Evans, Ryan Shawcross and Darron Gibson have all served time in Belgium before making a career in the Premier League.

But the dream of bringing non-EU nationals to Europe and successfully integrating them into the United set-up largely failed. Hence, United’s agreement with Twente is seemingly different. Ferguson is not expected to send fringe players out on loan but a stream of young Brazilians could well work their way through Twente and on either to United or other European clubs.

Many if not most will fail though, thousands of miles from home and without a local support network. United’s response will dictate history’s judgement, not solely how many players make it into Ferguson’s team. Football’s ability to discard the unwanted player without a moment’s hesitation suggests the club will behave with monentary considerations above all else.


Doron - March 27, 2011 Reply

Nice read.

Personally I think we’re a bit behind on all this. Our recent partnerships only mirror links and ties other clubs have in various parts of the world.

Twente is a step up from Antwerp – we did send non-EU players there (Mamam being my favourite example) but the standard of player we sent there was considerably lower than the standard that will be sent to Twente.

Chelsea have been doing this kind of thing with non-EU players for years now.

It sums up what football has become – a market. A vicious training cycle whereby players are moved around like cattle where only the fittest survive.

It’s one of the reasons why I like the Glenn Hoddle Academy in Spain. There should be more centres like it for the players who do get cast off by clubs when they’re young.

South America itself is one big production line, talent creation, they move to Europe then back to South America at the end of their careers. Few good players are playing there at their peak or close to it – at present maybe only Dario Conca and Arouca.

Problem with youth players moving about is often the selling club is only too happy to do business – the (real) story of Pogba’s transfer is a fine example of that.

Finally, I would suggest that whilst I agree this is about money, it’s also about not missing out on talent. The race to sign players starts ever younger today – Chelsea have just agreed to sign Lucas Piazon for example. If all the other clubs are doing it and searching out the best young talent then we have to be competitive there too.

Jack - March 27, 2011 Reply

personally i think its smart, the kids get treated well, with a get setup in brazil which is better than most of the big clubs.

the work permit rules are stupid anyway (since it is only in place for non-eu players) and ways to get around them are needed.

hopefully a few will get by as special talents, so not all of them will have to go to holland first and does anyone know how that would affect there homegrown status?

i am sure the club will want the players to succeed so there will be some support in holland.

plus is it really different from buying any young player, just without an inflated transfer fee.

Ed - March 27, 2011 Reply

Jack – to qualify as homegrown the players will have to spend three years at United before their 21st birthday. In practice this will mean each joining United on their 18th birthday. For those without a EU passport already this will be very difficult.

;osh - March 27, 2011 Reply

Clubs have been sending players to clubs in holland, poland and belgium for work permit reasons for years. MUFC are not alone in this regard. Traffic operates legally and is just a football school of excellence.

ChrisW - March 27, 2011 Reply

You say that United are trying to bypass the UK work permit system but why shouldn’t they? Does the system serve any useful purpose? It’s not as if Premiership clubs are going to deliberately sign poor quality players. If a Premiership club wants to employ you then surely that means you are good? Why do we need bureaucrats giving their opinions?

The work permit system is a particular problem with Brazillian players. Playing in 75% of the internationals for the world’s best national team is a very big thing. There are many, many extremely talented Brazillian players, especially young players who can’t qualify on this basis. Instead they play in other European countries that have more sensible rules.

In the Premiership we miss out on all this talent because of our work permit rules. But the rules allow English clubs to sign many non-EU players of inferior quality because they have played 75% of the internationals for their less sucessful countries. Mediocre Japanese, Korean, American and South African players can be signed but better qulaity Brazillians are often excluded.

If the rules are intended to only allow the best quality non-EU players to play in the Premiership they don’t work. They should be abolished or changed. In the meantime we need to find any way we can to get round them.

ChrisW - March 27, 2011 Reply

Also if you sign players as youngsters they qualify as “home-grown” which is going to be important in the future with the rules UEFA is going to be imposing.

thedubdemon - March 27, 2011 Reply

@chrisw + ed.. suppose the question is whether not having an eu passport at 18 prevents them signing for united or just prevents them playing. if they are signed by united at 18 they should qualify as homegrown. a loan to twente for a few years should then see them gain ability to play in prem either because theyve broken into national team or by qualifying for dutch residancy/passport.

btw i also think its a great idea.. football aside the kids get a good education and are taught english which should help them in life whatever they do. should certainly help them integrate to life in europe and improve their chances of success, no coincidence hernandez spoke good english when he arrived and made a flying start.

Jeff - March 27, 2011 Reply

It’s within the rules so I am not sure why you think the rules are being “flouted”.

Ed - March 27, 2011 Reply

Jeff – I fear that you do not understand the word. “Flouted” means to show contempt for the rule, not to break it. As an example, when I spoke to the club regarding the Adem Ljajic debacle they told me that widespread abuse of the special exemption provisions had led them to believe that it would not be granted in that case. United – and other teams – have used the special talent exemption extensively and only on rare occasions have the players then gone on to play in 75% of their countries internationals. Anderson certainly hasn’t, for example.

You could also say the current policy of sending players to Holland to get a Dutch passport and then join United as an EU citizen (thereby not requiring a work permit) is contemptuous of the work permit rules. It certainly doesn’t break them.

Danny Salford Red - March 28, 2011 Reply

Who cares? Dont really see where you are coming form with this and you sound very bitter about it for reasons i cannot establish. You arent a 17 year old Brazillian that never made it at OT are you ED?

Ed - March 28, 2011 Reply

Danny – nope! If only, I was a pretty rubbish centre half 🙂 I don’t see how you can interpret the post as bitterness. More a concern that United is deeply engaged in the globalised youth market for footballers that at its worst is little more than people trafficking. It used to be Africans, now its Brazilians picked up by third party ‘talent agencies’ and sold as pieces of meat to the highest European bidder. Modern day slavery. Mind you the successful slaves become millionaires. It’s the unsuccessful ones that we might worry about. For every 17-year-old Pato there’s 50 who fail.

Danny Salford Red - March 28, 2011

Fair point. I just dont see the point in having a go at us for doing it when everyone does is what i was trying to say I guess. And as for feeling sorry for Brazillian football after its ‘rape’ I dont one little bit. At least this way we wont be quoted £40million every time we are interested in an unheard of 17 year old over there who has had half a season in the first team which the greedy buggers always seem to do. All the top teams operate in this way. Which is what made me laugh about Barca hammering Arsenal over Fabregas and other teams after their young players. Do you know Messi was 13/14 when they ‘stole’ him from Argentina and bought his family houses/paid his medical bills etc etc etc. Not really that relevant i know but there you go 🙂

Victor - March 27, 2011 Reply

30 million euros on Anderson?


Ed - March 28, 2011 Reply

Victor – fortunately I linked to the Porto FC financial statement in which they outline the figure!

Victor - March 28, 2011 Reply

I wasn’t doubting the figure. I was laughing at the amount of money United paid for the over rated midfielder.

Ed - March 28, 2011 Reply

Victor – its insane isn’t it?

bman - March 27, 2011 Reply

Flouting a rule means breaking it. You could say that the club is flouting the spirit of the rules, but they are not flouting the rules themselves.

Ed - March 27, 2011 Reply

Just so we’re clear on this point … when I use a word it is because I want it to convey a specific meaning. I would think the headline would be quite clear – I am arguing that United is “pushing the boundaries” of (but by definition not breaking) the rules.


–verb (used with object)
to treat with disdain, scorn, or contempt; scoff at; mock: to flout the rules of propriety.

–verb (used without object)
to show disdain, scorn, or contempt; scoff, mock, or gibe (often followed by at ).

a disdainful, scornful, or contemptuous remark or act; insult; gibe.

captainhormone - March 27, 2011 Reply

fuck it…i want the new fat ronaldo and gay ronaldo in my team…..

HV - March 27, 2011 Reply

Agreed Captain!

Zombie Cucumber - March 27, 2011 Reply

Interesting piece, Ed. Thanks for it.

I think MUFC would be better served by simply setting up its own academy in Brazil. Young players could learn the United way without being moved so far from home at a young age.

Alfonso Bedoya - March 27, 2011 Reply

The United way???

What’s that?

Shafting its fans off the pitch, and boring the fuck out of them on it?

cartelmike - March 28, 2011 Reply

exceptional read. really well researched stuff. The Anderson figure is mind boggling.

from a broader perspective, im trying really hard to separate a sense of morality from modern day football. You can dress it up any way you like, but a Carlos Alberto system would be better for everyone. Arsenal would be f**ked !

I think in my heart of hearts i’d back a ban on transfers until 21. So we can blood/train/give a chance to young keen local lads, and then pepper first teams with big signings but it’ll never happen. The law would never work.

Ian - March 28, 2011 Reply

From my point of view it’s OK for Man Utd to try to get around the work permit rules because it creates a level playing field with our wider competitors. Clearly they don’t have stringent work permit rules in Holland, Norway etc and I guess it’s the same in Spain and Italy. I bet they don’t have a 90 minutes rule either (that would stop Man Utd from recruiting a kid from Southampton for instance). On the other hand we can recruit teenager in Europe who can’t get a professional contract for their own team as happened with Macheda and Petrucci. What is needed is a Europe-wide set of rules for football.

Ian - March 28, 2011 Reply

On a general note I would like to see a rule that says you have to field 3 (for example) players who came through the club’s own reserve system (say, recruited by 18 years) not just home grown anywhere in England. There needs to be some way to stop rich clubs simply buying their way out of trouble by buying a team full of 20 mill players. Perhaps also extend it to recruiting any lower division player who has never played in the premiership. It would give a chance to the likes of Everton, Fulham and Villa etc to compete in a league which is increasingly money orientated. I also think it would give some sort of local pride when a team has to have some home talent (even if it’s not local). I would hate to see Welbeck be exchanged for Henderson for example and I’d like a rule like this to help prevent it.

baggio365 - March 28, 2011 Reply

to be fair, anderson was extremely highly rated. supposedly the next ronaldinho. if he turned out to be that good, and who’s knows he still might, then the money we paid is irrelevant. no one cares that we paid around 30 mill pounds for rooney or Ferdinand, but the 25 for veron or 32 for berba is still a sore point

as for the “slave trade”, well its not nice, but we’ve signed young kids for years. george best had his first trial with us when he was 15. maybe belfast doesnt seem that far away from manchester, but i’m sure it was a hell of a shock for the young best. i know language and culture bring their own issues, and thats why you see more south americans moving to spain/portugal rather than england. this is the way the game is moving. to deny these kids an opportunity cause of their place of birth isnt right. 15yr genius’s join top universities around the world all the time. european clubs are just offering a footballing scholarship. some fail, others succeed. thats life.

captainhormone - March 28, 2011 Reply

good point

mig78 - March 29, 2011 Reply

i like the way you think baggio365. what’s the point of relating this with meat & slavery. Get a life.

dingleberry - March 29, 2011 Reply

modern day slavery??? that is a disgusting term. they in now way shape or form represent ‘slaves’.

ltel - March 29, 2011 Reply

like talent show slaves

brianofnazareth - March 29, 2011 Reply

Like Backroom Casting Couch’s slaves….

SKW - March 31, 2011 Reply

I think flouting the rules and giving kids a shot at developing their talent hardly qualifies as “slavery” or “trafficking.” These are loaded terms that have a very real meaning and describe very real conditions for disadvantaged people in the world.

uncleknobheadforfucksake - March 31, 2011 Reply

we should never have signed anderson, hes the type we usually never sign, cant play 442, and the more fergies tried to turn him into something he aint the more hes become a runabouty shitehouse, and fat

Alfonso Bedoya - March 31, 2011 Reply

Knobby… blaming Fergie for using Anderson in the wrong postion is one thing… but Anderson has to be responsible for his own hunger to improve himself… he looks to me like a player, who’s just discovered girls and good times, and doesn’t give a fuck about football anymore.

uncleknobheadforfucksake - March 31, 2011 Reply

well im blaming him for signing him in the first place when clearly he donesnt fit, so all other issues are as a result of that

dozer - April 7, 2011 Reply

Alfonso Bedoya said:
Knobby… blaming Fergie for using Anderson in the wrong postion is one thing… but Anderson has to be responsible for his own hunger to improve himself… he looks to me like a player, who’s just discovered girls and good times, and doesn’t give a fuck about football anymore.

The next Ronaldinho indeed. Maybe he should’ve achieved more though.

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