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On 1 August 2007, Manchester City continued their rebuilding programme under the care of Sven-Göran Eriksson by signing Elano from Shakhtar Donetsk for a reported £8.5 million. The Brazilian would only be with the club for the next two seasons – one more than the Swedish manager, who would be gone by June 2008 – but in that time earned himself a place in the hearts of City fans. At the time, this was no superstar squad built upon on the petrodollars of Sheikh Mansour. Although hardly a pedestrian team, Eriksson’s budget was much less generous than that of late, and Elano became a shining light of talent and entertainment in an otherwise fairly workaday squad of players.
Born in Iracemápolis in the state of São Paulo, Brazil, Elano began his career with Santos. He would stay with the club until 2005, by which time he had been called to the national colours, making his debut for the Seleção in the previous year. After two years with the Ukrainian club, he moved to England. For many players moving from South America to Britain, the weather, especially in the traditionally rainy north-west is often a shock to the system, but after spending two seasons in Eastern Europe, Elano was conditioned not to expect Brazilian sunshine. In fact, he remarked how much more suited to him the conditions in Manchester were, compared to his previous club. His play certainly reflected a sense of comfort in his new home.
A debut against West Ham United in the first game of the new season saw an assist from the Brazilian to introduce himself to his new fans. It set the style for what would be a successful first term in English football. Although his reputation would be built much more on his general play and creativity in opening up defences for others to exploit, he was still more than capable of scoring goals, many of which were more of the spectacular kind, rather than mere tap ins.
His first goal for the club came against Newcastle United during the following month, as part of a 3-1 City victory. Just over a week later though, the ability to deliver the spectacular goal was illustrated when City faced up to Middlesbrough. A shot struck from more than 20 yards out that flew into the Boro net was followed by the most exquisite type of curling free-kick to complete his brace. The Brazilian reputation for scoring from dead ball situations appeared to be very safe in Elano’s hands – or indeed at his feet.
Outstanding performances and goals continued to flow and the outlay that City had spent on the Brazilian was looking the very best of value. Into the New Year, he again picked on the Geordies as his favoured opponents by scoring both goals in a 2-0 City win at St James Park. Perhaps the biggest set back that took a little of the gilding from the lily in that first term was the yellow card he received in a game against Arsenal. Being his fifth of the season, it meant he would miss the Manchester ‘derby’ but City still prevailed, winning 2-1. His return would see more strikes, including three from the penalty spot and the consolation goal in the final match of the season that saw City trounced 8-1 at Middlesbrough.
Although City had experienced a fairly up and down season, Elano had been one of the brighter lights, demonstrating his adaptability by playing in a number of positions across midfield and attack – even once appearing as a full back. He scored ten goals, but contributed assists to at least the same number, mentioning nothing of the entertainment and elation his play gave to the City faithful. City would end the season in ninth position. Something that, due to the circumstances and positions of other clubs, conspired to give them a place in the 2008–09 UEFA Cup First Round.
Despite the relative success, the new club owners were dissatisfied, and Eriksson was removed in favour of Mark Hughes. A decent start to the new term for Elano suggested things would continue to improve. A prominent performance and assist in the opening game, was followed by a brace in the 3-0 home victory over West Ham United, but things were about to change. A new manager was not the only new entrant to the club. In a transfer deadline day move, the club laid out big bucks to acquire the services of Robinho. Although it would be wrong to say that the new player was a simple upgrade on Elano, there’s little doubt that Robinho was seen to be the preferred playmaker by Hughes, despite the previous season’s achievements. Elano’s 34 league appearances in the 2007-08 season would tumble to 28 in the new term.
A place on the bench would follow when Robinho was given the playmaker role in his first game, and Elano then was shuffled around by Hughes as he tried to shoehorn him into the starting eleven without distracting the spotlight from his expensive acquisition. It was a move that hardly helped Elano, but he continued to offer his best efforts for the club. Inevitably, a parting of ways became increasingly inevitable, and by the season’s end, a move to Turkish Süper Lig Galatasaray offered a way out.
Despite all the new shiny jewels in the Manchester City squad of the present day, many fans will still hold dear the memories of a player that shone before the mega-money arrived from Abu Dhabi. For the player also, there’s a clear deep respect for what was achieved, and his time with the club. Reported on the Manchester City website, Elano is quoted as saying. “Manchester City is a special club to me and I will always be grateful to the club and to the city of Manchester. City are world class now and the fans deserve it as they are very special.” He clearly recognises that the difference between his time there and the present day is vast, but there were still things to celebrate. “I came at a transitional phase but we made the fans happy and believed we could win titles like the Premier League.” It’s a neat summary of the different eras, but one thing is constant across that huge divide. Success may be relative, but it’s just as enjoyable regardless of the level. “I was happy to play my part and to be here was a joy. I just want to thank you all. I am one of you and playing for this club is something I will remember for the rest of my life.” Fans of Manchester City would reciprocate that, as well.