As Brazil appear to be on the crest of a footballing wave, one of its brightest prodigies of a generation now finds himself playing in Japan’s third-tier.
Hailed as the ‘New Ronaldinho’, Kerlon introduced himself to the world with a string of dazzling performances in the 2005 South American U-17 Championship. He earned himself a move to one of Europe’s elite clubs, but a string of injuries and a lack of matches resulted in him taking break from the game.
His skill, pace, and finishing prowess shone through as he won both the Golden Boot and Best Player award on the way to helping his country win the 2005 Championship. He also showcased the ‘drible da foca’ (seal dribble) in which he terrorised opposition defenders by running at them with the ball bouncing continuously on his forehead, until he was invariably stopped, abruptly. His exploits inevitably attracted interest from some of the biggest European clubs but Kerlon waited until 2008 to leave his Brazilian club Cruziero. His stock had decreased somewhat since 2005, he still seemingly had the world at his feet aged just 20. The eventual winners in the race for his signature were Italian giants Internazionale. Technically, Kerlon was signed to Serie-A side Chevio for registration purposes, but he was an Inter player in waiting.
His likeness to Ronaldinho must have been a great honour at the time, but there was an air of expectancy and being tipped as the star of his generation has surely been the monkey on his back ever since. Putting that amount of pressure on a young footballer isn’t unheard of, but it is often counter-productive to many a nascent career.
His slender frame and a knee injury meant that he failed to make any real impact during his brief spell with Chevio. The diminutive playmaker then had unsuccessful loans with Ajax followed by a return to Brazil, both did little to boost his confidence, or Inter’s now ever-diminishing faith in him. After failing to make any impression in his 18 month return to Brazilian football, Kerlon took a break from football. Little was heard of him until August of 2012, when he was revealed to be playing in Japan’s third-tier with Fujieda MYFC, a club run by online subscribers through the My Football Club scheme (the same scheme that rose to prominence by taking control English non-league team Ebsfleet United). It’s astonishing to think that a player who had the potential to be playing on the World stage for club and country is now turning out in front of crowds of around 500 people in Japan.
As the warn-out cliché goes: some players, namely South American players, fail to adapt the physical demands of European leagues and competitions. However, other players from Kerlon’s U-17 squad included Marcelo, Anderson , Renato Augusto and Denilson. All of whom moved away from their home country in search of the promised land of European football, but they seemingly adapted better, becoming squad players at the very least. Lessons can be, and perhaps have been learned from Kerlon’s story, possibly why the likes of Neymar chose to continue to make a name for himself in a league he was becoming accomplished before venturing into European football.Kerlon’s short-lived hype acts as a stark warning to players from South America, flair players who may (or may not) need to radically adapt their game in order to compete with the physical demands of European football, and that previous success stories aren’t as easily emulated. Kerlon’s career most certainly can’t be dismissed as a write-off just yet though, as he is still only 24. The videos of Kerlon performing his tricks and showing off his stunning ability have attracted millions of views, and his name will continue to live on through the player he used to be. But one fears that if he isn’texposed to regular football of a decent standard then he may just spend the rest of his days wondering what could have been.