Manuel Veth –
It was January 2016, and it seemed indeed possible that the Bundesliga could celebrate the return of one of the most prolific playmakers the league has ever seen. FC Schalke 04, which were looking to bolster the midfield in the January winter, were in advanced negotiations with the Brazilian playmaker, and Corinthians star, Renato Augusto.
Renato Augusto first moved to Germany in the summer of 2008 when he joined Bayer 04 Leverkusen on a deal officially worth €5.2 million. The deal was, however, not without controversy, as it later emerged that Bayer actually paid a total of €10 million for the rights of the player, as 40% of the player’s rights were owned by Traffic, and the MFD investment group, which had paid €1.5 million to Flamengo in order to participate in any potential future transfer of the player.
Renato Augusto Quickly Became a Sensation at Bayer Leverkusen
Renato Augusto quickly became a sensation at Bayer Leverkusen. The Brazilian showed vision, speed, and was always an attacking threat for any opposing defence. In his first season with the Werskelf (as Bayer is called by its fans) Renato Augusto managed 33 matches in the Bundesliga in which he scored twice and recorded eight assists. His club also managed to reach the 2008-09 final of the DFB Pokal (the German Cup) where Bayer ultimately lost to Werder Bremen 0-1.
The final in Berlin included several players who would later emerge as world stars, such as Werder Bremen’s Mesut Özil, the Brazilian Diego, the Peruvian Claudio Pizarro, as well as Bayer 04’s Arturo Vidal. In the end, it was Mesut Özil, who decided the final when he scored in the 58th minute to make it 1-0 for Werder Bremen.
The following year was very much a lost season for the playmaker, as Bayer’s coach Jupp Heynckes most frequently used the Brazilian as a winger rather than as a playmaker. A string of injuries also meant that Renato Augusto could not reach the form of the previous season.
The 2010-11 season may have been the best season for the Brazilian in Germany, as Renato Augusto managed seven goals and seven assists in 27 games for Bayer Leverkusen. Coach Jupp Heynckes also returned the Brazilian to his favourite position in the centre of the park.
At the end of the season, however, Heynckes left Leverkusen to join Bayern Munich. Bayer had hired Robin Dutt from SC Freiburg, who was considered by many the coach of the future. Dutt had been very successful at Freiburg, yet Freiburg is also considered the most secure position for any manager in the Bundesliga, as the club values continuity over quick success, and even accepts the occasional relegation to the 2. Bundesliga as a reality of life.
At Bayer, however, Dutt joined one of the most ambitious clubs in Germany and, as it turned out, the young manager was not up to the task of dealing with the highly talented crop of players. It was no surprise that this also was Renato Augusto’s worst season in the league so far, as the Brazilian managed just 18 appearances. In October 2011, Renato Augusto had to have a knee operation. He did not return until February 2012, just in time to be part of Bayer’s historic 2-10 (1-3, and 1-7) aggregate Champions League defeat to FC Barcelona in the round of 16. Renato Augusto then suffered further injuries throughout the season, and never managed to regain his form.
His injury problems continued throughout the 2012-13 season when he only managed six matches in the Bundesliga. Throughout the season, doubts surfaced as to whether Renato Augusto’s body was capable of withstanding the high demands of Bundesliga football. At this point the Brazilian was only 25 and, when fit, he was still regarded as one of the most exciting players in the league.
Renato Augusto – Return to Brazil
Before the winter break there were indications that Renato Augusto might indeed leave Leverkusen, and the playmaker, in tears, waved goodbye to the Bayer fans after the club’s last match against Hamburger SV before the winter break. Then on January 8, 2013, Bayer Leverkusen announced that the club had sold Renato Augusto to Sport Club Corinthians Paulista in Brazil.
At the time, Leverkusen’s sporting director Rudi Völler explained: “During his time at Bayer Leverkusen Renato has given us many wonderful football moments. But injuries meant that the last few months have been very difficult for him. We will always have good memories of him, as he has been a major part of the club’s positive development.”
In his time with Bayer, Renato Augusto managed 100 Bundesliga games and eight goals, but Bayer’s CEO Wolfgang Holzhäuser admitted, at the time, “Renato is a Brazilian through and through, and he missed his home. We believe that a new beginning in Brazil will be beneficial for him, especially as he wants to become an alternative for the Brazilian national team.”
Back in Brazil, Renato Augusto quickly established himself as one of Corinthians’ most important players. But despite playing regularly for his club in the 2014 Campeonato Brasileiro Série A Renato Augusto failed to make the Brazilian national team for the 2014 World Cup.
This may have been a blessing in disguise, however, as the national team failed miserably in its attempt to meet expectations, and then was duly dismantled 7-1 against Germany in the semi-final of the tournament. Perhaps things would have worked out differently for his country had Renato Augusto been in the line-up, as Shakhtar Donetsk’s Bernard did not replace Brazil’s star Neymar, who had picked up an injury in the quarterfinal against Colombia.
Perhaps, with Renato Augusto in the line-up, the score would have been different but, as it stands, the midfielder was spared the greatest humiliation in footballing history. Furthermore, Renato Augusto, who was obviously disappointed at being left out of the 2014 Brazil World Cup squad, became a man possessed in the 2015 Série A season.
Corinthians won the 2015 Brazilian championship in convincing fashion, and Renato Augusto was voted the player of the season. His performance also meant that he managed to return to the national team.
Also, his performances have not gone unnoticed abroad and, now aged 28, and in peak physical condition, the playmaker seemed to be once again ready to move to Europe.
Renato Augusto – China or Germany
Schalke seemed to be the most interested party, and believed that they were in an excellent position to land the Corinthian. It then emerged that Bayer Leverkusen had included a transfer clause in Renato Augusto’s contract with Corinthians. Bayer had sold the playmaker for €3.5 million, but retained 40% of the players rights.
As the German newspaper Bild reported, Corinthians had to sell the player if a club offered €8 million, of which €3.2 million would go to Bayer. Schalke then activated the clause by offering €8 million to Corinthians.
The problem, however, was that the Chinese Super League club Beijing Guoan was also aware of the contractual clause. That winter, Chinese football clubs had started to invest heavily—in fact no other league in the world invested more during the winter transfer window—and clubs from the Chinese Super League had especially targeted South American players, who are more likely to be enticed by a big money offer from an emerging market than to be looking to build a legacy as a player.
As the wonderful documentary Mata Mata highlights, there is a good reason for the money first approach, especially among Brazilians. Brazilian players often find themselves in a situation were they don’t just have to support themselves, but rather become the breadwinner for their entire family. Indeed, often Brazilian players are like mini-businesses, who with their football have to feed not only their immediate family, but future generations as well.
The German paper Sport Bild reported in January that Schalke went to the very limit when offering a contract to Renato Augusto. But Renato Augusto’s agent Carlos Leite wanted €4 million after taxes (€8 million before taxes), as well as an additional €2 million for signing the contract. The Chinese, meanwhile, offered €9 million a season (at a much lower tax rate), an offer that Renato Augusto simply could not refuse.
Before Renato Augusto left the club, Corinthians had already suffered from the new spending power of the Chinese league, in that the club had lost several key players to Asia (read more about this here). Corinthians fans had no problems with players leaving for Europe where they could play for better clubs, enjoy better infrastructure, and where they could improve their skills. To leave a historic club like Corinthians for China, however, a league that was deemed below the level of the Série A, was seen by many, as a major snub to Brazilian football tradition.
Renato Augusto “I Have to Think About my Family and the Future”
Renato Augusto, meanwhile, explained, “I have to think about my family and the future. I have a long history of injuries—and, because of that, you start thinking. I have a once in a lifetime chance, and the city [Beijing] is also fantastic. Furthermore, Renato Augusto stated, “I didn’t chose China, China chose me. As a player you have ten years to make money. When you get an offer like that, you think about the future of your kids, and even grandkids.”
Many in Brazil were disappointed with Renato Augusto’s decision but, in Germany, the reaction among Schalke fans was one of understanding. One user wrote on transfermarkt.de “Good luck to you Renato Augusto, go and feed your family.”
In China, Renato Augusto has mostly disappeared from the media attention he would have received if he had signed for Schalke. But, despite having moved to China, Renato Augusto is featured in Brazil’s squad for the Copa America Centenario, and he was amongst the scorers in Brazil’s 7-1 win over Haiti on Wednesday June 8. Brazil will face Peru on Sunday June 12 at the Gilette Stadium in Foxborough.
For football lovers this could be one of the last opportunities to see one of the most elegant playmakers of our day playing on the big stage before he re-joins Beijing Guoan, which are currently located in the no-man’s-land of the Chinese Super League.
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist, and PhD candidate at King’s College London. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. His thesis is entitled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States”, and will be available later this year. Follow Manuel on Twitter @homosovieticus.