Five years ago he was plying his trade in the Japanese Second Division. This week he returns to his old stomping ground with a Brazilian cap to his name and looking to fire Santos to glory at the FIFA Club World Cup. Aleks Klosok reports on Borges’s remarkable career path.
Appearing on television adverts, billboards and on magazine covers, at the age of just 19, Brazilian football’s teenage sensation Neymar is already a ubiquitous figure in Brazilian popular culture. His strike partner at Santos and 12 years his senior, Borges, has had to bide his time for his turn in the spotlight but now that he’s made it to the top he’s eagerly looking to make up for lost time.
In stark contrast to the aforementioned wunderkind, whose rise to global footballing stardom has been nothing short of meteoric, Borges’s road to success has been far from straightforward – one that has taken him from the south of Brazil to East Asia and back again. Despite enjoying a successful spell at Paraná Clube, it was in 2006, during his solitary season in Japan with Vegalta Sendai, where the Salvador-born striker made his mark. Under the former South African manager Joel Santana, he scored 26 goals and in the process became the Japanese Second Division’s leading scorer. Unlike Hulk, who trod a similar path in enjoying an equally successful spell in Japan that was to earn him a lucrative move to Europe with Portugal’s FC Porto, Borges returned to home comforts to join Muricy Ramalho’s São Paulo.
During his two years with Tricolor the 5ft 9in centre forward came to the fore, enjoying both individual and collective success. He quickly gained a reputation as an instinctive finisher, who given even the slightest bit of time or inch of space inside the six yard box would come to punish opposition defenders for their slack marking. In his 84 games for the Estadio Morumbi outfit he scored a total of 27 goals. Alongside fellow striker Dagoberto, the two struck up a formidable attacking partnership, which was to be instrumental in guiding the club to successive Campeonato Brasileiro Série A titles in 2007 and 2008. Borges’s excellent form continued into the following season in the Copa Libertadores where he emerged as São Paulo’s star striker, that despite the club’s disappointing early elimination from the tournament.
Following a stint with Grêmio with whom he won the Campeonato Gaúcho, the Rio Grande do Sul State Championship, earlier this season he once again joined forces with Ramalho – this time at Santos. Having carefully monitored his progress during his time at São Paulo and before that at São Caetano, the 56-year-old knew what he was getting for his money, namely a tricky customer upfront and a dependable source of goals. Whilst on occasions the man known as Cyborges, Didier Drogborges and Borjão, among others, can be known to go missing for large parts of the game, when provided with a goalscoring opportunity he’ll usually make little mistake in putting the ball in the back of the net. Since his arrival at Peixe, neither manager nor fans alike have been left disappointed by his performances.
Despite losing Zé Eduardo, a key member of Santos’s Copa Libertadores winning team, to Genoa in this year’s January Transfer Window, Borges has revelled in his role as the club’s number 9, spearheading Santos’s three man attack, flanked either side by Neymar and Alan Kardec. His reputation as one of the most consistent goalscorers in Brazilian football held true this season with his tally of 23 goals in 31 both surpassing the previous club record held by former striker Serginho Chulapa that had lasted for 28 years and earning him the Bola de Prata de artilheiro do Campeonato Brasileiro (Brazilian football’s silver boot), awarded by the nationwide football magazine Placar. His consistently high levels of performance on the pitch coupled with his goalscoring prowess culminated in him earning his first cap for A Seleção – albeit at the age of 30.
His 72 minute debut in the Superclásico de las Américas against Argentina in September showed signs of promise, combining well with his club strike partner Neymar whilst causing problems for the Argentine defence, in particular using his intelligence to hold up the ball and bring his fellow teammates into the attacks. Such has been the wave of popular public support for Borges that many Brazilian fans feel that the 31-year-old deserves to be given a thorough examination by Head Coach Mano Menezes in future international friendlies. And whilst he still harbours hopes of claiming a place in Brazil’s 2014 FIFA World Cup Finals squad, in the short term at least, both his and the focus of his Santos teammates is firmly set on this week’s annual FIFA Club World Cup.
Following victory in the Copa Libertadores in June, Santos’s focus has been geared towards the tournament in Japan. Ramalho side must first dispose of the hosts and this season’s Japanese First Division Champions Kashiwa Reysol in the semi-final before they can think about a dream meeting with FC Barcelona, who must overcome Qatar’s Al-Sadd, in the final. Much of their success will depend on whether another of Santos’s stars, Paulo Henrique Ganso, can find time and space to thread balls in behind Pep Gaurdiola’s defensive line and how well the team can press and attack as a unit. Whilst they’ll undoubtedly miss the presence of their defensive midfielder Adriano, they’ll be delighted to see Elano return to the fold. His ability to deliver quality from set pieces as well as instigate counter-attacks could prove crucial.
48 years on from Santos’s last triumph in the then Intercontinental Cup, Borges will be hoping that he’s the one to follow in the footsteps of another footballing great, Pelé, in firing Peixe to glory, sealing his own place in Santos folklore and thus completing his own remarkable career turnaround.