Ranking the 17 weirdest Brazilian signings in Premier League history
There is nothing more intriguing than your club signing a Brazilian.
It’s a long time since the illusion that everyone from the ‘pais do futebol’ is some sort of Zico-esque samba star wore off. Let’s face it, there are more Freds about than Neymars.
But there is a glamour and appeal that lingers, a golden sheen earned in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s that has proved resistant to wear and tear.
Yet as we know, the appeal is sometimes greater than the reality. There have been plenty of instances of Premier League clubs signing Brazilian duds or players who have just turned out to be… well, odd.
Here, we’ve brought together 17 of the weirdest Brazilians to grace the English top flight since 1992.
17. Leo Bonatini
Before Gestifute client Bonatini arrived at Wolves on loan, he’d played a few games for Goias, a few more for Estoril Praia and then pulled on the shirt of Al-Hilal. Not a glittering palmares.
That said, the boy initially did alright in the Championship in his first year after joining on loan, scoring 12 goals – albeit the last of those was scored in December – to convince Wolves’ owners to bring him in permanently at the beginning of their first season back in the Premier League in 2018.
Or maybe it was Jorge Mendes who convinced them. Who knows?
Either way, the step up was too great. After no goals in seven games, by which point his run of league games without a goal had stretched to 30 across two seasons, he was sent on loan to Nottingham Forest in January 2019.
He’s now at Zurich Grasshopper in the Swiss second tier, where he has become the highest-earning player in the history of the league and managed to score twice in 15 games. As Swiss newspaper Blick recently pointed out, that’s 1.1million Swiss Francs per goal.
Like we said, sometimes the appeal is greater than the reality.
West Ham have had some really questionable strikers over the years, haven’t they?
Ilan wanted to change that though. He arrived in January 2010 on a six-month deal to add a bit of extra firepower to Gianfranco Zola’s struggling side and scored on his debut.
A long dry spell followed, but in March, as the days warmed and the trees blossomed, he suddenly sprang to life, scoring winners against Sunderland and Wigan to earn the Hammers the points they needed to stay up.
Yet if he wanted to earn a longer-term contract, he had a funny way of showing it. In April, he told the News of the World: “Zola has lost control of the team and it is impossible for him to recover it.” Come the end of the season, he vanished as quickly as he’d appeared.
15. Claudio Cacapa
Cacapa arrived at Newcastle in 2007. A classic Sam Allardyce free agent job. Wasn’t much cop, unfortunately.
In one game against Portsmouth, he was so bad that Allardyce hooked him after 18 minutes and put on *David Rozehnal*.
This one is almost too high-profile to be deemed weird, but cast your mind back to 2008 for a second.
City were newly flush with Abu Dhabi’s oil money and, on the very last day of the transfer window, they needed to make a statement. Robinho was at Real Madrid, but he hadn’t really worked out as they’d hoped and they were ready to let him depart for the right fee.
Robinho thought he was off to Chelsea, but at the last minute City stole in and snaffled him away. £32million, they paid.
Robinho gave every impression that he’d never heard of City in his life, which he probably hadn’t, to be fair. Doubt they showed much third-tier English football on Brazilian TV in the late nineties.
He stayed for a season and a half, got in a fight with Craig Bellamy, then pissed off. Good riddance.
Another one who went to West Ham. Another Big Sam job. Could have been great in different circumstances.
Some might be under the impression that The Little Fella Juninho Paulista was the first Brazilian to sign for an English club in the Premier League era. If so, they are mistaken.
In July 1995, a few weeks before Juninho arrived on Teesside from Sao Paulo, Coventry snapped up attacking midfielder Isaias from Benfica.
He looked the business. He was terrific in the Primeira Liga for Benfica; so good, according to Isaias himself, that Porto manager Bobby Robson “almost had an orgasm” when he heard the Brazilian would start a derby between the two sides on the bench.
Isaias had helped the Encarnados humble the Arsenal in the European Cup in 1991, too, sticking two past George Graham’s supposedly impenetrable backline on a cold November evening at Highbury.
Ron Atkinson forked out half a million bob for him. A decent amount in those days. Then Isaias got injured. Then Gordon Strachan came in. Isaias and Strachan didn’t see eye to eye. The Brazilian was frozen out.
Isaias refused to cancel his contract without compensation, which seems fair enough. But it meant he only made 14 appearances over two seasons in the Midlands with two goals to his name, almost all of them before Christmas 1996. Shame, really. We wonder what he spent all that free time doing in Coventry?
11. Bruno Perone
Weird one this one. Proper weird. Bit niffy, if we’re honest.
Here’s Bruno’s CV from 2008 to when QPR signed him in 2011: E.C. Noroeste; Corinthians Paranaense; Figueirense; Tombense; Mirassol; Xerez.
If Spanish Wikipedia is to be believed (and it’s good, is Spanish Wikipedia – have a look, it’s mental how the format varies from language to language), he’d played three times for Xerez in 2010-11 and got sent off twice.
Now here’s Bruno’s CV for the four years after he left in 2012: Linense; ADRC Icasa; Tombense; ABC; Gremio Novorizontino; Kerala Blasters; Wilmington Hammerheads.
Not exactly big time, that.
10. Alexandre Pato
Oh, Alexandre Pato. Alexandre, Alexandre. What might have been. The heights you could have reached.
Let’s choose to remember those glory years at AC Milan, rather than the ignominy on loan, warming the bench at Chelsea in 2016.
🎈🇧🇷 @AlexandrePato 🇧🇷🎈
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) September 2, 2019
Another one of City’s Brazilians, Glauber Berti arrived a day before Robinho. He spent one season at the City of Manchester Stadium, almost all of it on the bench. After 21 matches in the squad as an unused sub, he came on for his debut five minutes from time in the last game of the season.
City fans loved him though. Some have kept up the tradition of calling the bench ‘the Berti’ in his honour.
In 2020, he recalled his debut to the Athletic: “Every time I touched the ball, the fans went into raptures. They were delirious.
“I couldn’t believe the love they showed me. I had never seen anything like that before in football. It was a brilliant moment. It felt like compensation. I thought, ‘Wow, this was worth the wait.’”
8. Roque Junior
Logic dictated that Roque Junior would be good for Leeds when they signed him on loan in 2003. He’d won the Copa Libertadores with Palmeiras; he’d won the Champions League with AC Milan; he’d even won the bloody World Cup with Brazil. What more could you ask for?
Logic, on this occasion, was usurped. Roque was nothing short of a disaster. He was sent off on his debut in a home defeat to Birmingham and, in the seven games he played for the West Yorkshire club, they conceded 25 goals.
In 2017, he told ESPN Brasil: “The culture is very different. Our [Brazilian] culture is similar to Italian. But from Italian and ours to English, it’s quite different. So you really needed more time to adapt.”
He didn’t get it. Leeds sent Roque packing in January 2004.
7. Rodrigo Beckham
He was called Rodrigo Beckham, even though he didn’t look much like the Becks, and he arrived at Everton in 2002 while still recovering from a pretty serious knee injury. Let’s face it, he was destined to flop.
Summer 2002, those early mornings waking to watch the World Cup. Kleberson absolutely bossing the Brazil midfield. I was convinced, you were convinced, and so was Sir Alex.
Ferguson didn’t get the deal done that summer, but £6.5million was forked out to Atletico Paranaense and Manchester United got their man in 2003, the same year they signed Cristiano Ronaldo and… err… Eric Djemba-Djemba.
As it turned out, things had conspired in Kleberson’s favour in the Far East.
It was an early World Cup and, being based in Brazil, he had gone to the tournament halfway through the season, rather than immediately after the end it, like all the Europe-based players. While the biggest stars were flagging, he was at his physical peak. As a result, he’d looked better than he otherwise might have.
That quickly became evident. He got injured, which perhaps didn’t help, but Kleberson was just not at the right level for a club like United. He played 20 times across two season before moving to Besiktas.
Still, he doesn’t hold any grudges. “I have played for some great managers in Europe and Brazil,” he told the Manchester Evening News in 2019, “but Sir Alex is the best.
“Not only was he the manager and coach, he was also like a father. He really helped me when I first joined the club, helping my family and helping me with everything to make me feel comfortable when I first came to England.”
There’s a pattern emerging here. Manchester City signed Jo in 2008 on the back of some terrific performances for CSKA Moscow in the Champions League, but it quickly went pear-shaped.
Jo liked his pop and spent more time out on the town in Manchester than at City’s training ground, by all accounts. He couldn’t get in the team and was loaned to Everton in February 2009.
It went alright for a while, but another loan at the Toffees in 2009-10 saw Jo slump again, scoring a grand total of zero Premier League goals in 15 appearances.
He flitted around in Brazil for a while, even managing to win a Copa Libertadores with Atletico Mineiro in 2012 alongside Ronaldinho. That was followed by moves to Saudi Arabia and China before Jo finally got his life back on track in 2017.
He found Jesus, gave up the booze, signed for boyhood club Corinthians and fired them to the Brazilian league title. Heart-warming stuff.
Asked about Ronaldinho on Brazilian TV last year, he said: “Some friends are no longer in touch because of the fact that I have changed my lifestyle. Alcohol leads to self-destruction.”
4. Afonso Alves
Afonso Alves was going to be big. Unstoppable, in fact. He’d scored all the goals for Heerenveen in Holland, more than one a game. He’d made his debut for Brazil, too, scoring against Mexico in September 2007.
Middlesbrough shelled out €20million in January 2008 for a man who looked set to be their star turn. Gareth Southgate was pictured next to a baffled-looking Alves on the pitch at the Riverside, the pair stood between two women in carnival outfits that looked like they’d been bought at a fancy dress shop.
Alves was slow to get going, but that first half season was not disastrous. He scored a brace against Manchester United and a hat-trick against Manchester City.
But in the second season, Alves’ formed dropped like a led balloon. Four goals in 31 games saw him pilloried in the press and at the end of the season, Boro cut their losses, shifting him to Al-Sadd in the Qatari Stars League, where, between a few different clubs, he spent the rest of his career.
In 2010, Southgate tried to distance himself from the move. Given how it worked out, it’s little wonder. “Alves? At most clubs now there is a group of people who make buying decisions,” Southgate said. “But no, I didn’t buy him.”
Fumaca means smoke in Portuguese, which is highly appropriate for a man this fond of a disappearing act.
In 1998 and 1999, the Brazilian was loaned from parent club Catuense to Benfica, Birmingham, Colchester and Crystal Palace, as well as taking in unsuccessful trials at Walsall and Wolves.
Finally, he pitched up at Newcastle, arriving along with assistant Mick Wadsworth, who had recently worked for Crystal Palace and Colchester. Mick must have seen something in Fumaca that no-one else did.
The lad, then 23, was supposedly a midfielder, though you’d not have been any the wiser from seeing him in action. After his debut, The Guardian likened him to the legendary Ali Dia.
Here’s a bit from Michael Walker’s match report: “Fumaca has somehow convinced Bobby Robson he is worthy of a trial at Newcastle. Cue memories of Graeme Souness at Southampton, being conned by a man claiming to be George Weah’s cousin.”
2. Andre Santos
Santos spent 18 months at Arsenal, during which time he managed to defend really badly, provoke the ire of all Gunners fans by swapping shirts with Robin van Persie at half-time of a game with Manchester United, and get himself on the wrong side of the law after rattling up the M25 a 145mph, trying to outrun the old bill.
He now owns a restaurant in his native Sao Paulo. We were unfortunate enough to go there. We recommend you don’t.
1. Mario Jardel
It would be difficult to believe for those who only saw him at Bolton, but Jardel was unbelievably good for a time. Really, genuinely incredible.
At Gremio and at Porto and at Galatasaray and Sporting, Jardel scored and scored and scored some more. His aerial ability, skill and a great right peg brought him two European golden shoes as well as numerous domestic and continental honours.
Yet he’d had a major falling out with the bosses at Sporting CP and by the time Bolton turned to him in the summer of 2003, his life was spiralling out of control.
“I entered into the world of drugs out of curiosity while I was playing for clubs in Europe,” he said in an interview on Brazilian TV years later.
“I got to know some people who offered me the drugs. I began taking them regularly when I was on my holidays. That was because there were anti-doping controls during the season.
“Drugs are one of the problems in football. Players have a lot of money. There are lots of traps, friendships, temptations and curiosities.”
Sam Allardyce, you imagine, was at least aware of the issues Jardel brought in tow. But he was always willing to take a punt on a player, hopeful he could rehabilitate and reform.
“His goals per game ratio is second to none anywhere in the world,” Allardyce said. “We have found a striker who is going to score goals for us on a regular basis.”
Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. Cocaine, it seems, doesn’t do much for your performance.
Bolton fans referred to him as ‘lardy Jardy’, so out of shape was Super Mario during his spell in the Premier League. After 11 appearances and three goals, he was released, starting a journey that led him to 11 clubs in seven countries in the following seven years.
Here's Mario Jardel scoring a beauty for Porto. What a player he was! pic.twitter.com/ZaQlAjdA76
— 90s Football (@90sfootball) July 6, 2019