Tension between Winning and Costs: Brazil Edition

The UEFA European Football (Soccer) Championship kicks-offs tonight…but those who claim that this tournament is tougher to win than the World Cup should be reminded of two obvious absentees from the festivities in Poland and Ukraine, who, as it happens (related to an earlier post of mine in 2010), face each other in a friendly tomorrow at New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford (home of the two New York NFL teams) – Argentina and Brazil. The two South American giants have played each other 92 times and the head-to-head could not be closer, as each has won on 34 occasions.

The seemingly odd location of this match is not so unusual in the modern context of the global business model of the sport. Brazil especially were the pioneers of playing internationals in odd locations – since 1994, they have played more ‘A’ international friendlies in neutral venues (36) than they have on home soil (35), though far less than away fixtures (62). Brazil is a very powerful brand, and that the Brazilian Federation, Confederação Brasileira de Futebol (CBF), has been perfectly willing in the past to forgo home advantage, and use this brand power to drive very lucrative deals with opposition federations, is well accepted. While fans in Brazil might prefer to see the Seleção play locally more often, I’ve never heard about many protestations about this status quo.

However, this may increasingly become an issue in the next 1-2 years as Brazil prepares to host the 2014 World Cup. For any host team, preparation on home soil is essential. As an example from the past, USA played an amazing 88 ‘A’ internationals from 1991 to the start of the 1994 World Cup – 73 of these were friendlies, 54 of which were at home. By contrast, since their final 2010 World Cup Qualifier in October 2009, Brazil have played a total of 25 friendlies of which only three were at home (one of these was with a merely domestic-based line-up). Furthermore, automatic qualification negates the nine competitive matches at home they would have under normal circumstances, and with Copa América completed a year ago, Brazil now only has a collection of friendlies to look forward to until the 2013 Confederations Cup. Perhaps this is an acute illustration of the tension between optimal preparation and the CBF’s financial incentives?

UPDATE: Argentina defeated Brazil in a 4-3 thriller, thanks to a Lionel Messi hat-trick, in front of an all-time New-Jersey record attendance (81,994) for soccer – probably more than if the game were even held in Brazil.

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Author: Liam Lenten

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4 thoughts on “Tension between Winning and Costs: Brazil Edition”

  1. I think the basic economic tension described here is overly simplistic. Some things to consider:

    1) How exactly is preparation on home soil essential? Playing at home is an advantage because you don’t have to fly to another foreign country, you can prepare for games by training at your own facilities, and you have an enormous crowd supporting you. Why would a team of world-class professional players need to become accustomed to playing with these kind of advantages? Teams need preparation for playing in disadvantageous situations, not advantageous ones.

    2) I don’t think you can compare the Brazlian national team to the US national team. For one, the US didn’t necessarily play 54 friendlies out of 88 at home because they needed to get used to playing in the US. It’s probably because there were a lot of foreign teams who were anxious to experience playing in the US in preparation for the World Cup, and I’m guessing it might have made financial sense for the US to have them come here rather than us go to them. Who knows, maybe teams were fighting to get to play in the US which meant the US could pick and choose their opponents according to the caliber and style of play that would best prepare them for the World Cup. Additionally, maybe the US Soccer Federation wanted to practice hosting large soccer events. There are a lot of potentially motivating factors here.

    3) Many of Brazil’s national team players are not based in Brazil, and in fact a majority of the elite Brazilian players play for teams in Europe for most of the year. Of the most recent squad, 12 players were based in Europe and 10 in Brazil. If you hold your friendlies in Brazil, that means longer plane flights and potentially less time training for these players. If you hold a couple friendlies in England and Belgium, or in countries that are similarly close, then these players are only an hour or two away, and you don’t deal with jet lag.

  2. Thanks for your comments, Nate. Some thoughts of mine in response:

    i) Teams still need preparation in supposedly ‘advantageous’ situations, otherwise it risks turning into a disavantageous one. As one would expect, Brazil has new stadia linked directly with their successful bid, and more (currently under construction/renovation) to be opened before 2014. many of the likely squad players will, therefore, be unfamiliar with the venues where they will possibly play their World Cup finals matches.

    ii) Point i) is also actually backed up by your point 3)…that these European-based players have lost some familiarity with conditions in their native country, which some of them have not played in very often of late.

    iii) Further to this, Brazil in June/July is likely to produce a variety of weather/playing conditions – comparing let’s say, São Paulo and Fortaleza (two of their First Round venues). This is one of many nuances of the tournament schedule that any team (including the host) wants to be prepared for.

    iv) While the USA 1994 case was extreme, the figures show time and time again that hosts play significantly more often at home in the lead-up to the tournament….and yes, partly because everyone else wants to play them for the very reason of getting experience in the venues they will later play in…but these hosts are (typically) perfectly willing to oblige…and getting experience in the tournament venue (at home on this occasion) is itself a motivating factor (albeit far from the only one) for them.

    In short, despite that it is not difficult to over-simplify the commentary, the dynamics are nonetheless obviously different this time around compared to previous major tournaments, and I think this difference is somewhat interesting. Cheers, L.

  3. Liam,

    Your counter-points are well-taken. I suppose I personally presume that Brazilian elite players are simply too experienced to require adjustment to home conditions, but I have no way of really knowing this.

    Another angle to build on: the top European club teams increasingly take promotional trips during the summer and hold training in foreign countries. Perhaps at some point the need for these clubs to promote their brands will also create tension with performing well at home.

  4. Yes Nate, the promotional trips are another fascinating economic incentive spin on that tension…I imagine that eyes often roll in the ‘performance’ (or whatever name applies) department of many of elite European clubs when these tours are scheduled, but admittedly the dynamics here are different again…remember that compared to national teams, clubs usually only have one home ground (and play more often and frequently), which they can become accustomed to (even new players to the squad) relatively quickly. While some national teams usually/often play home matches at a single home ground (eg. Uruguay at Montevideo’s Estadio Centenario), Brazil has spread its limited home (soil) games around in the last 20 years – many of which at places not even being used for the next World Cup (Goiânia, Belém, São Luís, Florianópolis, Maceió, etc.)…this is potentially another familiarity factor for some players.

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