RIO DE JANEIRO, Dec 5 (Reuters) - The idea of signing a big-name European player was unheard of in Brazil until Botafogo landed former Dutch international Clarence Seedorf in June at the age of 36.
Six months later, the Suriname-born former Ajax, Sampdoria, Inter Milan, Real Madrid and AC Milan midfielder has became a hugely respected player in Brazil and a father figure to his team mates.
"I think I've helped open a door, (and shown) that it is possible that you have a very good experience in Brazil," Seedorf told Reuters in an interview.
"Brazil generally was an export country and now they have shown they can also import, and that has to do with the economic growth in the country.
"Look at Neymar who is still playing (here). (In the past) a guy like him would have been in Europe two years ago, so that's positive."
For the last 25 years, there has been an almost incessant flow of Brazilian footballers abroad, with hundreds leaving the country annually for more lucrative and organised leagues elsewhere.
Until recently, the idea of foreigners moving in the other direction was almost unheard of.
Most Latin American players would head for Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Mexico while intensely nationalistic Brazilians wondered why the sport's most successful country should need foreign players at all.
That situation has changed dramatically over the past few years. Players from other South American countries have earned a grudging respect in Brazil and the country's economic boom has reinvigorated local football, providing lucrative sponsorship deals.
Although Seedorf is married to a Brazilian and knows the country, his move still raised eyebrows as European players usually chose to play out their careers in the Middle East, the United States or Australia.
"It was a long process before I got to the final decision," he said. "Brazil obviously has great potential, there are many opportunities here with the Confederations Cup coming up, World Cup coming up, the Olympics coming up, and from that point of view I was very interested in being in this market.
"Botafogo have a very ambitious project, it's a very ambitious club, they want to get back to where they were before, with a young team.
"That was really a big motivation for me after 10 years with AC Milan, finding a new enthusiastic project that could help me get up in the morning and say 'here we go again' and keep the drive going.
"I have to say I am not regretting my choice. It has been very intense...a great experience, new culture in football and also in life."
Despite his popularity, Seedorf needed time to get used to his new life.
"There are many, many small details which are important for players," he said. "Training is very early in the morning, nine o'clock because of the nice sun, so many aspects that are part of a great experience but also a challenge in adapting.
"There is more creativity, there is a little bit less discipline tactically but that is exactly the balance and there is no good or better way, it's very different but it's also very intense."
The biggest eye-openers were the hectic schedule and the wildly fluctuating crowds at matches.
"They play every three days but what surprised me most were the fans because they are all crazy about football here but they don't really go to the stadium," he said.
"That is something which surprised me a lot, because for the important matches they fill Maracana with 120,000 people easily, then all of a sudden you have only 3,000 people going to the stadium (for the next game)."
Any fears that Seedorf might have struggled fitting in were soon dispelled. Brazil has taken to the Dutchman as quickly as he has taken to the country.
"I know I've worked hard to bring value to Botafogo and to Brazilian football," he said. "The whole of Brazil has embraced me in a positive way, shown me a lot of love and I can only show gratitude for that.
"I can only try to be an example on and off the pitch, performing as best as I can, helping football in general." (Additional reporting by Felipe Araujo; Editing by Clare Fallon)
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- Clarence Seedorf