Europe offers take toll on Brazil’s child stars
Hat tipped cockily backward, thick silver chain dangling around
his neck, Andrigo talks breezily about his brilliant future in
European football, where riches and all manner of off-field
He could ply his trade for teams such as Barcelona, Manchester
United or Inter Milan, dazzling European fans with the brilliant
footwork that seems a Brazilian birthright.
Never mind that Andrigo is just a pimply faced 15-year-old. He’s
already orchestrating his multimillionaire future while his peers
navigate first dates and master the latest video games.
Andrigo’s situation is increasingly common among Brazil’s
football prodigies – being handed the world before passing through
For teens such as Andrigo, personal growth isn’t all that’s
jeopardized by leapfrogging childhood. Their development as players
can also suffer, derailing their careers and possibly costing
Brazil a future star.
Psychologists and other experts say many will not cope with the
pressure of having to succeed so early in life, increasing the
chances that off-field problems will affect their performances
before they can deliver on their athletic potential.
”These kids sign huge deals, but most of the time they can’t
keep up to the expectations that come along with these multimillion
dollar transactions,” said sports psychologist Joao Ricardo Cozac,
president of a sports psychology association in Sao Paulo. ”If
they are not prepared emotionally, they won’t be able to perform as
well as they did when they signed the deals and ultimately will
fail and return to Brazil earlier than expected.”
For years, European teams have craved Brazil’s talented players,
flocking to the nation looking for the next wonder Pele or
More and more Brazilian youngsters, often from poor backgrounds,
look to cash in at the first opportunity to play in Europe, no
matter the cost to their social development and family life.
But many don’t adapt to being away from home. About 1,000
Brazilian players leave to play abroad every year, but in 2009
alone more than 700 returned to Brazil, according to the country’s
Midfielder Rodrigo Possebon was one of them. He signed with
Manchester United as a promising 17-year-old, but was unable to
establish himself with the English team and now is back with
Brazilian club Santos, where he is not even a regular in the
Possebon, now 21, said the lack of a family structure abroad
unquestionably plays a role in the performance of young players,
but he thinks it’s a risk worth taking.
”It’s not easy to be away from your friends and from your
family, to have to adapt to a different culture, to a different
weather,” he said. ”But I don’t think any teenager would reject
an offer like the one I got, to play for Manchester United, so I
would definitely do it again, it was a good experience.”
Brazilian club Internacional signed a pre-contract with Andrigo,
but the agreement doesn’t guarantee that he will stay in Brazil for
much longer. Team directors acknowledge that it’s hard to hold on
to young players who are promised the good life abroad.
”Sometimes it’s hard to contain the anxiety and the
expectations of the kid and his family,” said Internacional club
director Bernardo Stein, who is in charge of the team’s youth
squads. ”We have many cases of kids who leave and then after a
year or so they are back asking if they can play for us
The goal for Andrigo and others like him has been to try to sign
deals with clubs abroad but stay in Brazil until they turn 18, the
age at which FIFA removes some restrictions on international
transfers and when players are better prepared to handle life away
This was the case of playmaker Philippe Coutinho, who reached a
deal with Inter Milan when he was 16 but stayed with Brazil’s Vasco
da Gama for two years before moving to Europe. Coutinho’s patience
paid off and he is now a regular on Brazil’s national team.
”It varies from player to player, but in general, they have
better chances to keep playing well if they stay longer in
Brazil,” said Rodrigo Falcao, another Brazilian sports
psychologist. ”There are more things that can go wrong if they
leave the country too early.”
Andrigo needed only one tournament to impress international
scouts. After playing well with Internacional at a competition in
England in June, several teams reportedly became interested in the
forward, known for his powerful shots and bursts toward the
The player’s agents said Manchester United, Manchester City,
Tottenham, Chelsea and Udinese contacted them about the possibility
of signing the teenager.
Internacional said Barcelona offered a partnership to sign the
young player, and Andrigo said Inter Milan also contacted his
family to talk about a possible transfer.
”I don’t really have a preference, I want to go to a place
where I know I’ll be happy, that’s all,” Andrigo told The
Associated Press at his agents’ office in Sao Paulo.
Andrigo was 11 when he left his home just outside the southern
city of Porto Alegre to play for Internacional. For the past four
years he has been living at the team’s headquarters, going to
school in the morning before dedicating himself almost completely
to football the rest of the day.
His parents make a living selling homemade sandwiches, earning
just enough to take care of Andrigo and his two brothers and two
sisters. Their biggest chance of leaving their modest two-bedroom
house in the farming town of Estrela lies with Andrigo’s future,
which they have fully supported even though it keeps them apart for
”In Brazil, these kids necessarily need to give up their normal
lives in order to dedicate themselves to football,” Cozac said.
”They end up missing on key phases of their lives, going from
childhood to adulthood faster than everybody else. Most of the
time, this ends up hurting them in the future.”
Cozac and other psychologists say it’s imperative that these
young players and their families get counseling as early as
possible to avoid behavioral problems.
Andrigo is attracting attention just months after 18-year-old
sensation Neymar got into trouble for swearing at teammates and his
coach after not being allowed to take a penalty in a Brazilian
league match. The rant earned him a fine and a suspension, and cost
him a place on the Brazilian squad in recent friendlies against
Iran and Ukraine.
Just days earlier he had rejected a multimillion dollar offer
from Chelsea and extended his contract with Santos until 2015, in
an unusual decision that made headlines in Brazil and abroad.
”They are only kids but people look at them differently,”
Cozac said. ”They have bigger responsibilities now.”
Andrigo talks like a grown-up and already has many of the
responsibilities of one, including an agreement with Nike that
requires him to wear the company’s gear every time he is
photographed or videotaped by the media.
The deal does not involve money, but Andrigo’s agent, Cleber
Desiderio, says another agreement will likely be negotiated when
the youngster turns 16 and is allowed to have a professional
”In the beginning it’s all great,” Cozac said. ”They start
making all this money and start buying a lot of things that they’ve
always wanted to buy, all at an early age. But if they are not well
prepared, this becomes a problem later in their lives.”
Andrigo isn’t worried.
”I’m a lot more mature than most 15-year-old boys out there,”
he says before returning his attention to text messages on his cell