Brazil and the amazing players it has produced has a special place in the heart of most football fans, with many of us growing up on stories of the magnificent ‘Samba Style’ football that the South American nation has become famed for over the years.
Ever since the Premier League began in 1992 the influx of TV money has been both a good and bad thing in many ways. One undoubted benefit of the huge amounts of cash floating about in English football is that Premier League clubs have been able to attract some of the best players from around the world, with some of them of course being Brazilian.
After 25 years of EPL action we’ve now seen more than our fair share of Brazilian players ply their trade on these shores, so with the World Cup just around the corner – a tournament Brazil have won a record breaking five times – we thought it would be the perfect time to take a look at five of the best ever Samba stars to grace the Premier League …
David Luiz – Chelsea
Chelsea shelled out £25 million to Portuguese side Benfica in 2011-12 to sign a young fuzzy haired Brazilian centre-back by the name of David Luiz. Immediately, it became clear to Premier League fans that the Blues had a signed a supremely talented footballer, but a player also prone to erratic moments that could just as easily cost his team a goal or see them reduced to 10 men.
Luiz, who is also renowned for his knuckle ball free kicks, won the Champions League in his maiden season at Stamford Bridge. However, when Jose Mourinho returned to London in 2013 many predicted the Portuguese coach would give a flamboyant character like Luiz short thrift and sure enough in the summer of 2014, Chelsea bit French side PSG’s hands off when they offered £50 million, and we all thought we had seen the last of the talented defender.
Surprisingly, two years later he would return to Stamford Bridge for £20 million less than he had been sold for in a move that was derided by fans and pundits alike. This after all was a player Gary Neville once described as playing like he was being controlled by somebody playing a computer game.
Luiz would prove all his critics wrong however by eradicating all the inconsistencies of his early days in English football and he would become the defensive rock on which Antonio Conte’s 2016-17 Premier League title was built upon.
On his day Luiz is everything you want from a modern defender: athletic, tough and technically gifted to the point where he can easily step into midfield and start attacks. He is a beast of a defender when on top form and he deserves massive credit for returning to the Premier League and proving his doubters wrong.
Fernandinho chose to follow the path of many of his country men in the early to mid 2000’s by leaving his homeland for Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk. After eight successful seasons in Eastern Europe, he earned himself a big money move to Manchester City in 2013.
Fernandinho soon became an integral part of the Citizens side that won the Premier League in his first season in England, and impressed massively with his solid performances in central midfield.
Now an integral part of Pep Guardiola’s record breaking side that romped to the EPL title, although he may not be the flashiest or most talented member of Man City’s starting XI, his tactical nous and coolness in possession provides the platform for his sides deadly attackers to reek havoc on opponents.
The 41 cap Brazil international has now established himself as one of Europe’s top defensive midfielders and is more than likely one of the first names on Guardiola’s team sheet.
Former Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers has been rightly ridiculed for some stinking signings during his time at Liverpool, but there is no denying that the £8.5 million he paid Inter Milan for a 20-year-old Couthino has proved to be a masterstroke.
Coutinho is blessed with the type of mesmerising close control, technique and creative spark that has all the hallmarks of Samba football at it’s finest.
It was a joy to watch the mercurial playmaker in full flow during his four seasons at Anfield, and his record of 41 goals and 35 assists in 152 appearances for the Reds show the level of impact he had during his time in England.
However, sadly for both Liverpool and Premier League fans in general we will not get the chance to see the 25-year-old’s peak years. So impressive was the Brazil international over recent seasons that La Liga giants Barcelona convinced Coutinho to swap Merseyside for Catalonia in a deal worth a whopping £143 million in January 2018.
Gilberto Silva rose to prominence during his Country’s superb victory in the 2002 World Cup. In a Brazil side that contained world class attacking talents like Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Rivaldo, Silva played the role of midfield enforcer, breaking up play and laying the ball of to his supremely talented team-mates.
His performances with the Selecao caught the eye of former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, who brought the defensive midfielder to the Premier League from Brazilian side Atletico Mineiro for £4.5 million.
After taking a bit of time to settle into life in English football, Silva began to show his best form and was an integral part in the Gunners legendary ‘Invincibles’ side that went the entire 2003-4 season unbeaten.
Although Silva was far from the stereotypical skilful Brazilian we all grew up hearing about, he had everything a modern day defensive midfielder needs; tactical nous, athleticism, and composure in possession. Arsenal have been crying out for a player like Silva ever since he left the Emirates in 2008.
In 1995 Juninho Paulista had just be named as the best player in Brazil, and therefore shocked football fans around the world by turning down moves to Madrid or Milan in favour of joining Bryan Robson’s Middlesbrough.
The ‘Little fella’ as he affectionately known – due to his 5ft 4 inch frame – was far from the stereotypical foreign player simply moving to England to line their pockets, as so often seemed to be the case in the early nineties. Juninho and his family immersed themselves into life on Teesside, and stories of the Brazil international stopping for kick about with kids in local parks became legendary.
Middlesbrough fell in love with Juninho and somewhat surprisingly the boy from sunny Sao Paolo felt exactly the same way. During his debut season he showed flashes of brilliance, although he understandably struggled for consistency.
However, during his second season with Boro he began to demonstrate his devastating dribbling and play making ability, soon becoming one of the most feared attackers in English football. Juninho possessed that very Brazilian trait of being able to run with the ball at breakneck speed, with it seemingly glued to his magical right boot.
To say the 1996-97 was a mixture of highs and lows for Boro fans would be an understatement. The Boro faithful were treated to world class attacking displays by Juninho every week, but the North East club ended up suffering relegation from the Premier League after they were docked three points for failing to complete a fixture against Blackburn Rovers.
As they often say bad things come in threes, and to round off Boro’s bad luck they also reached, but ultimately lost the FA and EFL Cup finals in the same season. Juninho however had been superb throughout and the genuine anguish he showed after Boro’s relegation was confirmed touched the hearts of Premier League fans all over the World.
So good was the ‘Little Fella’ that season though he was voted the PFA Player of the Year, and remains the only player to have won the prestigious award while playing for a team that was relegated. Sadly, he was forced to leave Boro that summer in order to secure a place in the 1998 Brazil World Cup squad, and joined Atletico Madrid.
He would return to Boro on two further occasions, although a broken leg sustained during his time in La Liga stopped him from ever really producing the type of magical displays he so often showed during his first spell in England.
Juninho was however part of the Boro side that won the 2004 League Cup – the first major trophy in the clubs history – and famously remarked afterwards that it meant more to him than winning the 2002 World Cup with Brazil.