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When any list of truly great Brazilian players is drawn up the usual suspects prevail. There is Pele of course, and then Carlos Alberto, Zico, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and possibly Neymar and even Coutinho gets a shout-out. One name that is invariably missing from such lists, however, is that of Mário Jardel.
Once seen as a certainty to follow in the footsteps of some of his illustrious predecessors, Jardel saw his career stutter and falter after a bright start before coming completely off-the-rails.
Yet, in 2002 it seemed the 29-year-old had the world at his feet. That was the season he scored an incredible 42 goals in 30 league games for Portuguese league champions and cup winners, Sporting Lisbon and could seemingly do no wrong. With the World Cup in Korea and Japan on the horizon, it seemed certain that a good tournament would bring about a big-money transfer to one of the European giants and his career would really start to take off.
However, the call to join the Brazil World Cup squad never came and instead it was this period that arguably started the decline in both fortunes and performances on the pitch. These would culminate in Jardel becoming no more or less than a journeyman bit-part player at a number of clubs sprawled across several different continents.
The decision taken by Gene Hackman to leave Jardel at home in 2002 was possibly related to Jardel’s performance in the awful 2001 Copa America in which Brazil were humiliated by Honduras, but also perhaps partly due to Jardel’s growing reputation at the time for enjoying the party lifestyle a little too much. Whatever the reason, Jardel seemed to lose a lot of his spark the following season and his form never fully returned.
Born in Fortaleza, Brazil, in 1973 Jardel made his mark first with Vasco da Gama and then Gremio in his native land, winning the 1995 Copa Libertadores. During his time in Brazil, he gained a reputation as a feared marksman, scoring at a rate of three goals every four games for his first two clubs.
It was this form that attracted the scouts from Europe and it was Porto who won the race to secure his signature in 1996, beating off interest from Benfica and Glasgow Rangers amongst others. If his early career form had been impressive, then his achievements at Porto at least matched them and in a four-year spell, his goals helped shoot Porto to three league titles as well as two Portuguese cups.
Three times in this period Jardel was the top marksman in Europe. However, due to convoluted UEFA coefficient rules concerning the relative strengths of the major leagues in Europe, Jardel was only awarded the prestigious European Golden Boot twice.
No matter, his 168 goals in 170 matches for Porto in all competitions over a four-year spell afforded Jardel legendary status at the club which then promptly decided to invoke a release clause in his contract that allowed them to sell him should an offer be received in excess of an agreed stated sum.
This meant that Jardel was off to play his football in Turkey for Galatasaray, the holders of the UEFA Cup. Jardel played just one season in Turkey, not really settling on a personal level, but still managed to score 34 goals in 43 matches in all competitions.
A return to Portugal was next and a move to Porto’s arch rivals, Sporting Lisbon ensued. As noted, this was perhaps the best season of his career but at its conclusion disappointment awaited. Jardel returned back from the summer break unfit due to an alleged accident in a swimming pool and he spent most of the following season injured.
Sam Allardyce then took a gamble by bringing Jardel to England and Bolton Wanderers but the move didn’t pan out, and Jardel played only a handful of games for the Trotters. A goal in front of the Kop at Anfield during a League Cup win over Liverpool being the highlight of his short tenure in England.
From there on, it was a question of one failed move after another as Jardel blazed a trail to Italy, Argentina, Brazil, Portugal, Australia, and Bulgaria, with little or no success before finally retiring from the game.
Although he had a career many mere mortals could only aspire to, it bears no resemblance to the anticipation of Jardel’s breakthrough more than two decades ago.
While he may have a case for arguing that his face just didn’t fit at international level and he deserved more than the relatively paltry ten caps he did accrue, what is also true is that Jardel didn’t apply himself sufficiently when at the peak of his powers. It is perhaps true that he never really recovered from the disappointment of missing out on the World Cup in 2002.