What happened to Keirrison, the Barca wonderkid Pep never wanted?
Barcelona has been home to some of the best Brazilian footballers to ever play the beautiful game.
Romario, Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Dani Alves and Neymar came, saw and conquered all before them during their respective stays at the Camp Nou.
Keirrison, however, was a different story altogether.
Billed by many fans as the worst Brazilian to ever play for Barcelona, the sudden rise and agonising fall of Keirrison is a story of false promises, careless clubs and unadulterated greed.
To put it bluntly: Keirrison was stitched up worse than Dr Frankenstein’s monster.
Born Keirrison de Souza Carneiro, his father chose his name as a tribute to his two favourite musicians, Keith Richards and Jim Morrison.
In some ways it proved apt: as a footballer, Keirrison was a ‘Rolling Stone’ regularly shown ‘The Doors’ at no fewer than 10 clubs in the space of just 12 years. [Ed: ffs.]
Still, there was something very rock’n’roll about the way he burst on the scene as a teenager at Coritiba, scoring 65 goals in 122 games and making history as the youngster ever player to finish as top scorer in the Brazilian top flight.
A move to one of Brazil’s biggest clubs, Palmeiras, followed. Keirrison scored a further 24 in just 36 games to earn the billing of the ‘new Romario’ on account of his predatory instincts in front of goal.
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It wasn’t long before he was being linked with a big-money move to Europe, with Liverpool and Roma both rumoured to be keen. Keirrison, however, had other ideas.
“Since I was little, I have always identified myself with one particular country and one great club. I have nothing against the other teams, but I have always seen myself playing for Barcelona,” he told Sport.
“I have watched Romario and Ronaldo play for them in the past and that made me aspire to want to play for a great club like Barca. I have also dreamed about playing alongside someone like Lionel Messi one day.”
He didn’t know it at the time, but his dream was about to become a waking nightmare.
In July 2009, Barcelona signed Keirrison on a five-year deal for €14million. At his unveiling, the youngster appeared confident of making an immediate impact.
“I hope to break into Pep Guardiola’s side, and join many other famous Brazilians who have played here,” he told reporters. “This club are the best in the world, and I am very lucky to be here so young. I have time to show my talents and win titles.”
But Guardiola was less convinced.
“The club has decided to sign him,” the Barca boss said. “In principle, he’ll go out on loan. I won’t be counting on him for this season.”
Just six days after completing his dream move, Keirrison was on his way to Benfica on a season-long loan. He would never play a competitive game for Barcelona.
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It later emerged that club president Joan Laporta had orchestrated the signing with the sole intention of loaning him out and selling him on at a significant profit.
It was an ill-advised policy Laporta adopted in the final few years of his time at the club and one that had already run into trouble.
Just a year earlier, in 2008, Barcelona gazumped Ajax to the €8million signing of Palmeiras defender Henrique. He was quickly loaned out to Bayer Leverkusen, who had an option to buy.
But he returned just a year later after Leverkusen opted against making the deal a permanent one. Several more unsuccessful loans followed before Barca cancelled his contract.
Henrique, at least, had been given the opportunity to underwhelm – the same could not be said of Keirrison.
If Laporta had hoped Benfica would serve as a shop window for Keirrison’s talents, they hadn’t counted on newly-appointed manager Jorge Jesus using him sparingly in his pursuit of a first league title in five years.
A bit of homework might have helped too: Benfica already had strikers Oscar Cardozo, Javier Saviola, Nuno Gomes and Weldon on their books with little room or patience for a precocious youngster trying to find his way in the game.
“Benfica are a big club in Europe but there is no point in moving to a club with a lot of strikers because it is not by chance that they are there,” Keirrison later lamented.
“Benfica tabled an offer and Barcelona accepted it. If I knew, I would have not have moved.”
In truth, Keirrison was a diamond in the rough; a player capable of finding the back of the net with a powerful right foot but in need of improvement when it came to his positioning and build-up play.
He needed game time to not only adjust to the rigours of European football but also improve as a player. He didn’t get that in Portugal, playing just seven games, or 335 minutes, of competitive football.
Benfica went on to win the league, but by then Keirrison had been recalled by Barca. By the time he returned to the Camp Nou in January 2010, it appeared as though the club was ready to cut its losses.
A deal was agreed with Fiorentina that saw Keirrison join the club on an 18-month loan deal with an option to buy for €14million, allowing Barcelona the chance to recoup their original fee.
Having reached the knockout phase of the Champions League as well as the latter stages of the Coppa Italia, Fiorentina manager Cesare Prandelli was in desperate need of goalscoring reinforcements with La Viola struggling in Serie A.
The club wasn’t afraid to gamble on young talent, having promoted 16-year-old Khouma Babacar to the senior ranks and signed West Ham megaflop Savio Nsereko earlier that season.
Given his profile as the ‘new Romario’, Keirrison was worth a shot. But by now his confidence and match fitness were lacking, and he was used sparingly.
There were occasional, infrequent, highlights. He opened his account for La Viola with a well-taken stoppage-time equaliser against Lazio and looked to have swayed the title race in Roma’s favour later in the season after scoring a goal against Inter Milan in a 2-2 draw.
Keirrison and Kroldrup on the scoresheet against Mourinho’s Inter 💪#OnThisDay in 2010 📅
Fiorentina v Inter 2-2 (Keirrison 11', Milito 74', Eto'o 81', Kroldrup 82')#ForzaViola 💜 #Fiorentina pic.twitter.com/kMNoixtZxT
— ACF Fiorentina English (@ACFFiorentinaEN) April 10, 2020
Keirrison’s time in Italy may have lasted longer than Roma’s Scudetto hopes, but only marginally.
That summer, Prandelli departed the club to take over as Italy manager and was replaced by Sinisa Mihaljovic. Keirrison’s loan deal was terminated soon after with just 318 minutes of football to his name.
Still on the books at Barcelona, the summer of 2010 saw Keirrison return to Brazil on loan at Santos, a broken man. He was only 21.
A shadow of his former self and unable to rekindle the form that earned him a move to Europe, he was little more than a bit-part player, watching on from the bench as a young Neymar inspired Santos to the Copa Libertadores.
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Another loan move, this time to Cruzeiro, brought more anguish. Keirrison suffered an ACL rupture to his right knee that left him sidelined for much of the season.
By March 2012, he was back where it had all began, joining Coritiba on a fifth and final loan deal that ran to the end of his contract with Barcelona.
“I never forgot and I will never forget the affection of this club,” Keirrison said upon re-signing. “That’s why I came back here. I’m sure I can do a lot more for Coritiba.”
Any hope of rediscovering the old magic was hampered by yet more injury woes. Keirrison suffered another ACL rupture on his right knee before he had even kicked a ball. He suffered another serious injury to his left knee soon after returning.
Even then, Keirrison returned to action 18 months ahead of the 2014 World Cup believing he could play his way into contention for Brazil given the dearth of decent strikers available.
But he never got the games or goals needed to make a late charge. To put it bluntly, he was a busted flush. His time at Coritiba ended on a bum note too, taking his once-beloved club to court over unpaid wages and medical bills.
Keirrison endured a fall from grace of Freddy Adu proportions – he was last reported playing out in the US with Palm Beach Stars in the United Premier Soccer League. He’s still only 34.
A cautionary tale, Keirrison’s story might be one of too much too soon, but it’s also one that highlights the dangers of elite-level clubs stockpiling talent and trading footballers like commodities with little regard for their personal welfare or long-term future.
Keirrison might well have been the worst Brazilian to play for Barcelona, but the sad fact is that fans will never truly know. He was never even given a chance to fail.
By Jack Beresford