The 2005 Brasileiro has served up a number of success stories, but one stands out from the rest; the captivating re-emergence of Figueirense forward Edmundo.
The 34-year-old has recreated the form that, during the 1990s, had made him one of the most successful players in the history of the Brasileiro, when illustrious spells with Palmeiras and Vasco saw him capture three championship titles and collect a host of personal accolades, including the top goalscorer and best player awards in the 1997 season.
Significantly, his standout performances this campaign have been the catalyst in propelling Figueirense from the bottom of the competition's standingsand securing their top flight survival.
Since returning to his homeland from Japan in 2003, the reputation of Edmundo had dwindled somewhat, and a third stint at Vasco did little to convince that he was still big league material. An abortive spell at Fluminense ensued and when, after a five-month period of inactivity, he agreed to join his friend Zinho at Nova Iguaçu (a club disputing the second division of the Rio State Championships) in May of this year, it appeared that the career of "The Animal" was nearing its end.
But his time in the colours of the Carioca minnows was to consist of just two matches, before he agreed to a reunion with Serie A football and a move to Figueirense - a club that had come close to contracting him in 2001. Inevitably, the signing attracted widespread criticism but the Figueira desperately needed firepower - despite finishing eleventh in the 2004 standings, they had scored less than three of the four relegated sides.
Individually, the attacker began to shine but his team - who had won just one of their first six matches - continued to struggle, unable to escape the danger zone. When the man at the helm, Marco Aurélio, was handed his marching orders in August, the club's directors scouted a tough nut replacement to crack the whip at the Orlando Scarpelli.
Leading the fight against relegation
When Adilson Batista was installed as coach it was widely believed that Edmundo - a player renowned as much for his indiscipline as he was for his brilliance - would struggle under his hard-line leadership. Indeed, the early indications suggested as much; the player protesting against his coach's policy of frequently substituting him. However, as Batista's reign proceeded, his premature withdrawing of Edmundo in games lessened, as Figueirense's dependence on the genius became evermore apparent.
After seeing the talented forward inspire victories over Botafogo and Paraná earlier in the month, Ponte Preta coach Estavam Soares earmarked Edmundo as the man to stop, prior to his side's meeting with Figueirense in Round 33. But despite his warnings, the former Fiorentina man was irrepressible, starring in a 4-0 Figueirense triumph. "He is, without doubt, a great player," commented Carlinhos, who had been given the unenviable task of marking Edmundo. "The boss asked us not to allow him space but he certainly managed to stand out."
Edmundo was leading a one-man fight against relegation. He scored both goals from the penalty spot as Figueirense twice came from behind to grab a share of the spoils at Palmeiras, and was in terrific form as his side defeated Fortaleza in Round 38. Fortunately, the best was still to come.
Record-breaking display helps elevate Figueira from drop zone
In their following contest against Vasco, Edmundo was unstoppable, rattling in a hat-trick as Figueirense ran out 5-1 winners. It was a performance during which he exhibited all the qualities that had made him a global headliner in years previous; impeccable control, the ability to evade challenges with swift pirouettes, inventive dribbles, inch-perfect passing and clinical finishing. Even Romário, his old enemy, could not help but eulogize his masterclass performance; "Edmundo had an inspired night," he said.
The three-goal haul saw him become Figueirense's top scorer in a Brasileiro season, surpassing the twelve goals Toninho had managed in the 1975 season. Additionally, his treble made him the joint-fifth record scorer in Brasileiro matches, level with Serginho Chulapa on 125 goals, and trailing only Roberto Dinamite, Romário, Zico and Túlio.
During the penultimate round of matches, Edmundo turned in yet another man-of-the-match performance, scoring a free-kick as the Florianópolis side defeated Brasiliense 2-0 to guarantee their place in the upper tier for next season, and condemn their opponents to relegation.
Inevitably, interest in the in-form forward has soared but as Palmeiras close in on securing his services for 2006, Edmundo - who admits that he will feel "let down" if a proposed return to the Parque Antártica fails to materialize - can reflect on his most successful year since 1997.