Today, we will see the difference between the Brazilian and Italian football systems. We tend to believe that the functioning of football is the same all over the world.
Differences between the Brazilian and Italian football systems In Brazil
Image: Reprodução GE
In Brazilian soil, it’s difficult to properly differentiate professional players from amateurs.
Several small teams have athletes who don’t have football as their only occupation since the lower stratum of the football world is often ignored by the media and communication outlets.
The truth is that an unequal country like Brazil also experiences this reality in the football environment.
While Serie A clubs in the Brasileirão can pay up to R$ 2 million monthly to a player, the vast majority of footballers must survive on infinitely lower salaries.
To give you an idea, according to a 2021 study by the University of Football, 55% of Brazilian players receive up to 1 minimum wage as compensation (R$ 1,100 at the time – approximately €207). This amount makes it impossible for the average Brazilian citizen to survive, let alone support a family on such a salary.
Furthermore, the million-dollar salaries offered by Serie A clubs have a powerful effect on the average salary, which stands at around R$ 8,400, among the approximately 11,000 registered professional players.
But what are the reasons for this?
Brazilian football is very undemocratic. It is divided between State Federations and the highest governing body of the sport, the CBF.
State entities are responsible for early-year tournaments, in which teams from the same state compete for the champion title. These tournaments typically last a maximum of only three months, with few exceptions, such as the Copa Paulista, which takes place in the state of São Paulo after the end of the São Paulo championship.
The CBF, on the other hand, organizes national tournaments, including the Brazilian Championship and the Copa do Brasil.
The Brazilian Championship is divided into four divisions, ranging from Serie A, the national football elite, to Serie D.
Serie D, to the uninitiated, may seem like an insignificant championship. However, they do not understand the difficulty these teams face in even earning a place in national competitions.
Clubs are eligible to play in Serie D depending on their performance in state championships and cups held at the beginning of the year. Therefore, if a team does not perform well in the state championship, it is likely to spend the rest of the year without a schedule. Without games, how can they meet their commitments, such as paying a decent salary to players, utility bills, personnel, etc.?
The Copa do Brasil, on the other hand, features 92 teams from all Brazilian states. However, it only allows small clubs to play a maximum of three games, most of the time. This is because it is impossible for smaller, less prominent clubs to compete with the so-called “big” teams in Brazil, especially after the inclusion of the teams that qualified for the Libertadores in the round of 16.
In the past, teams like Juventude, Criciúma, Santo André, and Paulista de Jundiaí managed to win the trophy. But currently, due to the financial disparity that leads to an enormous technical gap between teams, these “upsets” are becoming increasingly rare.
Therefore, in Brazilian professional football, we refer to clubs that are eligible to compete in state and national competitions, as long as they are organized by the state federations and the CBF, respectively.
Furthermore, the path to professional football in Brazil is a two-way street.
An athlete can become a professional player overnight. They can play in the streets and magically be hired by a professional team (examples like Fred and Leandro Damião).
The other, more common, alternative begins with the athlete, from a young age, joining the youth categories of a specific club. As they age, they move up through the categories until they reach over 20 years old, when the youth football ends.
At this point, the player either becomes a professional, signing a contract with a club that fits the aforementioned criteria or has to look for another profession.
This system is a true grinder of human beings, especially in a country like Brazil, which has a significant portion of poor people. These young people see football as an opportunity to change not only their own lives but also those of their families and everyone around them.
Therefore, a young person who reaches the age of 20 and cannot find the chance to become a professional player will have few alternatives, as they likely neglected their studies throughout their adolescence.
Solutions need to be found.
In the Old Continent, taking Italy as an example, the organizational structure of football is different.
The FIGC (Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio) takes responsibility for organizing regional and national championships. Since Italy is not divided into states but regions, the FIGC has a relatively easier organizational task compared to Brazil due to its smaller geographical size.
However, there is a clear division between professional and amateur football in Italy, and both fall under the umbrella of the FIGC.
The youth sector, which could be compared to the Brazilian youth categories, starts at under-14 and goes up to the so-called “juniores,” for players aged 18 to 20.
However, this is not necessarily the end of the line for young Italians. They can sign professional contracts with Serie A’s top clubs, although other paths can be followed.
The fact that the FIGC controls both amateur and professional football creates a more scalable system, with greater synergy between the two. This also helps define roles, which is crucial.
After the youth and junior sectors, in terms of size, there are the “Dilettanti,” which would be considered amateur football, divided into the following categories:
- 3rd Category
- 2nd Category
- 1st Category
- Serie D
Yes, unlike Brazil, Serie D in Italy is considered amateur.
Another interesting aspect is that one of the primary factors for what is considered the most traditional refereeing in football is that Italian referees have to move from one category to another until they reach Serie A, subjecting themselves to frequent evaluations by observers of the F.I.G.C through the Italian Referees Association.
Only in this way can they be promoted, if they do so within a certain time and with positive evaluations.
- Serie C
- Serie B
- Serie A
This clear distinction between amateur and professional football in Italy creates a more organized system and provides real opportunities for athletes to balance their football careers with other employment.
Points to be noted by the CBF.
Image: Il Centro
In Brazil, Várzea is synonymous with amateur football.
But what exactly is Várzea football?
In the literal sense, “várzea” means a long, flat terrain. In Brazil, such terrains are used by the local community as football fields.
There, local residents, on their own initiative, organize their teams and compete in tournaments among themselves, without any regulation from Brazilian football authorities.
Várzea is more than that. Várzea is the feeling of representing your neighborhood and it moves crowds wherever it goes.
In recent years, Várzea tournaments, due to the initiative of organizers and economic interests from advertisers, have started to adopt a format similar to professional football.
Separated into divisions, especially in the Greater São Paulo area, teams manage to raise funds and pay players, often retired professionals, through sponsorships, prizes, and support from fans.
Examples of this are the Copa Pioneer, Copa Kaiser, and Taça das Favelas.
Players like Pará, a former right-back who won the Copa Libertadores with Santos; Christian, a former Corinthians midfielder who won the São Paulo championship and the Copa do Brasil; Jailson, the former first-choice goalkeeper for Palmeiras, who won the Brasileirão; and many others.
Image: Edu Garcia/R7
Appeal to the CBF
This article intends to demonstrate that the Brazilian football system is far from ideal.
What is presented by the mainstream media barely scratches the surface of the football machine in the country.
The CBF, as the highest authority in the sport, should focus more on projects and means for professional and amateur players, as well as clubs, to have the opportunity to participate in the world’s most popular sport in a dignified manner.
This involves creating a wider network of national championships, providing a stage and incentives for athletes to not spend three months playing and nine months looking for work to support their families.
One alternative, given Brazil’s continental dimensions, would be to create regional championships. For example, competitions among northeastern, northern, southeastern, southern, and central-western teams.
Economic means are not lacking, as the entity had a cumulative surplus of R$ 143 million (about €27 million) according to the 2023 balance.
Another positive step would be to promote, organize, and sponsor amateur tournaments, with the support of Várzea leaders, in order to structure amateur football in Brazil, which currently lacks institutional support.
Furthermore, providing greater support to national football, promoting greater democratization, fair salaries, and integration with federations, both in the player sector and for referees.
The truth is that these measures would benefit Brazilian football, the very people who are involved in the sport, as well as those who are passionate about it.
Do you believe these measures could be beneficial for Brazil?
Image: Thais Siqueira
Written by Vitor F L Miller.