Club versus country is a hot topic in football. For a country like Brazil, which produces some of the best football talent in the world, the problem far more endemic, with top clubs vying for players as young as 15-16 years.
The case of Under-17 star Vinicius Junior is one that is at heart of this debate. The Flamengo forward, on his way to Real Madrid for around €45 million when he turns 18 next year, will join the Brazil team in India on Saturday for the Fifa U-17 World Cup, after finishing his commitments with the club.
The team, meanwhile, is set to face New Zealand in a warm-up game on Thursday before they get on with their final preparations ahead of the World Cup.
Vinicius is not the only player who is being courted by a foreign club. A number of players from the squad that has arrived in India have agents who are currently in talks with prospective ventures for the teenagers.
Midfielder Alan De Souza Guimaraes is another young star who is being pursued by Real Madrid. It was reported that Alan’s agent met with Real president Florentino Perez and CEO Jose Angel Sanchez. He was earlier also pursued by Serie A giants Inter Milan, but remained at Sao Paulo after they enforced a €50 million buyout clause.
Positives and negatives
This interest from clubs home and abroad has proved a hurdle for coaches like Carlos Amadeu, who are tasked with blooding the future members of the Selecao.
“We have the positives and the negatives of this situation,” the Brazil coach said. “The negatives are that the team does not stick together. When young players are with clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona, they don’t allow us to field the players except for the Fifa dates.
“But on the other hand, when they are with other clubs, it allows them the scope to learn new things and new plays,” added Amadeu, who had earlier coached the country’s under-15 team.
Flamengo’s initial resistance in allowing Vinicius to go to India had caused some consternation among the camp, but the management was glad that an understanding was reach after the player himself insisted on turning up for the national team.
“Vinicius is our main player,” Amadeu said. “Since the under-15 level he has caught the attention all over the world. He has had a transfer. He was asked to come to this competition and he wants to come and is proud to represent the country.
“He will be here after his final national competition [for his club Flamengo]. He will come on Saturday. He has been playing together with these guys since the under-15 days and there won’t be a problem for him integrating,” the Brazilian coach added.
Despite the situation, expectations are understandably high. For coaches like Amadeu, the emphasis remains on finding professional teams for young players. “In Brazil every one is looking forward for titles,” he said.
“As we are working with young players our aim is to get them to our professional teams. If we can do that by winning competitions, winning trophies, of course it will always be a positive for us,” he added.
For now the team is focused on breaking a 13-year World Cup title drought. No Brazil team, junior or senior has won a Fifa world event since a triumph in 2003 by the under-17 outfit. The senior team had lifted the trophy in 2002.
‘World Cup of equality’
The current team, which cruised through qualifying to reach the finals, is one of the favourites to go all the way. Amadeu, though, warned against complacency pointing out that the edition was a fight between equals.
“I look at this World Cup as a World Cup of equality,” he said. “All the teams of Europe are very strong, including Spain and England. The South American teams are strong along with Mexico and the United States. African teams have always done well in age-group tournaments. That’s why I say this will probably be a World Cup of equality as there are many teams with chances to win it.”
Brazil are placed in group D alongside Niger, Spain and North Korea. “Talking about our group it’s a very strong group with South American champions [Brazil], European champions Spain, the national team of Niger, which is very strong in age-group, and DPR Korea about which it is not easy to get information.”
Amadeu said the team was strong all-round, warning the opposition not only to be wary of the team’s attacking prowess, but also the defensive solidity. “Our defence system starts with our first four and that’s why we have a solid defence. People look to Brazil and always try to find players who score or dribble but we have many other qualities. With our goalkeeper and defenders, we have a solid defence,” he added.
Brazil open their Fifa U-17 World Cup campaign against Spain on October 7.