If Neymar was more inclined towards reflecting Brazilian footballers’ long and fruitful association with Paris St.Germain than personal brand building, he might have chosen 33 as his squad number this season rather than the more predictable 10.
With him and Dani Alves the latest additions, the number 33 now represents the total number of Brazilians to have played with the French club since its formation in 1971.
This symbiotic relationship has its roots in the complex nature of the typical Parisian football fan. This was a city that for decades thumbed its collective nose at run-of-the-mill League fixtures, yet would readily turn out in its thousands for big European nights and Cup finals. Only when football could be sold as a show business event could it attract the fickle attentions of the Parisian public, so what nationality of player better represents glamour and exoticism as Brazilians.
This long-running love affair between Paris and Brazil wasn’t love at first sight however. The first Brazilian to pitch up in the French capital was World Cup winning central defender Joel Camargo for PSG’s debut Ligue 1 season in 1971 and his acquisition proved little short of disastrous. A player of undoubted pedigree he might have been, but Joel spectacularly failed to adapt to a new country and culture. His game was badly affected and he made just two appearances before returning home at the end of his debut season.
Eight years elapsed before the club dared to dip its toe into the Brazilian market again. The player this time was Vasco da Gama’s Abel Braga, a one-time capped central defender who proved more dependable than his predecessor and played regularly over the next two seasons.
After signing just two during their first two decades of existence, Paris St.Germain started to adopt a more determined Brazil-first transfer approach in the early 1990s – with some success. In 1991 the club followed a different path from before by acquiring three Brazilians from Portuguese giants FC Porto and Benfica: the powerful central defender Geraldão, the elegant sweeper Ricardo Gomes and the mercurial wide player Valdo.
The advantage here was that all three were already assimilated into European football and PSG did not have to face the issues they had encountered with Joel. Ricardo and Valdo were particular successes for the club.
Two years later the French club pulled off something of a coup when acquiring midfield playmaker Rai from São Paulo. At the time Serie A dominated the European game and every established Brazilian star wanted to play there. PSG realised they would have to box clever and try and sign up and coming players of great potential who had not landed on the radar of the traditional giants of the European game. The signing of Ronaldinho in 2002 followed this model.
Rai spent five hugely influential years in the French capital and PSG continue to enjoy a valuable relationship with São Paulo to this day; Lucas Moura and Gustavo Hebling from the current squad both followed this same path while Leonardo, who spent a season in Paris in the 90s before moving on to Milan, was also of São Paulo origins, although he was signed from Japan.
The period between 1997 and 2007 could be labelled a lost Brazilian decade for PSG with 16 Brazilians coming and going again soon after having made a negligible impact – the exception being Ronaldinho whose contributions were always fairly fitful in his two seasons at the Park des Princes anyway.
Brazilians flooded in from all quarters: the failing ‘next-big-thing’ Adailton, the Serie A midfield liability Vampeta, the Saint-Etienne successes but Paris flops Alex Dias and Aloisio, another failing ‘next-big-thing’ in striker Christian. Then there was the succession of anonymous and underwhelming names that even PSG supporters will struggle to recall: César Belli, Denilson (not the famous one), André Luiz, Souza, Reinaldo, Everton Santos, Edmilson. Unsurprisingly the club’s abject transfer failings in the Brazilian market mirrored their general failings on the field of play in this era.
In 2011 the club rediscovered its appetite for all things Brazilian and the signings of central defender Alex from Chelsea and Maxwell from Barcelona instigated a concerted push to assemble a large clique of seleção players, greatly abetted by the huge influx of Qatari money that flooded in the following year.
Joining Maxwell are Lucas Moura, Thiago Silva, Marquinhos, Gustavo Hebling and now this summer’s new pair to take the current Brazilian contingent at the club to seven – the most players from Brazil, or indeed any other country, that PSG has ever had on its books at once.