Clarence Seedorf latest to impress
15 July ~ Brazil is often viewed from without as a kind of adventure playground for teenage footballing savants. You've seen them on YouTube, running amok as lumpen-heeled centre-backs tie themselves in knots and groan with humiliation. From Pelé's riotous early years through to the marketing-friendly ascent of Neymar, youth has often held pride of place in a country that, in many ways, is itself taking its first steps. But in recent years the Campeonato Brasileiro is increasingly a league in which older heads can flourish.
Last season a rejuvenated Ronaldinho waltzed his way to the Brazilian Player of the Year award, dragging Atlético Mineiro from crisis-happy also-rans to title contenders in the process. He was joined in the team of the year by Zé Roberto, whose energetic performances on the left of Grêmio's midfield continue to belie his 39 years. Since 2008 Dejan Petkovic (38), Roberto Carlos (37) and Marcos Assunção (35) have all featured in Placar magazine's Bola de Prata – awarded to the best XI of each Série A season.
Things haven't been any different this year. The star turn has been Clarence Seedorf, who has rolled back the years with a sequence of blistering displays for improving Botafogo. After such a distinguished career in Europe the Dutchman could have been forgiven for taking things easy upon his arrival 12 months ago – he wouldn't have been the first to be seduced by the beaches, barbecues and beer. But Seedorf has shown laudable commitment to the cause both on and off the pitch, leading the Rio outfit to a state championship title and embarking on a PR offensive that has seen him charm the Brazilian public.
Former Fenerbahce favourite Alex is also enjoying a fine season. Repatriated by hometown club Coritiba after a 16-year absence, the playmaker has already scored 18 goals since the turn of the year and has set up countless more. He, like Seedorf, has benefitted from the fact that his game was never based on pace; quickness of thought can easily compensate for ageing legs, particularly in a league that is hardly known for its ability to produce cerebral, tactically astute players.
The success of footballers at the top end of the age spectrum is dictated in part by market forces: with so many Brazilians being snapped up by European clubs or tempted by Middle Eastern cash during their prime years, the vets have to step up now and again. While fans have long since resigned themselves to seeing only the bookends of their idols' careers, there remains plenty to get excited about. As the recent displays of Ronaldinho, Seedorf and the rest prove, Indian summers can be just as alluring as youthful emergence. Jack Lang