For the past three decades the Premier League has been a hotbed of overseas talent. Long gone are the days of all-British squads, with players from all over the globe converging on England to play in arguably the greatest league of them all.
One nation which has had surprisingly mixed fortunes when exporting its talents to Blighty is Brazil. For every Coutinho there’s been a Kléberson and for every Juninho there’s been a Jo.
In January 2008, then-Middlesbrough manager Gareth Southgate shelled out a club-record £12.5m to bring Afonso Alves to the Riverside from Dutch side Heerenveen – this particular Brazilian falls into the ‘miss’ pile rather than the ‘hit’ pile.
Alves arrived at Middlesbrough the day after his 27th birthday, a period in his career in which he should have been entering his prime. The Brazilian had spent the past season-and-a-half in the Eredivisie where he had been scoring goals for fun.
Now, admittedly scoring goals in the Netherlands doesn’t guarantee you’ll be set for Premier League stardom (any Chelsea fan who watched Mateja Kežman will vouch for that), but when you consider that Alves had a better scoring record in Holland than the Brazilian Ronaldo (45 in 39 games compared to 42 in 46) and in a far inferior team, you’d be forgiven for thinking something was amiss at the Riverside.
It was clear from the off that Alves was going to take some time to settle. The leggy forward would often find himself dispossessed all too easily when up against shear brute force. There was an intelligence and nous about Alves’ play, but physically the frontman looked months away from Premier League standard.
A final day hat-trick in the 8-1 demolition of Manchester City padded out the Brazilian’s first season statistics, as he finished his debut campaign (having only signed in January) with a fairly impressive six goals in 11 games.
With his first half-season in England under his belt and having given the home fans a glimpse of what could be to come, Boro fans left the 8-1 thrashing of City chomping at the bit to see what Alves could bring next season.
Unfortunately, Gareth Southgate decided he would sell Boro’s only creative outlet in Fabio Rochemback, and all of a sudden Alves was stuck in a team which expected Gary O’Neil to provide inspiration. O’Neil was adept at running around and doing very little, but providing assists was not the former Portsmouth man’s game.
Despite losing his main supply line, Alves had more than just poaching in his arsenal. The Brazilian had displayed time and time again in Holland that he had a hammer of a right foot and would regularly find the net from long range.
However, it became abundantly clear that the reason behind the former Heerenveen man’s success from long range was purely down to poor goalkeeping. Strike after strike would rein in from Alves, yet all were easily gathered by Premier League-standard goalkeepers.
Never more so was Alves’ class against poor opposition displayed than when the Brazilian tormented a lower-league Barrow side in the third round of the FA Cup. It was clear for all to see that Alves was a class apart when playing poor opposition, but he wasn’t a Premier League striker.
All strikers thrive on confidence, and Alves was no exception. Just three months into the season, Alves had gone from a striker willing to shoot from anywhere who had scored a hat-trick against City and a double against Man Utd, to a forward completely bereft of confidence who missed an open goal against Aston Villa.
Boro certainly didn’t get the player they thought they were signing, but equally they did very little to aid Afonso Alves’ development in the Premier League. To make matters worse, the club would repay the sum they agree for Alves in instalments, and such was the value of the pound against the euro they would end up paying almost £6m more than originally agreed.
Had Middlesbrough’s 8-1 thumping of Manchester City come on the first day of the season rather than the last, the Boro faithful may have got to see a very different player to the one who left the Riverside with a record of four goals in 31 games in his only full-season at the club.
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The club-record signing would be shipped off to Qatar based side Al Sadd after just a year-and-a-half on Teesside for £7m. Numerous transfers would follow but he would remain in Qatar for the rest of his career, retiring in 2013 with a not too shabby record of 46 goals in 68 while in Qatar.
Alves proved for many years throughout his career that he was a very good goalscorer. He just couldn’t cut it at the top level, a fact Middlesbrough found out to their cost.