In a recent report published by the Portuguese Football Players' Union, Portugal's First Division had, last season, a higher number of players born abroad (55%) than those of Portuguese origin (45%). As result, proportionally, Portugal had the second highest rate of foreigners in its major league, just behind the English Premier League.
Even though no official numbers were presented, it is easy to see that from those 55 percent, the vast majority comes from South America.
Whereas this trend has been constant in the minor teams, the big three teams—Benfica, Porto and Sporting—had, until recently, been able to balance this South America 'attraction' with the capacity to buy or produce the best national talents available.
However, in recent years that push for Portuguese players seems to have lost most of its appeal, in particular for big spenders Benfica and FC Porto.
The former has for 2009/2010, 20 foreign players (out of 31, for now). From these, 16 come from South America, nine of them from Brazil. This means that Benfica is able to play with a starting 11 (and five subs) composed entirely of South American players.
Porto, on the other hand, has 16 foreigners out of 26 players, all but one coming from South America. In the case of Porto, Brazil's dominance is not clear, with only five players coming from that country, but again, the possibility of playing with a team only composed of South Americans is there.
Even Sporting Lisbon, famous for its youth academy has nine foreigners out of 24 players in the squad, seven of them coming from South America, five from Brazil.
In total, the big three have 45 foreign players out of a total of 81. From these, 38 come from South America, and 18 from Brazil.
In a country that has its football strength in its capacity to continuously produce quality football players, this opening to the South American market is certainly more damaging than positive, for both sides.
For Portugal, as it limits the possibility of local players getting a place in a squad of a first division side, filled with foreign players that, in many cases, arrived for their price rather than for their quality.
For South America, as it reduces the quality of the football played in the various national championships, where second level players replace the first level players that left to Europe.
The case of Anderson, currently at Manchester United, is case in point. Spotted by Porto scouts when he was playing for Grémio in the youth ranks, played in the Porto Alegre's club first team for five matches, before moving on to Porto where an injury limited is contribution to the team to 15 matches.
By the end of the season, he was in Manchester, where he seldom played in the first season.
Neither Grémio fans got to see the player that was 'born' in their youth ranks play for their team for at least one season, nor Porto fans had the opportunity to see a player that was supposed to become a fan-favourite, develop its talent in the Portuguese stadiums.
Foreign players can obviously be an added value to a championship. In Portugal, many good foreign players have greatly contributed to improve the level of the game.
However, in a time of unrestricted flow of players, limits must be set and regulations imposed. Not only in the number of players allowed per team, but also in terms of age limit and minimum number of matches played. Local players need to play, foreign players need to settle, and fans need to have reference players in their own teams.
After all, United could have waited until Anderson was 25, Porto could have waited until he was 22 and Grémio fans could have had the pleasure of seeing their player become an international star for at least four years.