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Is it really all about Neymar? Theories as to why Real Madrid pursue the Brazilian market

The club’s insatiable need to snap up Brazil’s best young players is likely far more sophisticated than simply wanting to miss out on “the next Neymar”.

Liverpool FC v Real Madrid - UEFA Champions League Final 2021/22 Photo by John Berry/Getty Images

Does Real Madrid’s relentless pursuit of the best Brazilian youngsters go beyond finding the “new Neymar” or making up for failing to sign the Brazilian back in 2013? Why are we to assume that Florentino and Co. are “obsessed” with the failed Neymar signing, when Madrid as a club have far exceed Neymar’s career exploits. Madrid have won 5 Champions League titles in 8 years. Neymar has just 1 Champions League title to his name with a decade of elite European football under his belt. I am not convinced it is all about Neymar — I think the club are operating at a far more sophisticated level.

Take the international perspective: it is not that Neymar and Brazil have dominated World Cups either. Aside from Argentina’s most recent triumph on Sunday, the last four World Cups (16 years collectively) were won by European sides. It could be argued that the talent from countries like Germany, Spain, and France (most recent World Cup winning sides) would be the markets Real Madrid would look to snap up 16-year-olds.

Aside from the home-base of Spain, it can seem as though Madrid’s strategy is Brazil or bust. Yes, there is the odd variance with the likes of a Fede Valverde or a Take Kubo, but majority of Madrid’s scouting and big money talent investment goes to Brazil. Even after the Endrick signing was announced, Madrid was then linked with 17-year-old Victor Roque. So what is behind the now meme-driven pursuit of talented young Brazilians?

Some theories below:

Realized Potential

The term “realized potential” can be ambiguous, but in layman’s terms: Brazilians are more likely to meet their full potential based on their talent as a teenager. There is zero data from my side to back this claim up, but it would make sense given Real Madrid’s nearly €200 million investment in Brazilian teenagers over the last five years. Juni Calafat and his team may have the data or they simply may feel that Brazilian players adapt the fastest to the highest level. Madrid’s scouts may feel that the overall talent projections for a Brazilian player over a 3-5 year horizon translate best on a elite European club football scale vs other football talent markets.

Brazil = Value-Market

Despite paying what seems like hefty fees for teenagers, Real Madrid may feel it is “pennies on the dollar”. That phrase would ring true for both the signings of Vinicius and Rodrygo, who now far exceed their initial investment. With those young players typically signing a six year contract, the fee — use the example of €45 million for Vinicius Junior — is amortized to amount to as little as €7.5 million per year. By his fourth season and €30 million amortized, Madrid could easily turn around and sell Vinicius for €100M+.

At the end of the day, Brazilian clubs are willing to sell their best teenagers for an influx of cash. Given the time value of money and the risk associated with young players, Brazilian clubs would prefer to take a sum of €45 million now, then sell Vinicius Junior six years later for near €200 million. Despite that €200 million price tag being equivalent to a compounding 30% return year over year for six years, Brazilian clubs need the cash to maintain their existing overhead, pay debts, and re-invest in club infrastructure. They cannot afford to take the same financial risk as a club like Real Madrid. There is always the risk that the €45 million player now, ends up being a €5 million player in six years time.

European clubs, especially Champions League competing clubs, may not be in need of that same cash, knowing the potential future profits. Instead, they may slap ridiculous price tags on their coveted teenagers. It is like competing in a hot real estate market where sellers have the upper hand, they can demand above list price and the return on the value of the home begins to dwindle. Any investor would look to avoid oversaturated and high demand markets — Real Madrid are doing the same.

Adaptability / Culture

The football culture in Brazil is unlike any other — far from the structure of disciplined European academies, many of Brazilian’s most talented forge their skill on the streets or the beach. The raw skill, the fluid movements, and out-of-the-box solutions to taking defenders on or dealing with constraint space are far less mechanical than their European counterparts. Once a coach layers in the tactical acumen, these “raw” Brazilian players have an opportunity to explode. It links back to “realized potential”. Real Madrid may feel that their is simply more upside in Brazilian players given their culture and adaptability to different in-game environments.

The easy answer is to joke and say it all goes back to Neymar, but my hunch is that Real Madrid can back up the theories listed above with reports and data. Until the market dynamic materially shifts, Madrid will continue to fish in the Brazilian pond. The country has created a footballing culture that develops young players with potential that exceeds their assigned value.

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