Giovane Élber: Bayern Munich’s ‘Samba Striker’

In November 2003, Olympique Lyonnais visited the Olympic Stadium in Bavaria to play Bayern Munich in a Champions League tie. The winning goal for the French club was netted by their Brazilian striker, Giovane Élber. Although it meant defeat for the home team, the goal was greeted with warm acclaim by the Bayern fans in the ground. To some, it may have seemed a strange reaction but to the fans of Bayern Munich, it was an opportunity to pay due respect to a former star player who had contributed so much to the club’s success.

The adulation accorded to Élber is clearly evident on the club’s website, where it says the “Brazilian wizard” Giovane Élber conquered hearts and the record books as he created an unforgettable legacy both at the club and among the fans.” When he left Bayern Munich, Élber had been anointed as the leading non-German scorer in the history of the Bundesliga. It was a title he would hold until for the best part of two decades before his 132 goals in just over 250 games was surpassed by another Bayern player, Arjen Robben in 2017. It was, therefore, an entirely fitting tribute for the player the Bavarian fans labelled as the ‘Samba Striker.’ The club remembers the years between 1997 and 2003 when the player had starred for them and his goals had contributed so much to take Die Roten on a glory filled journey accumulating silverware on the way.

Élber moved to Bayern after a successful three-year stint with VfB Stuttgart where he scored 41 league goals at a strike rate of almost one every other game. Bayern were looking a regular goalscorer and they certainly found one in Élber. Aside from the 2003-04 season when he only played four games for the club – although still scoring twice – before moving to Lyon, he would net more than twenty goals in each of his six completed seasons. The only time he fell below that total was in 1999-2000 season when, just a tad short, he recorded 19 strikes. He would be the club’s top scorer in each of his seasons there, save for one, when his total was topped by Carsten Jancker.

In his first season, Bayern secured the DFB-Pokal and the pre-season DFB-Ligapokal as Élber showed his worth with 21 goals across the term. He would repeat the same total in the 1998-99 season as the pre-season cup was retained – as it would be across the following two seasons as well – but with the big prize of the Bundesliga returning to Bavaria as well. In his ‘fallow’ season of 19 goals, Bayern achieved the domestic league and cup ‘Double’. Something they would repeat two years later after the had retained the league title in the 2000-01 season, whilst also adding the Intercontinental Cup.

The latter of those two ‘Doubles’ would also see a personal milestone for Élber as his 21 goals in the league made him Torjägerkanone, the top league marksmen. His final full season with Bayern, it would also be his most prolific with 31 strikes coming across all competitions. Describing the situation, Élber is quoted on the club’s website as saying, “It’s incredible that I’ve done it now after almost a decade in the Bundesliga. The double, finishing leading scorer and then ‘Player of the Season’ from the fans – it’s all wonderful and makes me very proud. I’m delighted so many fans chose to vote for me.” The broad grin on his face merely underscored the pleasure and pride. General Manager Uli Hoeneß echoed the feeling of many at the club. “He’s a fabulous lad, a super chap with a healthy dose of cunning. The folk out there love him.”

That sort of comment perhaps illustrates that there is more to understand about the club and fans’ affection for Giovane Élber, over and above the copious amount of times he was able to put the ball in the back of the net. A sheer enjoyment of the game and the clear connection he had with the fans was the sort of demeanour always likely to induce unfailing loyalty and respect.

He was also often ready with the one-liner that helped to cement his place in the hearts of fans. In February 2000, ahead of Bayern’s clash with Real Madrid, the press had attributed some unflattering remarks about the Bavarian players to Vicente del Bosque, then the coach of Los Blancos. Whether the quotes were authentic or not, Élber took particular delight in delivering a tongue-in-cheek rebuke after Bayern had humbled the Spanish team 2-4 in the Bernabeu. “The Real coach,” the Brazilian announced with a cheeky grin, “Camacho or whatever his name is, said the Germans can’t pass, they can only fight, but he’s learned something today. Next time he should shut his gob.” The Bayern fans loved him, not only for voicing his support of the club but also that he did it in an open way that brooked no embarrassment about the sentiment.

Such things mean that when a player’s time is done at a club, the parting is, as Shakespeare put it in ‘Romeo and Juliet’, such sweet sorrow. “Parting definitely hurts, just knowing he won’t be there in the morning anymore,” Ottmar Hitzfeld remarked, with undisguised affection. Uli Hoeneß joined in the praise and promised a special farewell. “He’s earned the kind of send-off no-one who’s gone on to play for another club has ever had.”

It’s a fitting tribute for a player was warmly accepted by club and fans who had given so much and contributed to an outstandingly successful period for Bayern Munich. It’s why the fans crowded into the Olympic Stadium on that chilly November evening back in 2003, were prepared to forgive the player who scored against them. Whoever he played – and scored – for after he left their club, to the fans of Bayern Munich, Giovane Élber would always be their beloved ‘Samba Striker’.

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