Forgotten Footballers: Brazil’s Afonso Alves

Afonso Alves arguably had the qualities necessary to be a complete forward. He was strong enough to out muscle a defender and tall enough to dominate in the air.

Afonso Alves arguably had the qualities necessary to be a complete forward. He was strong enough to out muscle a defender and tall enough to dominate in the air. He had enough pace to run at defenders and enough confidence to take them on with ease.
If that wasn’t enough, he was also something of a free-kick specialist too, his shot power, accuracy and ability to curve the ball the way he did left many goalkeepers standing. But most of all, he was a goal scorer, a record breaker, a Brazilian.
Name: Afonso Alves 
Age: 33
Position: Striker
Clubs: Atlético Mineiro, Örgryte IS, Malmö FF, SC Heerenveen, Middlesbrough, Al Sadd, Al Rayyan and Al Gharafa
Country: Brazil 
Point to prove
Having struggled to hold down a starting spot with local side Atlético Mineiro, in 2002, at the age of 21, Afonso Alves decided to leave Brazil for Sweden. He signed for Örgryte IS, in the Swedish first division. Over two seasons Alves scored 23 goals in 39 games for a mid-table club he had transformed into title contenders. 
This was more than enough to convince Malmö FF of his quality, and so in 2004 the Swiss big boys raided their rivals to bring Alves to the Swedbank Stadion. He helped The Blues win the Allsvenskan league title in his first season, and was the clubs top scorer in back-to-back seasons (scoring 12 goals in 24 games and then 14 goals in 24 games).
During his four and a half year spell in Sweden, in all competitions (Europe and Swedish Cup) he scored 60 goals in over 100 games for both Örgryte and Malmö. 
It was clear the Brazilian was too good for the Swedish League, but with all due respect, majority of clubs around the world don’t view the Allsvenskan as anything special. So, it was no surprise that in the summer of 2006 Alves was looking for a transfer away from Sweden, a step up. Soon came interest from SC Heerenveen, another mid-table side in the Dutch top fight, certainly a more testing league and so off the attacker went.  
Rise to fame
SC Heerenveen were desperate for a striker, prolific Klaas-Jan Huntelaar who helped push the club qualify for Europe left for bigger and better things with league rivals Ajax. So they broke their transfer record to bring in Alves, who had big boots to fill. There was hope the Brazilian could reproduce what he did in Sweden for Örgryte in the Netherlands for Heerenveen, wonders were expected. 
However, what was to come over the next 12 months was entirely unexpected; his goal-to-game ratio was higher than a goal a game, Afonso Alves quickly outgrew Huntelaar’s boots. Some of his most notable goals were one on his debut, a 90th minute winner against ADO Den Haag, a brace in a 5-0 thrashing of Willem II and back-to-back hat-tricks against FC Groningen and Vitesse.
These goals amongst many, many more shot him to the top of the scoring charts, where he stayed. Alves finished the 2006/07 season with five hat-tricks, including one four goal haul for Heerenveen, an astonishing total of 34 goals in 31 league games, a club record.
Did you know?
Alves is the third Brazilian to become top-scorer in the Eredivisie, joining former PSV legendary strikers Romário and Ronaldo. He is also the second Brazilian to have netted 30 goals or more in the league, with Ronaldo scoring 30 in the 1994/95 season. 
He was that good, in fact great at the end of the season Afonso Alves received the 2006/07 Dutch Footballer of the Year award. He was also runner-up in the race for the European Golden Boot that year, just a single point behind Roma’s star striker Francesco Totti. To crown an impressive season, the forward was more respectably called up to the Brazilian national team, and was part of the squad which won the 2007 Copa América in Venezuala. 
Time for change
2007 was a cruel summer for both player and club, wider exposure playing for Brazil increased speculation he would end up with a transfer away from the Netherlands sooner rather than later. Alves was one of Europe’s most wanted forwards, he was reportedly looked at by the likes of Manchester City, Roma and even Real Madrid.
It was such transfer rumours which made the Brazilian realize Heerenveen wasn’t big enough for him anymore. He was apparently mocked by his national team mates for playing for such a ‘small club’ and as a result, wanted to leave the Dutch side. Heerenveen were reluctant to let the striker go and if they would sell him, it was on their terms. There were even rumours the club wanted a million dollars for every goal he scored!
However, unconvinced by his quality, and most probably put off by the asking price, all interested clubs eventually gave up on chasing his signature. As a result, the transfer window ticked over and Alves was still at Heerenveen, having decided he wanted to play for the club again.
Despite manager at the time, Gertjan Verbeek claiming he had to prove himself again, it was only a matter of time before Alves was one of the first names on the team sheet again.
The attacker more than proved himself in just his second appearance of the 2007/08 season scoring a remarkable seven goals in a 9-0 victory over rivals Heracles Almelo, an Eredivisie record for most goals scored in a single match.
His performance was so good that Verbeek decided to take him off in the dying minutes so that he could receive a standing ovation, despite having used all three substitutes. By scoring so many in one game it was thought Afonso Alves was going to break his own record, and go down as an all-time great.  
Unfortunately, injuries got the better of him throughout the rest of the season and the Brazilian only managed to score four more goals in just six more appearances for Heerenveen come January.
Injuries were not the only thing that got the better of him, his eight caps (and one goal) for Brazil seemed to have gone to his head too. Alves went on strike, skipping training sessions, slating the stature of the Dutch club and pushing for a transfer away from the Abe Lenstra Stadion.
This all but confirmed his time was up. During his two-year spell in the Netherlands, in all competitions (KNVB Cup and Europe) Alves scored 48 goals in 48 games for SC Heerenveen. Yet, Verbeek had enough of his attitude and sent him packing to be eventually sold during the 2008 January transfer window to English Premier League side Middlesbrough.
Think before you speak 
Middlesbrough recently sold deadly duo Mark Viduka and Yakubu with replacements Sanli Tuncay and Mido failing to impress, the club consequently flirted with relegation. Alves didn’t make the switch until the last hour of the last day of the transfer window. He joined the Boro 11 years after fan heart-throb Juninho, costing around four times as much than his fellow countryman, if there was ever boots to fill, these were the ones. 
The fans saw this deadline day, club record signing a panic buy, manager at the time Gareth Southgate saw it key for survival in the Premier League. In the second half of the 2007/08 season, he replied the club’s faith but more importantly fans content with six goals in 11 games, showing signs of promise.
His most notable goals were a brace against Manchester United in a 2-2 home draw at The Riverside and a hat-trick against Manchester City, as Middlesbrough won 8-1 in the last game of the season. 
However in the 2008/09 season, his debut full season, it all went horribly wrong for Afonso Alves. He did manage to score a 25-yard free-kick against Stoke City, a goal each against Blackburn Rovers, Manchester City, and Sunderland. But they turned out to be his only goals all season, in 31 league games Alves scored just four league goals, he went from a player who couldn’t stop scoring to one that couldn’t start.
The season was a disappointing one for both him and Middlesbrough, who were later relegated to the Championship, and are yet to come back up. Gareth Southgate left the following season and coincidently has not managed in the Premier League since. The signing of Alves is seen as one of the worst managerial decisions in Premier League history.
During his two-year spell in England, although having on/off injuries throughout, in all competitions (FA Cup and Carling Cup) Alves scored 13 goals in 47 games for Middlesbrough. He never lived up to the expectations in England, he never replicated the form he showed in Holland or even Sweden at the Riverside. So that plus the fact the Boro could no longer afford his wages, saw him sold to Qatari side Al-Sadd for a profitable £7m at 28-years of age. 
Over and out
Afonso Alves last plied his trade in the middle-east, representing a number of clubs in the Qatari League (Al-Sadd, Al Rayyan SC and AL Gharafa). Though, just like his time in Sweden, he’s too good for that division, once again scoring for fun, even a fan favourite.
During his four-year spell in Qatar, in all competitions (Qatari Stars Cup and Emir of Qatar Cup) he netted 46 goals in 67 games, for three league rivals, and was even sidelined with knee ligament damage for up to eight months.  
Alves has been without a club since last summer, now a free agent. He is, according to new head coach Marco Van Basten welcome to re-join his former club Heerenveen, however the striker is yet to show his face in the Netherlands.
Six years later since his Dutch dominance Alves is yet to be called back up to the Brazil squad too, so retirement may well be on the cards for an injury prone 33-year-old.
For a goal machine that rose to fame breaking records in Europe, radically improving sides single-handily, it’s a shame the Brazilian never really made an impact in the Premier League. The image of Afonso Alves will be associated with a nightmare for Middlesbrough fans and Eredivisie clubs.
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Image: Doha Plus Stadium Qatar / Wikimedia Commons