9 Europeans Who Have Played for Clubs in South America as Botafogo Eye Arjen Robben

Jamie Spencer
May 6, 2020, 12:38 PM GMT+1
Boca Juniors v Almagro - Copa Argentina 2019
Boca Juniors v Almagro - Copa Argentina 2019 | Rodrigo Valle/Getty Images
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Brazilian club Botafogo are ambitiously trying to tempt former Chelsea, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich winger Arjen Robben out of retirement for a swansong in the Brasileirao.

Robben called time on his glittering career shortly after leaving Bayern last summer, having won 12 league titles in four different countries, as well as the Champions League in 2012/13 and multiple domestic cups.

A report from Globoesporte explains that Botafogo official Ricardo Rotenberg has made contact with Robben’s camp to put the question to the 36-year-old Dutchman.

FC Bayern Muenchen v Eintracht Frankfurt - Bundesliga
FC Bayern Muenchen v Eintracht Frankfurt - Bundesliga | TF-Images/Getty Images

Rotenberg himself insists that Robben, not Lionel Messi, was the best player at the 2014 World Cup and his personal favourite player. He added that Robben responded to the calls and was happy to be contacted by Rio de Janeiro-based Botafogo – the iconic former club of Garrincha, Jairzinho, Didi, Gerson, Nilton Santos and other Brazilian legends.

So far, it is only in the preliminary enquiry stage, but Rotenberg has already roped in assistance from businessman and agent Marcos Leite, who helped broker Japan star Keisuke Honda’s move to Botafogo earlier this year.

Wile South America to Europe is a path well travelled, the same cannot be said about moves in the opposite direction. It is relatively rare for a European to make that journey, but here is a look at nine players who have done it...

Juanfran (Sao Paulo)

Internacional v Sao Paulo - Brasileirao Series A 2019
Internacional v Sao Paulo - Brasileirao Series A 2019 | Lucas Uebel/Getty Images

Upon his release from Atletico Madrid in the summer of 2019, two-time Champions League finalist Juanfran ventured outside Spain for the first time in his career.

The right-back, who had started his career at Real Madrid, joined Sao Paulo. He became the first Spaniard to sign for the club since 1936 and the first European since 1967.

Colin Kazim-Richards (Coritiba & Corinthians)

Cruzeiro v Corinthians - Brasileirao Series A 2017
Cruzeiro v Corinthians - Brasileirao Series A 2017 | Pedro Vilela/Getty Images

Colin Kazim-Richards was once known as the ‘Coca Cola kid’ when a Brighton fan won a competition to have the drinks company pay a £250,000 transfer fee in 2005.

He later wound up playing Champions League football for Fenerbahce and was even the only ‘Englishman’ to play at Euro 2008, representing Turkey for whom he qualified via his mother’s family. By 2016, he switched his club career from Europe to Latin America.

Kazim-Richards first joined Brazilian club Coritiba and then spent time with the more famous Corinthians in 2017 and 2018. More recently, he has left South America to play in Mexico.

Pablo Mari (Flamengo)

Liverpool FC v CR Flamengo - FIFA Club World Cup Qatar 2019
Liverpool FC v CR Flamengo - FIFA Club World Cup Qatar 2019 | Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

Spanish centre-back Pablo Mari was still waiting for his career to properly begin when he joined Flamengo in the summer of 2019, just a few days before turning 26.

Mari had been snapped up by Manchester City after impressing in Spain’s lower leagues with Gimnastic, but a series of loans in the years that followed saw him forced into life as a nomad.

By the time Flamengo made an offer he was desperate to settle somewhere, recently telling The Guardian: “A footballer’s life is short and we’d been waiting years for an opportunity. We didn’t care where and we knew the moment we got it, we were going to take it.”

Mari helped Flamengo win the Brasileirao in 2019, as well as the Copa Libertadores, and played in the FIFA Club World Cup final against Liverpool, prior to joining Arsenal on loan.

Dejan Petkovic (several clubs)

Brazil's Flamengo Dejan Petkovic (L)
Brazil's Flamengo Dejan Petkovic (L) | VANDERLEI ALMEIDA/Getty Images

Dejan Petkovic is perhaps a long since forgotten name in Europe, where he made his name with Red Star Belgrade in the early 1990s and earned a move to Real Madrid. But after failing to make the breakthrough with Los Blancos, he got his first taste of Brazilian football in 1997.

From the late 1990s to early 2000s, the former Yugoslavia international turned out for Vitoria, Flamengo and Vasco da Gama. Further spells at Fluminense, Goias, Santos and Atletico Mineiro took his tally of Brazilian sides to seven, ticking several of the country’s biggest names.

Petkovic returned to Flamengo aged 37 in 2009 to a backdrop of scepticism, only to then play a vital role in capturing that year’s Brasileirao title, which was their last until last year.

Lutz Pfannenstiel (Atletico Hermann Aichinger)

Fortuna Duesseldorf v FC Bayern Muenchen - Bundesliga
Fortuna Duesseldorf v FC Bayern Muenchen - Bundesliga | TF-Images/Getty Images

Lutz Pfannenstiel famously made a career out of travelling the world and has become a cult figure as a result of being the first footballer to play for clubs on six different continents.

Having started his career at lower league German side Bad Kotzting in 1991, South America was the last of the six continents to tick off. Pfannenstiel achieved that in 2008 when he signed for little known Brazilian club Atletico Hermann Aichinger.

Charlie Mitten (Santa Fe)

Charlie Mitten Manchester United
Charlie Mitten Manchester United | Central Press/Getty Images

A star of Matt Busby’s first great Manchester United team in the late 1940s, Charlie Mitten earned the nickname ‘Bogota Bandit’ in 1950 when he was offered a huge signing bonus and a weekly wage more than three times his existing salary to join Independiente Santa Fe in Colombia.

English footballers were still subject to a maximum wage of £12 per week at the time and Mitten was reputedly offered £40 per week to move to Bogota, plus £5,000. Two Stoke players had already made the switch to Santa Fe and the era is known as ‘El Dorado’.

The Colombian league had broken away from its national federation in 1948 and was therefore not under FIFA regulation. That meant players could join without transfer fees.

Mitten’s time in Colombia was only short as the league soon returned to FIFA jurisdiction. His official registration was still held by Manchester United, forcing him back to England in 1951. Upon his return he was banned for six months by the FA and sold to Fulham.

Daniele De Rossi (Boca Juniors)

Boca Juniors v Union - Superliga 2019/20
Boca Juniors v Union - Superliga 2019/20 | Marcelo Endelli/Getty Images

Daniele De Rossi spent 18 years in Roma’s first-team, but rather than retire when he left in 2019, the World Cup winner opted to join Boca Juniors. The move fulfilled a personal ambition for the player, having previously been open about his admiration of the Argentine club.

De Rossi only played a handful of games for Boca in the end, citing family reasons and homesickness for his 2020 exit and subsequent retirement.

David Trezeguet (several clubs)

River Plate v Estudiantes - Torneo Final 2013
River Plate v Estudiantes - Torneo Final 2013 | Gabriel Rossi/Getty Images

David Trezeguet was born in France and famously won the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 with Les Bleus, scoring a golden winner in the final of the latter. But he was born to Argentine parents who were in Europe for his father’s football career and he spent most of his early life in Argentina.

Trezeguet actually started his own career at Buenos Aires-based club Platense, making his debut as a 16-year-old. Soon afterwards a successful trial at Monaco yielded a contract, making his name there before then spending 10 years at Juventus and becoming a club hero.

After brief spells in Spain and UAE, Trezeguet’s career took him back to Argentina in 2012 when he joined River Plate. That was followed by a spell at Newell’s Old Boys, Lionel Messi’s boyhood club.

Clarence Seedorf (Botafogo)

Vasco da Gama v Botafogo - Brazilian Serie A 2013
Vasco da Gama v Botafogo - Brazilian Serie A 2013 | Buda Mendes/Getty Images

Should Robben accept Botafogo’s invitation, there is already a path to follow after former international colleague Clarence Seedorf spent two years with the club at the very end of his own glittering career.

A veteran Seedorf in his late thirties played just shy of 60 games for Botafogo in those two Brazilian seasons, helping his team win Rio’s state title in 2013.

Brazil was an obvious choice the Suriname-born star, who was raised in the Netherlands from an infant, as his wife is Brazilian. He is also thought to have previously started learning Portuguese when he was at Real Madrid and shared a room with Roberto Carlos.

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