When Atlético Mineiro won the Copa Libertadores – South America’s Champions League – in 2013, they gained a whole raft of new followers. With recognisable stars like Ronaldinho and Gilberto Silva, a thrilling emerging talent in Bernard and a cosy stadium that throbbed with sound on match night, they were certainly an attractive proposition.
At the Independência (they turned down the chance to play at the renovated Mineirão), the Roosters would overwhelm opponents with their high-intensity game plan, pressing all over the pitch and attacking with ruthless diagonal thrusts. It wasn’t the most nuanced tactical set-up, but by golly it worked.
Their success appeared to confirm a trend: Brazil was simply getting too good at this Libertadores lark. Atlético were the fourth Brazilian winners in four years, following in the footsteps of Internacional, Neymar’s Santos side and Corinthians, who went through the competition unbeaten in 2012, conceding just four goals. You had to go back to 2004 for the last final with no Brazilian representation.
This dominance was largely grounded in money. In recent years, Brazilian football has taken something of a Great Leap Forward when it comes to the commercial side of the game, exploring new revenue streams and profiting from growing global interest.
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