Brazil. The land of Samba. Home of some of the finest football legends. Pele, Romario, Ronaldo, Socrates, Rivellino, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Dunga, Tostao, Carlos Alberto. The list is endless. A record five World Cup triumphs for the Selecao do justice to a football-mad nation.
On a club-level, Brazilian talent and flair shone bright over the years in the major European leagues with the likes of Kaka, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Dani Alves, Julio Cesar and Roberto Carlos being protagonists in their clubs’ Champions League triumphs.
Curiously, however, the English Premier League has struggled to bring the best out of most of the Brazilian imports. Denilson, Afonso Alves, Jo, Jardel, Kleberson, Robinho and Andre Santos head a long list of Brazilians that promised so much on their arrival in England but failed to produce the goods on a consistent basis.
With Arsenal acquiring the services of Brazilian defender Gabriel Paulista from Villareal, here is a list of five players from the land of Samba that actually enhanced their reputation significantly in the Premier League.
5. Edu (Arsenal)
Arsene Wenger is known to dip into the Brazilian pool of football talent having given Premier League debuts to six Brazilians. Edu was the second such acquisition, joining fellow left-footed teammate Sylvinho.
Edu was part of the famous “The Invincibles” team appearing in 29 matches during their unbeaten Premier League campaign. Injuries somewhat derailed his career but his slick passing won the admiration of Wenger and the Arsenal fans.
Two Premier League and three FA Cup medals are a fitting testimony to one of the unsung heroes of Wenger’s finest squad.
4. Lucas Leiva (Liverpool)
It was a close shave between Chelsea’s Ramires and Liverpool’s Lucas, but the latter just edged into this list based on his individual importance to the Reds. It’s fair to say that Liverpool have underachieved massively in the Premier League era with many acquisitions failing to push the club to a higher level.
During his first year at Anfield, Lucas looked lost. Many fans demanded his sale as he looked set to join a long list of transfer flops. However, this soon changed when Benitez gave the then U/21 Brazil captain a run in defensive midfield.
The sale of Javier Mascherano further helped enhanced Lucas’ importance with no suitable alternative acquired during the subsequent years.
While the performance levels of his teammates plummeted after Liverpool’s second place finish in 2009, Lucas’ displays were becoming more impressive. A period on the injury table during the 2011/2012 season coincided with a run of bad results for the Reds, further highlighting the lack of a suitable alternative to the Brazilian’s aggression and reading of the game in midfield.
Rodgers’ new formation this season hinges on Lucas, as his role in front of the back three is essential to ensuring a balance between the defenders and the six players, all offensive minded, ahead of him. Remove Lucas from the system and the defensive harmony of the side is crushed.
3. Oscar (Chelsea)
Willian and Phillippe Coutinho have both impressed in recent years but it’s Oscar who’s the pick of the Brazilian attacking midfielders plying their trade in England. The sale of Juan Mata was a massive vote of confidence from Jose Mourinho who publicly said that the Brazilian’s attributes are more suited to his style of play.
Still only 23, Oscar has appeared in more than 130 matches for the Blues scoring 30 goals. He has also already earned 43 caps for Brazil making his steep rise to the highest level the more impressive.
Good with both feet and quick on his feet, Oscar is the stereotypical modern attacking midfielder being frequently seen pressing opposition defenders and defending from the front. It’s such qualities that make him favourite of Mourinho and the adoring fans at Stamford Bridge.
2. Gilberto Silva (Arsenal)
Having started his career as a centre half, Gilberto Silva retained his defensive qualities acting as the anchor of “The Invincibles”, allowing Patrick Vieira the creative freedom to roam forward. Many lament Vieira’s departure as the start of Arsenal’s decline but it’s Gilberto that has never really been replaced at the Emirates.
Wenger has failed to invest in a suitable lynchpin in front of his back four with Francis Coquelin’s performance against Manchester City in Arsenal’s 2-0 victory highlighting the necessity of such a player in Wenger’s formation.
Apart from the honours won while at Arsenal, Gilberto is also a World Cup winner. However, he could never beat the guy below to first place in the list.
1. Juninho Paulista (Middlesbrough)
Three separate spells in Middlesbrough engraved Juninho’s hero status in the hearts of many in Teeside. However, it’s for his first spell that he is most remembered and revered.
His surprise signing in 1995 put Middlesbrough on the football map as he mesmerized defenders playing in the hole behind the strikers. In 1997, the “Little Fella” helped his side reach both the FA and League Cup finals. Unfortunately, they lost both.
The bad news didn’t end there as the club was relegated from the Premier League during the same season with Juninho being famously reduced to tears on the final day.
50 caps for Brazil and a World Cup campaign followed, but it’s his love for Middlesbrough by which Juninho will always be remembered in England.
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