Ferreira, Deco, Maniche, Carvalho - graduates of Porto's 2004 Champions League winning side were all expected to go far. However, one name was being spoke about in hushed tones as possibly the best of the lot, courting regular rumours of moves to some of the world's biggest clubs. What has become of Carlos Alberto?
In 2004, Carlos Alberto had the world at his feet. The teenage attacking midfielder, a product of the Fluminense youth system in Rio, had secured a transfer to Portuguese giants Porto – then managed by José Mourinho. Within months of moving to Europe, he had written his name into football history; scoring the opening goal in Porto’s Champions League final win over Monaco. Blessed with both technical ability and laudable doggedness, Carlos Alberto appeared set for stardom.
But stardom never arrived. Eight years later, Carlos Alberto is back in Rio de Janeiro, hoping to grasp the latest in a growing series of lifelines. At the still-tender age of 27, he is trying to salvage a career cast in the shadow of that early triumph. His is a story of missteps and false starts, one that highlights the perilous nature of life as a professional footballer.
His troubles began in 2005, when he moved to Corinthians. Despite initially impressing during the club’s Brazilian title win of that year, he gave the first hint at the disciplinary problems that have subsequently plagued his career. The youngster was involved in a very public slanging match with coach Emerson Leão during a Copa Sul-Americana game against Lanús, and was immediately suspended from first team duties.
The midfielder jumped ship to Fluminense, but was soon faced with a new problem. Media Sports Investment (MSI), who purchased Carlos Alberto’s economic rights at the time of his move to Corinthians, decided to cash in, selling the player to Werder Bremen. Carlos Alberto was heartbroken, but powerless to stop the move going through. “My owners want something that I don’t want,” he complained at the time. “I’d like to stay at Fluminense.”
After failing to make an impact in Germany, Carlos Alberto embarked on a series of loan moves back to Brazil. Spells at São Paulo and Botafogo were punctuated with ill discipline and unrest, before, in early 2009, he joined Vasco da Gama.
Life at the São Januário seemed to suit Carlos Alberto, who enjoyed perhaps the most stable years of his playing career to date. Initially signed for six months, his dynamic appearances soon convinced Vasco president Roberto Dinamite to extend the loan, and eventually secure a permanent transfer. Vascaínos came to adore the dreadlocked midfielder, whose commitment helped the club return to Série A after their surprise relegation in 2008.
The honeymoon period lasted just over two years. A loss of form in early 2011, coupled with a series of rows with Dinamite, saw Carlos Alberto shipped out on loan, first to Grêmio, then Bahia. Hampered by injury and apparent homesickness (Grêmio director of football José Simões said that the midfielder simply “hadn’t been able to adapt” to life in Porto Alegre), he failed to make an impression with either outfit. Carlos Alberto’s career appeared to be hanging by a thread.
This cat, however, must have a couple of his nine lives remaining. With very little fanfare, Vasco invited Carlos Alberto back to train with the first team this month, on the condition that he proves his fitness and dedication to the cause. The murmurs coming from the São Januário have thus far been positive, and he was rewarded this weekend with a 45-minute run-out against Nova Iguaçu.
The one-time talisman may now be just another squad member, but he was warmly received by the Vasco faithful. “My leg was shaking when I started warming up,” Carlos Alberto admitted after the game. “It was great to feel that emotion.”
Whilst the old Carlos Alberto may have protested at being ushered back into the fray via the back door, one senses that he is finally beginning to appreciate small graces. “This is my life: playing football is the only thing I know,” he said on Sunday. For a man whose career has so often flirted with disaster, merely being back in contention is cause enough for celebration.