Phil Town explains why Bolton should be wary of the arrival of a talented Brazilian
Bolton fans will be hoping that new signing Mário Jardel can repeat the goalscoring feats that made him a star in the Portuguese league but without the attendant problems off the pitch.
Jardel arrived from Brazilian side Gremio as a “goal machine” and left Portugal as one... twice. His first spell at FC Porto, during which he was top scorer in the league four times from 1996 to 2000, gave an incredible average of 33 goals a season. He left for Turkey (Galatasaray) and returned. His second Portuguese period, briefer but no less striking, was with Sporting. In his first season, 2001-02, he scored a massive 42 goals, which won him Europe’s Golden Boot. In his second he got 11. And thereby hangs a tale.
His overall statistics really cannot lie about the man’s talent: many of his goals were scored from impossible angles, or from subtle flicks of the head or foot, or from seemingly simple slips away from marking. Whatever, everyone in Portugal, regardless of club affiliation, was of one opinion... Jardel was a natural and feared goalscorer.
The main problem was that this was all taking place in Portugal, which is widely seen as a backwater of European football. This meant that his goalscoring feats were constantly being undervalued, by the market and also by the selectors of the Brazilian national team, most recently Felipe Scolari, who stubbornly refused even to consider him.
So, despite the adulation that he had at Sporting after a season during which it was blindingly obvious that he was the key factor of the team’s league success, he wanted more. And that’s when he fell out of love with Portugal and, eventually, Portugal fell out of love with him.
Sporting were regrouping following a second title in three years (after a hiatus of 18). Under Romanian coach Ladislau Boloni, they were perhaps a little naive in thinking that the same formula would do a second time around, ie get it to Jardel and he’ll sort it out. However, just before the season started, Jardel blew a fuse.
Ostensibly, the reason was a falling out with Karen, his theretofore devoted wife and, let it be said, Lady Macbeth figure. The first part of Jardel’s season was taken up with the separation and subsequent divorce from the statuesque Karen, including various trips to Brazil to deal with the related paperwork, and regular returns, invariably unfit, to Portugal.
However, on more than one occasion, Jardel made it clear that he did not want to play in Portugal, despite the fact that Sporting’s administration and fans had bent over backwards to accommodate the increasingly unpredictable Brazilian.
All of which gave rise to the idea in some quarters that the divorce from Karen might just have been a drastic, devious ruse (claiming psychological incapacity) to get out of the contract with Sporting and into a more lucrative one with a club of greater international standing. Now that Super Mário is back with Karen with apparently no damage done, this theory has gained even more credence.
But if Jardel’s season was getting off to a bad start, Sporting were faring even worse, dependent as they were on the gangling striker’s contribution to the team’s basic game plan. It was clear, however, that they had no Plan B and despite Jardel’s eventual but obviously reluctant return, and in the event impressive 11 goals, their season suffered a slow, painful, relentless petering out.
Sporting had made the mistake of putting all their eggs in the Jardel basket, as FC Porto had done previously and had equally rued the day. FC Porto have come out of their post-Jardel hangover with flying colours. Sporting have still to find the way.
Which all goes to sum up the advantages and the dangers of having a player like Jardel in your team, both on and off the pitch. Sam Allardyce has said that Bolton are specialists in dealing with difficult personalities. With Super Mário and the highly exigent Karen, they may well have to be.
From WSC 200 October 2003. What was happening this month