One of Brazil’s leading agents, Wagner Ribeiro, has been a key figure in the supply chain of talent from his Latin America nation to Europe for two decades.
Outspoken, controversial and influential, he has handled a conveyor belt of stars and, in some blunt comments, upset big names at home and abroad.
Ribeiro has a habit of talking ‘from the hip’. He has always said it the way he sees it…
Now, in an exclusive interview with Yahoo, he calls for an overhaul of the transfer system with a switch to just one ‘window’ and forecasts a big club comeback for Jose Mourinho.
Perhaps, more importantly, however, he says world football is heading for a period of potentially seismic changes – with ambitious China emerging as a leading global football power within a decade.
But most of all, he agonises over the state of Brazilian football while hinting that he is ready to guide its hottest young player Gabriel ‘Gabigol’ Barbosa to the Premier League and, possibly, Arsenal.
He is curiously reluctant to give away too many facts as rumours link 19-year-old hot property Gabigol of Santos to a range of top European clubs led by Arsenal.
Ribeiro previously guided the careers of stars like Kaka, Robinho and Neymar Jr and Gabigol looks set to become the next star.
“Gabigol is young, a 19-year-old athlete who has been maturing quite fast and proving himself for the last couple of years,” he said.
“Honestly, with him, we are talking of a true talent – extremely focused, who takes care of his physical condition and someone who will certainly become a top striker, just like Adriano was at his peak.”
Arsenal? The silent shrug gives nothing away.
Ribeiro talked to Yahoo just 24 hours before Chelsea’s Brazilian star Ramires was first linked with a £25 million move to Jiangsu Suning in the Chinese Super League – a stunning bid that confirmed China’s massive intent to become a football super-power.
Hebei China Fortune also signed former Arsenal star Gervinho from Roma for €15 million.
That backed Ribeiro’s view that China is rapidly becoming one of the economic powerhouses in world football.
“The English Premier League is simply outstanding,” he admitted. “It features clubs that seek the beauty of our sport. It is the most competitive in Europe and extremely rich.
“But without the foreign players it would not be at the level to attract so much attention and to lift its viewing figures.
“Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Chelsea would not be the leading clubs in the world if they lacked money.
“And Italian football isn’t the same, not anymore, not without the same level of investment it had a few years ago.
“But China is growing because there is a new financial reality in football. Ten years from now, their national clubs will be competitive.”
Answering questions thanks to the aid of a translator, Ribeiro clearly believes that a wealthy Chinese Super League packed with some of the world’s best players can be a huge threat to the European clubs and leagues that dominate the global TV market.
If an increasing number of the top stars go to China, instead of England, it could signal the rise of a new era for football.
The decay and demise of Brazilian football, the corruption at the heart of FIFA in Zurich and the economic strength of Asia as a market for China suggest he may be right.
But he is reluctant to talk too much because of the intense speculation that surrounds the January transfer window.
“It’s horrible,” he said of the current window. “It we take Brazil into account, it’s horrible that it is not matching the system as we face players being transferred during the National League – they should establish a single unit (a single window).
“Brazilian football is broken. Clubs owe taxes and also have debts with former players and, even though the investment allocated by TV rights pays relatively well, Brazilian clubs are always anticipating their figures up front to liquidate their current economical duties.
“Now, with the new laws, clubs will no longer be allowed to spend amounts (of money) they don’t own (have), and this is their responsibility towards the government. (So), clubs sell their players for a low price if needed in order to cover their usual budget deficit.”
All of this, according to Ribeiro, has led to corruption and scandal.
“Since the club presidents and board of directors are not granted a fixed salary for their positions, corruption becomes a reality as these parties get involved with a third one to satisfy their own products,” he explained, in answers supplied via translation from Portuguese to English.
As a result of this, Brazil’s famous reputation as the home of the beautiful game and exporting source of the greatest talent has been tarnished.
In South America, Ribeiro said, it is now Argentina that leads the way.
“Brazilian football continues to have an excellent production line, but Argentina knows better how to sell their players,” he said.
And he added, in a swipe at former national coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, that Brazil’s humiliating 7-1 defeat to Germany on home soil in the 2014 World Cup finals was a “catastrophe”.
“We lost to ourselves,” he said. “We lost because we exceeded our pride. The coach was overrated, addicted to an old vision.
“He was just like a careful grandpa with his grandchildren. No charisma. Instead, lots of arrogance. Our national coach had not developed over the years. He forgot football is a team sport and demands set pieces, tactics, foundations. It was a catastrophe. Losing 7-1 to Germany was basically what we deserved.”
In 2012, his criticism was much more bitter. He reportedly called Scolari “an old jerk, arrogant, repulsive, conceited and ridiculous.”
His sadness at Brazil’s plight is in contrast to his admiration for the wealth and power of the English league.
As the once-embattled representative of former Real Madrid manager Wanderlei Luxemburgo and of Neymar, it was no great surprise that Ribeiro attacked Scolari with such venom.
But he has a different view on the more technical and intense Jose Mourinho and the future of the former Chelsea boss.
“Jose Mourinho is a hard worker who studies football a lot, that’s why he is so good,” he said.
“I am sure he will be back. It won’t be long and we will see him back with a top club again.”
And, for a Brazilian, he has a surprising idea for the future of FIFA.
“The home of football has lost its credibility,” he said. “We are sure, now, about the bribes and money laundering. We need a new president who is a serious professional and comes from a Germanic background – someone strong to guide a new way. Then we can have a better future…”
No names? No, not now. After all, it is still January.
Gabigol picture credit (Twitter.com/Gabigol)