Abex Futebol Brazil showing the way for Sporting Directors
The Association of Sporting Directors (ASD) recently welcomed Bruno Costa onto the Technical Committee in an appointment that will enhance the collaboration between the ASD and the Abex Futebol Brazil. Costa and Abex Futebol President Marcus Vinicius spoke to Colm Hand regarding their work, as the body for sporting directors and football executives in the country with the largest production of football players in the world.
Costa and Vinicius shared their personal journeys, challenges faced by their members and aspirations to grow the game in their homeland.
Bruno Costa’s career has been split between his native Brazil and the US where he currently holds the title of Head of Scouting and Recruitment at Major League Soccer (MLS) club the San Jose Earthquakes. However, Costa’s ties to Brazil remain extremely strong, with his prominent involvement with Abex Futbol.
‘I lived in the US for five years between 1995 and 2000, going to High School and I played College Soccer while working towards a degree in Sports Management which I completed in Brazil.’ Costa opened with.
‘Back in Brazil, I started to work as an Intern for the Brazilian Federation (CBF) and after three months, I was hired to manage the youth football operations which I did from 2001 to 2007. During this time, I also did a little bit of scouting and was responsible for all the different trips around the world for our teams. It was a very good experience at such a young age.’
Costa then took his first step into the club game with Brazilian giants Fluminense in 2007.
‘I moved to Fluminense to become the Academy Director and also the Assistant Sporting Director. I stayed there for four years, which was a period where we won the Brazilian league, and the Brazilian Cup.
‘I then spent just over a year at Figuerense as Academy Director before re-joining the Brazilian Federation as their Chief Scout for the youth national teams which included some scouting for the senior team. It was a fantastic opportunity and brought me up to almost ten years in total with the CBF. But I always had the desire to come back to America due to the growth of the game here.
‘I came back to the USA to become Sporting Director at Fort Lauderdale Strikers in the second division before joining the San Jose Earthquakes as Head of Recruitment, which I have done for the past six years.’ Costa said.
Abex Football President Marcus Vinicius was one of the founding members and has extensive experience within Brazilian football, working for clubs at all levels of one of the biggest football pyramids in the world.
‘I have a degree in physiology and started to work in 2000 and shortly after, I received an invitation to become Sporting Director at Paraná Club in the Brazilian Serie A. Similar to Bruno, I have been working consistently in the area for over twenty years.’ Vinicius said.
‘The football landscape in Brazil is vast, we have 27 states and we also have these state clubs. I live in Paraná state in the south and during my early career, I was working for a lot of small clubs where you have to do a lot of the day-to-day tasks. In 2013, I was with Criciúma and we gained promotion to the top division, which was great. But my experience has been across many clubs in the various divisions.’ he added.
Having held the role of sporting director for over ten years at various levels of the game, Vinicius’ network grew and his relationship with Abex Futebol was formed.
‘It was in 2013 that I met Cicero Souza and Ocimar Bolicenho who are founders of Abex Futebol and we became very good friends. That is how I first got involved, eventually becoming a board member, vice-president and now president as of this year. Both Bruno and I have been part of Abex Futebol from the beginning and it has been 11 great years.’
We have seen within the Association of Sporting Directors, the pressures of the role and role ambiguity (more here) and the growing media attention on the position. Many of the challenges experienced are the same in both Associations with networking and education playing key roles in developing the role of sporting director. Speaking to regulation Abex Futebol has worked closely with both the Brazilian Federation and Parliament to improve conditions for their members.
‘One of the challenges for us here is that there is increased pressure on the role of sporting director in Brazil. We have seen many peers lose their jobs due to poor results, so we want to really improve the regulations and recognition of the work. In the Brazilian laws and Parliament, the job of the sporting director is going to be officially recognised and regulated. This is something we have been working on for four to five years.
‘Another ambition is to continue to provide a network where we can help ourselves and each other. We are trying to create a situation whereas our sporting directors move, they are recommending their replacements through other members of the association. We have seen our impact with a greater degree of trust. Up until last year, the clubs were all political with elections taking place every two to three years, resulting in changes in personal. Now there is the shift for clubs to operate with more of a business style ownership model. This will provide greater stability and regulation for the role of sporting director.’ Vinicius added.
Costa’s experience within academy football and in the US, played a key role in the inclusion of academy directors in the association.
‘Abex Futebol started in 2011 and I became a member straight after their first meeting. My first heavy involvement came in 2012, as we also introduced the Academy Directors with the objective to act as a pipeline for Abex Futebol and sporting directors.’ Costa said. This is something echoed by the ASD: ‘We aim not only to cater for leading sporting directors, but also for the next generation of sporting directors. As Academy Directors have featured heavily in the talent pipeline for sporting directors, it was relevant for the ASD to support that talent pathway’, Dr Dan Parnell (CEO, ASD).
Abex Futebol also offers a qualification for sporting directors and many members including both Vinicius and Costa work as tutors on various CBF courses.
‘The impending regulations is also why we are working to deliver a qualification for sporting directors. Here we have made a partnership with the Brazilian Federation and created a ‘Football Executive’ course. We termed it ‘Football Executive’ because we want to keep it as an open recognition to all football executives and not just sporting directors – so to include academy managers, heads of recruitment etc. The main goal is to have our sporting directors licenced and recognised by the Brazilian Federation for clubs within the next three to four years.
‘The main reason the CBF created the course was on the back of Abex Futebol with our members including myself being some of the tutors. We are now had approximately 150-200 football executives in recent years and even as tutors, we have come through the course ourselves. It has really tightened our relationship with the Federation.
‘So in essence we have the education piece on the one hand and the other hand is working with the Brazilian Government to have the role recognised as a regular job. So there are two hands when it comes to the regulatory work we do, working side by side.’ Vinicius added.
This offers similarities to the work and evolution of the ASD. ‘The association is already involved in world leading education and was able to put some of this place recently when Mike Rigg and I joined colleagues at the Korea Football Association, however with our partners Ahead in Sport we will announce further educational opportunities in the coming months’, Dan Parnell.
Abex Futebol hopes to use their experience to benefit some of the members of the Association of Sporting Directors with both Costa and Vinicius seeing it as an ideal fit – the biggest producer of players in the world, working with sporting directors and staff some of the top clubs in the world.
‘We live in a global world where the sharing of information is extremely quick. It goes without saying that English football and the Premier League in particular are known all over the world. We also see a lot of business structures and player recruitment, so we feel Abex Futebol can learn a lot from the Association of Sporting Directors.
‘As an association we were established before the ASD and have experienced a lot we can share over our journey. Brazil is a country where football is a religion and we are the biggest provider of players in the world. We have a number of very good sporting directors in the country, as many have had to dance to different situations, different pressures, along with the political side of things. We can share so much of this experience across the two associations.’ Vinicius said.
With membership spanning across divisions and a potential change of league structure, Vinicius sees the partnership as a fantastic opportunity to help their members develop.
‘The Brazilian has four professional divisions and a total of 124 clubs but we have more than 700 professional clubs in the country playing in state tournaments. Understanding how our smaller clubs work, is also important to us as many of them experience harsh times. And their experiences can act as a great exchange among our members. So even for these clubs and members, seeing the ASD, there could be a lot of collaboration down the footballing pyramid. Many of the realities of the role are similar.
‘The Brazilian Federation run the league and there are now they are talking about creating a stand-alone league but this has been a long time coming. There is a new president at the Federation (Ednaldo Rodrigues), and there was a meeting recently between the clubs in the four divisions and how they can be supported. There is a big movement and there will be a need to have more sporting directors come through with the right mentality and development to run the clubs in the best ways. And I think that should be a goal for both associations, the have better sporting directors and better football.’ Vinicius stated.
For the ASD the partnership allows the organisation to continue to fulfil its aims, ‘The ASD seeks to provide regular and high-quality support, news and connections for sporting directors within professional football. Our members are incredible and key to creating this pioneering inclusive environment for leaders to support, connect and develop. To help our members prepare for future challenges of the game, we need to work with new people, who have new experiences, ideas, innovations and expertise. As such, joining with a long-established, mature and professional organisation like Abex Futebol will enrich the knowledge in our collaborative networks and bring so much value to what we are trying to achieve.’ Dan Parnell.
Costa’s MLS knowledge, network and experience is also an important link as the game continues to grow in America who will co-host the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
‘Also for myself, working in the MLS, it is a very important link between what is happening here, in Brazil and in England. We have other, sporting directors, heads of recruitment etc. working in the MLS and further afield such as Edu who is one of our members of Abex Brazil. A large proportion of our top clubs domestically have our members in place – we have Cicero Souza at Palmeiras, we have Rodrigo Caetano in Mineiro, Paulo Angioni in Fluminense So the association has a very important say on the decisions happening within Brazilian football.
‘So linking Brazilian football for dealings, relationships, recruitment, sharing of methodology and knowledge, it could be brilliant for both sides. The biggest provider of footballers in the world and some of the biggest leagues in the world, working side-by-side.
‘I know how important this relationship can be and I am very active when it comes to Brazilian football as I want to give back. Having Marcus Vinicius as a President, as someone who is a very open person is very important too.’ Costa said.
It is evident that Abex Futebol has experienced many of the same challenges facing members of the ASD. The importance of building your network to connect with and support others, alongside education are at the core of Abex Futebol’s work which is aligned with the aims of the ASD. Bruno Costa has joined the Technical Committee and there is a fantastic opportunity to build on the relationship amongst both groups of members.
Article wrote by Colm Hand, student on the Football Industries MBA at the University of Liverpool.
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