A centre forward at last
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At first, Elkeson made the 17,000 km journey from Rio de Janeiro to Guangzhou with a certain reluctance. Leaving his country and a big club like Botafogo when he was just 23 was one of the most difficult decisions of the Brazilian forward’s life. "I worried that I’d be forgotten, that I wouldn’t be in the shop window," he said in an interview with FIFA.com. However, Elkeson’s fears disappeared almost as quickly as the style of football they play in China. In his first three games for Evergrande in March, the No9 scored five goals. 

Nor was there anything flukish about Elkeson’s start to the season. The Brazilian’s aim has been sharp ever since. The striker scored 24 goals as Evergrande lifted the Chinese Super League title and was the league’s top scorer, eight goals ahead of his nearest rival. Now, to crown the striker’s memorable year, there is the prospect of the AFC Champions League title. The first leg of the final, away from home against the Korean side FC Seoul, ended 2-2. The winner will be decided this Saturday on Chinese soil.

"We’ll have our fans behind us, which will make a huge difference. We really want this title to cap a great year. For me as an individual and for the team too. It would be a great way to round off the season," said Elkeson, who knows that winning the title would mean a place in the FIFA Club World Cup Morocco 2013.

Born in the small town of Coelho Neto, in the north of Brazil, Elkeson did not start off as an out-and-out striker. Indeed when he played for Vitoria in 2011, he was more of a midfield playmaker. It was only when he moved to Botafogo that his career changed completely, when coach Oswaldo de Oliveira moved him further forward. The switch was not particularly popular among the club’s fans, but it proved an inspired move.

"When I got to Botafogo, Oswaldo decided to try me in a new position and gave me a chance as a striker. A lot of the fans weren’t convinced. In truth, I was a midfielder playing up front, but I ended up as the club’s top scorer in 2012," he recalled.

Now 24, the striker knows that his goals and his success in China are a result of his development into a penalty box specialist. It is an evolution for which the experienced Italian coach Marcello Lippi, winner of the FIFA World Cup in 2006 and the UEFA Champions League in 1996, deserves some credit. The coach, after all, was the main reason Elkeson decided to swap Brazil for China.

"When I heard I would have the chance to work with Marcelo Lippi, I didn’t have to think twice. He’s a hugely successful coach, a World Cup winner, who spent years at Juventus. I knew I would learn so much from him, and it’s been fantastic. I try and take as much as I can from everything he says, and I’ve improved such a lot this year. Marcello has given me the freedom to continue playing as a forward, and today I see myself as a central striker, whose job it is to score goals and help the team."

Home far from home
According to Elkeson, adapting to life in Asia has not been too difficult. His preferred meal of rice, chicken and salad has not changed. And even if he cannot find all the ingredients he needs for his favourite Brazilian dishes in Guangzhou, the striker has fallen in love with the local yakisoba (a fried noodle dish). “They don’t make it like this in Rio. It’s spicier here, just the way I like it." 

According to Elkeson, adapting to life in Asia has not been too difficult. His preferred meal of rice, chicken and salad has not changed. And even if he cannot find all the ingredients he needs for his favourite Brazilian dishes in Guangzhou, the striker has fallen in love with the local yakisoba (a fried noodle dish). “They don’t make it like this in Rio. It’s spicier here, just the way I like it." 

Far from his parents and girlfriend, the No9 has tried to make the best of things. His loneliness became an ally, allowing him to concentrate solely on football and scoring goals. When he thinks about the possibility of playing in the FIFA Club World Cup, he prefers not to speculate too far ahead, but admits that a potential clash with his compatriots from Atletico Mineiro, which will only happen if both teams reach the final, seems unlikely.

"We’ve watched Atletico a lot. But it won’t be easy to meet them in the tournament, because we know that if we qualify for the Club World Cup, we’ll have to play Bayern Munich in the semi-finals, which is a bit of an obstacle! For now, we’re just thinking about winning the AFC Champions League. It’s the most important game of the year."