Elano has played a key role for Santos so far this year
Having secured their place in the Campeonato Paulista semi-finals on the weekend, Rodrigo Beilfuss makes his long awaited debut for O Jogo Bonito with a look at Santos’ Elano.
Elano Ralph Blumer is a unique Brazilian footballer.
I’m not exactly referring to his talents, by the way.
He simply is unique.
He’s not a star, per se. Nor is he what Brazilians call a “craque” (an unquestionable genius). Elano’s style bears very little of that usual Brazilian dance-like flair, and in terms of looks, he’s far from exotic. A pasty white complexion paints his face, and piercing green eyes stare ahead, always attentively. Blonde curls hang from his head, and his physique, height and muscular design are average at best. Indeed, he’s not your typical Brazilian footballer.
And need I mention his name?! “Ralph”? “Blumer”?
Where are the traditional suffixes “inho” or “ão”?
However, there’s no question: I’d place him in my starting Brazil team any day of the week.
And I’m glad new Brazil boss Mano Menezes agrees with me, as Elano has recently re-joined the Seleção since their quarter-final exit in the World Cup.
Elano may not be an extraordinarily gifted individualist on the pitch, but he is exceptionally reliable, consistent, hard-working, tough and extremely versatile. In truth, the man is a complete midfielder, able to attack as well as defend with equal power and precision.
The former Manchester City and Galatasaray man was one of Dunga’s favourites during the manager’s four years in charge of Brazil, precisely because of his versatility and discipline. Nevertheless, when the pragmatic boss decided to make Elano one of his starters at the World Cup in South Africa, he suffered widespread criticism from the Brazilian media. Elano was regarded as mediocre and uninventive, lacking the extra spice that made Robinho and Kaka, for instance, so special.
They couldn’t have been more wrong.
Elano blossomed in Brazil’s first two matches in South Africa, displaying a style of football that was deadly effective and gently graceful. In both occasions, against North Korea and Ivory Coast, Elano not only scored, but he also provided assists and valuable help in the defensive sector. Unfortunately, minutes after scoring against Ivory Coast, Elano suffered a severe injury that took him out of the tournament. The malicious high-boot-to-the-shin tackle from defender Cheik Tiote bruised Elano’s tibia and caused his shin and ankle to become swollen. As a result, Elano was sidelined for the next three matches against Portugal, Chile and the Netherlands. And he was greatly missed, since Brazil’s midfield formation ceased to work once its dexterous player was out of the picture.
On the eve of Brazil’s quarter-final match against the Netherlands, Juca Kfouri, one of Brazil’s most respected football journalists (and a former “boo Elano” bandwagon member) wrote a prophetic piece called “The Loss Without Elano.” The loss Juca referred to was actually the feeling of absence in the team caused by him not being there, i.e. Brazil was losing/lacking something special without Elano. Ironically, Juca’s words ended up paving the way to what was a disappointing 2-1 loss to the Netherlands.
The result: Dunga was fired, Brazil joined Elano, and everyone was out of the World Cup.
But Elano’s story was not to end there. In fact, it was just truly beginning. The midfielder decided it was time to leave Europe behind, and as soon as he recovered from that fatal injury, Elano re-joined his first senior club in Brazil.
Recently, in his second spell at Sao Paulo club Santos, Elano’s free-kicks, corner-kicks and playmaking skills have been polished to near perfection. The man has indeed become a master of set-pieces, and he’s transformed himself into a team-leader of strong character.
Santos are currently competing in two major tournaments: the Libertadores Cup and the Paulista Championship. Elano has had a big impact in both of them, bringing a strong mentality to the team in a time when their biggest star, playmaker Paulo Ganso, is still struggling to recover from a long-term injury. The green-eyed midfielder has already scored three goals in the Libertadores Cup, and with ten goals to his name in the Paulista, he’s second only to Corinthians’ Liedson, who has eleven, in the top-scorers chart.
And the man isn’t even a striker!
This is a player who’s finally just reaching his full potential…and he’s about to turn 30. In football terms, that’s as old as a druid – almost.
Ronaldinho and Ronaldo, for instance, two of the biggest stars in the last two decades, reached their prime between their early and mid-twenties – which is considered “normal” in the modern game. By the time those players turned 30, their magic and power had faded drastically, and they were no longer able to compete at the highest level.
But, as mentioned, Elano is no “normal” Brazilian. In the aging department, he’s more Zidane than Ronaldinho.
His goalscoring abilities have increased with his age. Since re-joining Santos last September, Elano has kept an average of 1,25 goals per match. A vast improvement from his Shakhtar, Man City and Galatasaray days, when that average was between 0,14 and 0,27 goals per game.
And, similarly to Zidane, Elano seems to have acquired a sense of ease and grace with age. Everything he does on the pitch today seems to come more effortlessly, more elegantly. Elano doesn’t display that desperate need to impress anymore, so present in his days under the management of Dunga, or Mark Hughes at Man City. He is more focused and stronger than ever, and his sole objective is to play for the team, filling whatever role is required of him, be it as a defensive midfielder, central playmaker, center forward or right-midfielder…he can do it all, and well.
Unfortunately, the European media won’t really notice any of these developments. For them, and particularly for the insufferable English media, Elano’s best days are either gone or they never truly came true.
But, frankly, who cares?!
Elano certainly doesn’t, not anymore. His zen style on the pitch these days can confirm that. He is just another Santos product that seems to be at his best when playing at home, and the same goes for Possebon, Diego and Robinho.
Unlike Diego or Robinho, though, who are still out there trying to convince Europeans they have what it takes to become stars (even though we all know those players are utterly unhappy in Europe), Elano had enough of the cold, turned down a 1,5 million Euros deal, and decided to come home at the height of his powers.
Since his homecoming, Elano has found his way back as a starter in the national team (something not even the great Maicon has managed to do since the World Cup), and he’s assumed a key role at Santos as one of their most valuable and gifted players.
It was bold of him to leave profitable Europe behind, but the move has paid off.
All the better for us Brazilians, who get to watch him play just around the corner; and all the better for Elano, who’s finally at peace with his game.
May he grow younger every day.