Midfield organiser Elano was one of Dunga’s right-hand men during the coach’s four-year Brazil tenure. The scorer of two goals in A Seleção’s 3-0 friendly defeat of Argentina in September 2006, Dunga’s maiden win as national coach, Elano stayed in the set-up all the way through to the FIFA World Cup South Africa 2010™, where he was sorely missed after picking up an injury in their second game against Côte d’Ivoire.

Though virtually an ever-present for his country, the player did not enjoy the same continuity at club level, enduring frustrating stays with Shakhtar Donetsk and Galatasaray, with a stop-start association with Manchester City sandwiched in between.

All that changed when he returned home to join Santos at the end of last year, a move that brought him instant silverware and a continued run in the Brazil side. Until, that is, he lined up for a fateful Copa America quarter-final against Paraguay, a game that marked yet another turning point in his eventful career.

“2011 has been a tricky year for me: I’ve had my ups and downs,” the midfielder, now 30, told FIFA.com. “I top-scored in the Sao Paulo state championship and helped the team win the Libertadores. And then the problems started.”

By “problems” Elano is referring to a string of niggling injuries and his role in Brazil’s traumatic Copa America exit at the hands of La Albirroja in July. That defeat came about when the usually free-scoring Brazilians failed to find the back of the net in two hours of football before proceeding to miss all four of their penalties in the ensuing shootout, the Santos man setting an unfortunate tone with the first of those misses.

As a disbelieving nation bemoaned A Seleção’s misfortune, Elano’s previously successful year suddenly took a turn for the worse. Never one to court publicity, his personal life became a topic of interest in the media, while injury pushed him onto the sidelines and out of the reckoning for a place in the Brazil team, a situation he fully intends to rectify next year.

“My objective for 2012 is definitely to get back into the national side,” said Elano, now recovered from his latest injury, a right thigh strain. “If I can find top form again with Santos, then I know I’ll be in good enough shape to play for Brazil.

If I can find top form again with Santos, then I know I’ll be in good enough shape to play for Brazil.

Elano, Brazilian midfielder

“I was always there to help out whenever the going got tough. I did well for A Seleção and I don’t deserve to be axed from the side because of one mistake, especially when the whole team slipped up, not just me. I’m not going to let that error put an end to my international career.”

Crisis management
Having taken stock of a turbulent few months, Elano is responding in the only way he knows how: by thinking things through and keeping his composure. “I’m feeling calm,” he confirmed. “I’ve been going over things in my mind, the things that have happened to me in my professional and personal life and with my friends and family, and there are a few lessons I’ve learned along the way.

“When I came from Europe at the end of last year I played a lot of games, some of them key games, without taking a break. There was always the risk, therefore, that I’d pick up an injury or two, and in fact I wasn’t the only player who did so. It was an exhausting few months.”

Now that he has come out the other side, Elano is determined to regain full fitness and lend his support to the Santos cause at the FIFA Club World Cup in December, the kind of high-level international tournament he has grown accustomed to appearing in. And with O Peixe boasting such a young squad, his experience and know-how will prove invaluable in Japan.

“I spent six and a half years in European football and I had more than my fair share of problems along the way,” he said, wrapping things up. “Then there are all the things I’ve learned with Brazil. Having overcome all these tough spells in my life, I’m in a very good position to sit down and speak to the younger guys. Sometimes, that’s the best way to learn.”