Tag Archives: Neymar

Why the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil Can Still Be the Best Ever

As we enter the final few months of the buildup to the 2014 World Cup, we’ve heard much about the current state of host nation Brazil and how behind it still is in terms of building the necessary infrastructure to successfully host and support a worldwide tournament and festival.

Just last week, FIFA secretary Jerome Valcke told BBC Sport that Brazil may not be “totally ready” for the start of the tournament due to building delays, with two stadiums in Porto Alegre and Sao Paulo still not finished.

And with the current political climate in Europe, amid criticism of Russia’s recent actions following the Winter Olympics in Sochi and Qatar’s human rights record ahead of its own World Cup in 2022, Valcke has even gone as far as to emphasize FIFA’s political neutrality, per Al Jazeera:

FIFA is not the United Nations…We are not there to discuss with political authorities what they should do…We can discuss with them, and again be the platform for them to meet, to exchange and to make sure they are using football as a tool for change…But we cannot tell a country what should be [sic] their foreign policy. That’s not our role.

All of which has thrown a considerable spanner into the Brazilian works, as the country makes frantic last-minute preparations for the global event amid an unsteady domestic political climate.

For Brazil to put on a successful World Cup, 64 years after it was last hosted on home soil, no doubt there are still major hurdles to overcome—not to mention many people to convince.

Yet lost amid all the negative news is the undeniable prospect of a fervent and vibrant tournament, of a famed Brazilian party, of a mouthwatering tournament featuring footballing talent in abundance on the pitch—and the underlying possibility that the 2014 World Cup can still be the best ever.

 

Leo Correa

 

A National Legacy

Let’s begin by looking at the positive impact that FIFA can bring with its local programs in conjunction with the tournament itself.

Its recent announcement of a $1 million television production internship program for Brazilian students, allowing them the chance to gain “invaluable work experience at the world’s biggest single-sport event,” is a glimpse at the “legacy” impacts that FIFA has now made a big part of its tournament-hosting packages.

By involving local students and providing technical and professional training in a sure-to-be exciting opportunity for local youth, FIFA has laid the groundwork for a potential boom in interest in the international sports business and the financial workings of a global tournament—quite in contrast to the uneasy local sentiment on show during the Confederations Cup last summer.

Looking at the legacy factor from a macro, country-level perspective, the Brazilian government forecasts, via Fox News Latino, that the World Cup itself will generate around 62.1 billion reais ($27.7 billion) in revenue, three times its income from the Confederations Cup.

The significant economic impact from the boom in tourism has been projected to include a total number of 3.6 million visitors to the country and an increase of 47,900 jobs in the tourist and recreation sectors, which would be a considerable injection of activity and revenue into Brazil’s GDP.

Alongside the inevitable focus on consumption on Brazilian soil, the Brazilian government has also launched advertising drives to highlight its other attractions, including “the Iguassu Falls, eco-holidays in the Amazon, the historic city of Salvador and Brasilia,” according to the BBC, as well as to draw attention to its capacity and capability to host global events and conferences.

Said Marcelo Pedros, the director of international markets for Embratur, the Brazilian Tourist Board:

Everyone knows that Brazil can play football and throw a party, but we want to show just how well we can organize international events. When Germany held the World Cup in 2006 it was the other way round. Everyone knew they would be well organized, but could they hold a party? They did, and it was very successful. We are going to prove the same success with Brazil’s organization skills.

And, of course, there is the small matter of the tournament kicking off on Brazil’s own Lovers’ Day, which, according to the Metro, is already capturing the imagination of many an innovative and entrepreneur.

 

Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

 

An Unpredictable Contest

We’ve managed to come this far without even mentioning the football due to be on show in Brazil, which is a strong testament to the off-pitch factors that could see Brazil become the biggest and most successful global party yet.

But while the World Cup has arguably evolved from a pure celebration of football into a money-making exercise, at its heart football is still the beautiful game, and we could well be looking at one of the most exciting iterations of the tournament of all time, given the unpredictability of the contest this summer.

As football fans look ahead to the 2014 World Cup, many questions will no doubt pop into their minds. Who will rise to the top this year? Will Neymar confirm his status as the next big thing in football by bringing his country the World Cup at home? Or will Lionel Messi finally deliver a World Cup to secure his place in the pantheon of all-time greats?

Will Spain continue their recent dominance with a fourth successive win in a World Cup or a European Championship tournament? Or will Germany’s youth revolution end its own wait for a world title?

What about the dark horses—will Belgium’s new golden generation fulfill their potential as they look to take the World Cup by storm? Or will Uruguay better their last-four performance in 2010? Is it time for an African team to go all the way? Or will England finally get over their quarterfinal hoodoo and fire their way into the final?

The presence of so many international stars on Brazilian soil—the mythical Zlatan Ibrahimovic excepted, due to Sweden’s playoff loss to Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portgual—will bring unprecedented levels of global coverage (and, of course, incessant marketing and advertising efforts), which will in turn drive up interest in the tournament around the world.

Even the statistic, tactic and formation buffs will be treated to an event of gigantic proportions, as the proliferation of data analysis in football will no doubt boost intelligent debate and substantiated discussion around the contest unfolding on the pitch. The different ideologies and philosophies adopted by different national teams may finally see distinct national “identities” form around the ball.

And we haven’t even gotten to the prospect of a nerve-wracking penalty shootout or a new Zinedine Zidane-esque flashpoint.

 

Handout/Getty Images

 

A Glimpse into the Future

All the talk so far has been of the present, but while the World Cup doesn’t involve the next host nation putting on a “teaser trailer” show to close out the current tournament—unlike the Olympics—one eye, as ever, should be kept on the future.

And this World Cup finds itself in a fascinating intersection between the old and the new.

On the pitch, what could be better for Brazil than to have traditional rivals Uruguay resurface as a strong contender? Or a new-look Argentina side to prove its dominance and legacy with Messi at the helm?

The prospect of a new Brazil team headed by Neymar winning on home soil is one that can’t be ignored—and no doubt one that would kick off an unprecedented party—while the recent dominance of Spain may start to make way for teams of the future.

We will get to witness the platform that Belgium may well set for itself in international football, while England is set to usher in a new generation of young talent following what will be a transitional tournament. And as ever, there are plenty of new names we might not have even heard of yet who will catapult themselves into the spotlight over just a few weeks in Brazil.

In the stadiums and on the streets, the local mood may well be poignant, as Brazil recalls hosting its last World Cup 64 years ago and considers the development and turmoil it’s gone through in that time.

From a traditional footballing heyday in 1950 to a global commercial extravaganza, those who have followed the tournament in years gone by may yet witness another chapter in the ongoing evolution of the World Cup as an event.

The fascination of welcoming visitors from around the world and partaking in a joint experience of an international tournament at home may inspire a new generation of Brazilian youngsters to not only embrace the power and potential of the simple game of football but also to serve the greater good of their nation through business and global collaboration.

And finally, Germany 2006 was a return to familiar European territory between two groundbreaking tournaments in Asia (Korea/Japan 2002) and Africa (South Africa 2010), while Brazil 2014 will be the last tournament to be hosted in a region with World Cup experience: The next two World Cups, if all goes according to plan, will be held in new frontiers—Russia (2018) and the Middle East (Qatar 2022).

For FIFA as much as for Brazil—depending on how this year’s event goes—the World Cup will be a key milestone and provide a glimpse into an exciting or murky future.

For if Brazil successfully overcomes its last-minute hurdles and political differences and ends up hosting an excellent tournament, we can all look forward to successfully charting new territory in the years to come.

South Africa did it. Why not Brazil?

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report.

State of Brazil 2014: Where Do Things Stand in World Cup Host Nation Right Now?

During Brazil’s 5-0 hammering of South Africa in Johannesburg in an international friendly on Wednesday, more than just a footballing spectacle was on show.

Sure, Neymar’s hat-trick—the Barcelona star has hit 30 goals in just 47 caps—inspired the Selecao to a resounding victory over the hosts. And the Samba stars even hit the headlines after the match for all the right PR reasons when they elected to pose and celebrate a young pitch invader, as reported by the Daily Mail.

But this prestige friendly was also the meeting between the most recent World Cup host and the current incumbent, played at Soccer City, the venue of the 2010 final, where Spain beat the Netherlands to win their first-ever World Cup.

It was a passing of the baton—well, of sorts.

In an ideal world, from both FIFA’s perspective and surely the Brazilian Football Association’s, Brazil’s resounding victory would also have represented an analogous reflection of the upcoming World Cup in relation to 2010’s, with Brazilian excellence, preparation and execution not just limited to a five-star performance on the pitch.

In an ideal world, the joy and happiness we saw on the faces of the Brazilian team when they celebrated their victory (and the young pitch invader) would not only be repeated as they take to the stage to win their sixth World Cup on home soil in July, but for generations to come as they soak in the legacy of the “best World Cup ever.”

And in an ideal world, the sense of satisfaction in the Brazilian fans at Soccer City and watching on television at home would precede a sense of immense pride to be realized this summer while they watched a spectacle unfold at home, before they bid farewell to the hordes of tourists who will have created an economic boon for them to enjoy.

But where do things stand right now in the host nation? As we discuss below, things are not quite as rosy as they should be. Let’s look at how Brazil is faring, from different angles.

 

 

Gallo Images/Getty ImagesThe team: Ready to pounce

When it comes to matters on the pitch, the Brazil national team seem more than ready to take their chance on home soil this summer.

While a 5-0 drubbing of South Africa, their biggest ever loss at home, was an impressive achievement, and once again highlighted Neymar’s growing stature in world football and importance to his country’s footballing hopes, an arguably more symbolic result than took place last summer.

Brazil’s 3-0 defeat of World Cup champions Spain in the 2013 Confederations Cup final, itself a dress rehearsal for this summer’s World Cup, was courtesy of a match-winning performance by Neymar(and two goals from Fred), in an all-round spectacular performance. They inflicted upon Spain their first defeat in 29 competitive matches.

Luiz Felipe Scolari’s starting XI on Wednesday featured just two changes from his Confederations Cup final win last summer. WithNeymar having prospered since his move to Barcelona, the resurgence of Fernandinho at Manchester City and the impressive rise of Oscar at Chelsea, this is a Brazil side as workmanlike as it is flamboyant.

As Brazil prepare to welcome the visit of 31 other teams this summer, they will also revel in the fact that their opponents face a grueling match schedule, made all the more difficult because of the weather and traveling and exacerbated by the hot afternoon kickoff times.

This ESPNFC article lists all the obstacles that Brazil’s rivals will be up against: With the weather conditions of six cities classed as “stifling”—four of them “oppressive”—and high temperatures of over 31 degrees Celsius, the cross-country coverage will ensure startling differences between stadiums and locations.

The sheer largeness of the country means that some participating teams will face extremely tiring travel schedules. The USA team, for example, will travel a total of 8,800 miles for three of their group stage games, spending at least 35 hours commuting in total, while all matches will be played in “oppressive” conditions.

Of course, not all teams face such a demanding schedule, but it’s worth remembering that South American teams generally have a better record in World Cups hosted in the same region: All seven World Cups played in the Americas have crowned South American winners.

The only silver lining for other pretenders is that Brazil only finished as runners-up the last time they hosted a World Cup at home.

 

 

Friedemann Vogel/Getty ImagesThe logistics: Another last-minute dash

It seems as if World Cups, despite the spectacle they may be, always involve last-minute madness.

If we thought South Africa’s preparations in the final months leading up to their tournament weren’t a big enough alarm—as FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke claimed in February 2010 (via Sky)—the situation this year is apparently even worse.

Just this January, FIFA President Sepp Blatter told the Telegraph:

Brazil just found out what [the scale of work] means and has started work much too late. No country has been so far behind in preparations since I had been at FIFA, even though it is the only nation which has had so much time—seven years—in which to prepare.

Not that his public criticism had had the desired effects. Valcke’s latest update in early March reflected the current state of chaos in Brazil’s preparations, as they “are working in conditions where the cement is not even dry,” and all IT and telecommunications systems hadn’t been installed, according to SportBusiness.com.

This was a long time coming.

A grand total of six stadiums, in Sao Paulo, Curitiba, Cuiaba, PortoAlegre, Natal and Manaus, had missed a deadline of Dec. 31, 2013 set by FIFA to allow a suitable preparation window ahead of the summer’s matches.

Since then, Curitiba has flirted with danger, coming close in February to being dropped for the tournament altogether, according to BBC Sport, only for local organizers to bring in hundreds of extra workers to meet building requirements and ultimately earn a FIFA reprieve.

Now Sao Paulo, which is set to host the opening game, might not be ready to hand its stadium over until May, a month before the tournament kicks off on June 12, according to BBC Sport.

Valcke, understandably, is unimpressed: According to theSportBusiness.com article above, he has had more harsh words regarding Brazil’s lax preparations:

I am not a World Cup specialist, but I will say this has not been easy for sure. We are almost at 100 days before the first game starts in a stadium in Sao Paulo which is still not ready and won’t be ready until May 15.

A glaring example of Brazil’s last-minute tendencies was the embarrassing fiasco over the preparation of the Maracana stadium for a high-profile friendly match between Brazil and England, supposedly to mark its grand reopening. Due to concerns over its structural readiness, and thus supporter safety, judicial order suspended the match a few days before it was schedule to take place, according to the Guardian.

The match ultimately resumed and ended in a 2-2 draw, but the warning signs were already there.

 

 

Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesThe politics: The biggest headache of them all

If FIFA have already suffered enough headaches because of the disorganization in Brazil’s preparations, they’re about to experience even more—and this time the Brazilian FA could feel the heat as well.

It would’ve been all well and good if the issues that were raised before the Brazil-England friendly preceded an ultimately grand spectacle in the Confederations Cup.

But while Brazil’s victory over Spain said plenty about their ambitions to lift their sixth World Cup this year, what happened off the pitch among the local supporters were almost inevitable—yet surprising in equal measure.

The BBC reported that protesters clashed with police during the final, as demonstrations sparked by transport fare rises snowballed into more and larger grievances about the imminent World Cup and the costs associated with the tournament.

Massive public investment in preparation for the World Cup has irked the Brazilian public, who has witnessed a slowdown in the Brazilian economy and prefers the public money to be channeled into other priorities like health care and education, according to the Telegraph.

The “FIFA Go Home” and “There Won’t Be a World Cup” banners on show last summer weren’t as damning as the massive drop in public support for the tournament. In November 2008, almost 80 percent of the public were reportedly in favor of the World Cup. In March 2013, it had fallen to just 50 percent.

And the public worries are legitimate.

There have long been debates on the actual merits and sustainable benefits to hosting international sporting events like the Olympics and the World Cup due to the financial burden they put on the host countries, and we only have to look at South Africa to see the repercussions and strain that football’s premier tournament can put on a country.

According to the Guardian, the government spent £687 million in new and refurbished stadiums (10 in total) for the World Cup. Since the tournament ended, several struggled for continuous use—much like Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Stadium after the 2008 Olympics—and required continuing subsidies from hard-pressed local authorities.

A South African government report has said that the month-long tournament cost the country more than £2 billion, while FIFA earned £2.2 billion and came away with a handsome £394 million profit. Several of their stadiums have since been branded white elephants, an accusation that has since been leveled at Brazil’s own construction efforts, according to another Guardian report.

So all this talk of a legacy off the pitch, as FIFA and organizing bodies often claim World Cups can leave, could very well be seen by the public as pure rhetoric and a lofty dream as they end up bearing the economic brunt.

Which will put an even bigger burden on the shoulders of the Selecaostars.

A record sixth World Cup success on home soil would bring joy to their legions of loyal fans, but in the end, might just serve to placate the growing unrest across the nation.

Now imagine if they didn’t win.

Luiz Felipe Scolari still has plenty of work to do yet.

 

This article first appeared on Bleacher Report, where I contribute regularly on Liverpool and the Premier League, and occasionally on football business.

The Football Business Column: The Money that Goes to Agents, Technology and Stadiums

football agents

The Money that goes to Agents

We can’t go anywhere in football without hearing about the money side of the game, such is the prevalence of commerce, sponsorships and brand partnerships, and the importance of financial might and ambition. So when it was announced this summer that the Premier League spent a record £630 million in the transfer window, no one really batted an eye.

It couldn’t have come as a big surprise though, given the enormous TV deals that were secured by the Premier League with broadcasters Sky and BT Sport. After all, the number of big signings and the amount of big money being flown around this summer—not least that mind-boggling world record deal for Gareth Bale—showed that money has become less and less of an object to Premier League clubs. (Crystal Palace paid £8.5 million for a League One player, Dwight Gayle from Peterborough.) It turns out, though, that it’s not just the Premier League, and it’s not just the signing fees.

As we saw from the Neymar megadeal to Barcelona, there are (too) many parties involved in a transfer deal. There are “investors”, “stakeholders”, agreements to play friendlies, first-option commitments and, of course, agents. And when your dad happens to be your agent and you happen to be Neymar, your family can suddenly become €40 million richer.

But it’s not just in conjunction with the biggest names in football that agent fees are considerable. The Football League released a report last week on agent fees at the Championship, League One and League Two levels, and the results were quite staggering. In the 2012/13 Championship season, 23 clubs (Blackpool excepted) paid a total of over £18.5 million in agent fees for 431 agent-involved deals, meaning that, on average, each club spent over £800,000 in payments to agents and each deal cost £43,000.

And that’s just at the Championship level. We await (dread) the official numbers affiliated with the Premier League for more discussion (depression). We haven’t even asked the all-important question yet: Are agents even worth it? (Blackburn Rovers spent over £3.5 million in agent fees—which is more than enough for a quality Championship-level player—and ended the season closer to relegation.)

The Money that goes to Technology

When we talk about money in the Premier League, the topic inevitably focuses on the lack of it spent on youth development and as such the promotion of homegrown talent, which adversely affects the performance of the English national team. And we all know the history of underachievement of said English national team in international tournaments, specifically in penalty shootouts, quite unlike their Premier League counterparts.

Fear not: Money can also be a solution there! Need to provide players with a simulated match environment? With a realistic atmosphere like a World Cup Finals penalty shootout? No problem. Engineering company BAE Systems are currently working with UK Sport, “the UK’s high performance sports agency,” to produce virtual reality simulators for Olympians and Paralympians to better prepare them for real-life tournament scenarios, and according to this Guardian report, this technology could be on its way to football as well.

And why not? Given the amount of money devoted to the mental and physical side of football these days—there’s also the sports science side, which has led to the spawning of many a sports science department at major football clubs, as well as the data analysis side—it’s only natural to see money being thrown at technology that can give teams and players that slight extra chance of success.

But is it really that smooth-sailing? Will virtual reality be able to compare to a real-world penalty shootout environment where everything is at stake? Unless BAE add a feature that projects a virtual reality of burning effigies in the penalty takers’ minds, it might not be enough…

The Money that goes to Stadiums

As ever, England isn’t the only country with huge financial burdens in football. Let’s cross the Atlantic for a moment and look at Major League Soccer, where DC United’s proposed new stadium has attracted criticism for its fee.

$300 million is the sum in question for the Buzzard Point, Washington DC location, and while there are obvious benefits to fans of the club and league, the mooted amount has been met with significant criticism from the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, who will have had the current economic climate in mind.

It’s not only in the US where public spending on stadiums have attracted scorn. The 2013 Confederations Cup this summer was marred by public rioting and protesting in Brazil throughout the tournament, against the Brazilian government’s extravagant expenditure on stadiums for next summer’s World Cup and 2016’s Olympics. A total of almost $17 billion is estimated to be spent in conjunction with these two events, and well, there could be a variety of things that this money could be used on otherwise.

But even that is a drop in the ocean compared to Qatar (or should that be a grain of sand in the desert?), who will be spending a whopping £134 billion on their controversial 2022 World Cup tournament, the Middle East’s first ever. How’s that for stadium spending?

 

This piece was part of my new biweekly column for SWOL.co, in which I discuss some of the latest news, trends and developments on the business side of football—everything including marketing, strategy, technology and finance.