A struggle to adjust to life abroad and cope with a career-threatening injury led to a dramatic fall from grace for one young Brazilian star, as Paul Joyce recounts
When Bayern Munich signed Breno Vinícius Borges for €12.3 million (£9.6m) in December 2007, they appeared to have landed a major coup. The 18-year-old central defender had just been voted "Discovery of the Year" by journalists after helping São Paulo FC to become Brazilian champions. Already an Under-20 international, Breno had been nominated captain of Brazil's 2008 Olympic team by national coach Dunga.
Yet integration into a new way of life in Germany proved difficult for Breno. His parents were unable to obtain a German visa and had to stay in Brazil. Breno's difficulties in learning the new language left him feeling isolated during training. Unable to drive, Breno became increasingly reliant on his wife Renata, who joined him three months later in Munich with her children from a previous relationship.
After only 12 first-team appearances for Bayern in two years, Breno's career seemed resurrected by a loan move to 1.FC Nuremberg in January 2010. But after eight games for the club, Breno sustained a cruciate ligament tear in his right knee and had to return to Munich – and the substitutes' bench.
On September 19, 2011, Breno was informed that he would require a third operation on his knee. Fearing that "everything was over" and that his career was "at an end", he consumed a cocktail of beer, port and whisky as well as sleeping pills allegedly obtained from Bayern Munich. "I know that he had free access to medical drugs at Bayern," claimed Breno's former manager, Guillermo Dimiranda. The club themselves vehemently deny the accusation
By that evening, Breno's character had become dangerously disturbed. "Satan had taken hold of his body," his wife claimed later. "He was no longer himself." Believing that his villa in the Grünwald district of Munich was surrounded by police, Breno rushed outside three times, even jumping from a first-floor bathroom window. Fearing that her husband had a knife, Renata fled the house with her children.
Shortly after the villa burnt to the ground in what neighbours said w as a "giant fireball with huge explosions", with flames rising up to five metres. A policeman who arrived on the scene found Breno outside wearing only shorts and sandals. According to his police statement: "Mr. Borges was covered from head to toe in soot, had three lighters in his pocket and asked if he could go back to Brazil now that the house had burned down." Claiming to remember nothing of the night's events, Breno was taken to a psychiatric institution for his own safety.
On July 4, Breno was found guilty of aggravated arson and sentenced to three years and nine months in prison. After serving his sentence, he will then face deportation from Germany. Giovane Élber, the former Bayern Munich striker who had recommended Breno to the club, was stunned by the verdict. "Prison won't help him," Élber said. "The boy is ill, he's got problems." He also accused Bayern of not helping Breno enough to integrate, claiming that the club had "other things on their mind".
Yet Bayern has a good reputation for supporting players from different cultures. "There is a family atmosphere in Munich," said the Japanese midfielder Takashi Usami. "What happened with Breno isn't the club's fault." On his arrival in Germany in 2011, Usami was given a translator and personal assistant. Bayern insist that they offered Breno the same services, but he declined.
Bayern president Uli Hoeness also criticised the perceived injustice of the verdict. "I don't know whether we need to differentiate between a bricklayer who can resume his career when he gets out of jail and a young player who can do nothing but play football," Hoeness argued. "If you're taking away his career for ever, that's totally incomprehensible for this crime." But he has received little support from elsewhere in the Bundesliga. "Thank God that German justice doesn't differentiate according to a person's career", said Martin Bader, sporting director of 1.FC Nuremberg. "Breno caused this to happen and is responsible for his actions."
In the meantime, Breno has started his sentence in Stadelheim prison. His lawyers have announced that they will appeal against the verdict, but the Federal Supreme Court will not rule on the appeal until late autumn at the earliest. Whatever happens, it seems certain that Breno will now not be joining Lazio, who signed the player after his contract at Bayern lapsed in June. Their technical co-ordinator Igli Tare also described the sentence as excessive: "After all, he didn't murder anyone."
From WSC 307 September 2012