Considering Schalke have a two-goal deficit to make up the second leg of their UEFA Champions League semi-final against Manchester United, their Brazilian striker Edu is surprisingly upbeat about their chances of springing a shock at Old Trafford. “Football’s very competitive these days and anything is possible,” he tells FIFA.com, not without conviction.
“Reaching the semi-finals and being up there with Europe’s big team is already a major achievement in itself for the club, but we can go further. The main thing is that we play our game. We left a lot of space last week, and we have to play the ball out quickly along the ground and impose ourselves instead of backtracking.”
Though his statement that “anything is possible” might sound like a cliché or a throwaway remark, the fact is that it holds very true in the case of the perseverant 29-year-old Sao Paulo native. A defender in his teenage years, he has spent virtually his entire professional career in Germany, finding time to become an idol in Korea Republic before returning to the Bundesliga and finally making it big on the European scene.
“We managed to surprise Internazionale in Milan and that shows that anything really can happen,” he affirms. For someone who has fought so hard to get where he is, Edu is clearly not about to give up now.
From box to box
As a youngster he nurtured his love for the game by playing in the street. His imposing frame meant he was ideally suited for the rough and tumble of the penalty box, at both ends of the pitch. “As a youth player and before I went to Guarani, I always played up front,” he recalls. “Then, when I arrived as a 15-year-old at Campinas [the city where Guarani are based in Sao Paulo state] they played me as a left-sided centre-half.”
Sometimes stationed on the left flank, Edu failed to shine in that defensive role at Guarani. After brief spells at Sao Paulo and Santos he signed professional forms with Nautico and then joined unfashionable CRAC, from the central state of Goias. Then, in 2003, came his opportunity and a chance to make it in Germany.
Yet it was not until he scored twice in Schalke’s 5-2 demolition of Inter Milan in the last month’s Champions League quarter-final tie that he would hit the headlines in his native Brazil. “I’m very happy with that game,” he says. “Everything went right for me and there’s no doubt it raised my profile back home.”
Up until that crowning moment at the San Siro, Edu’s German experience had not been without its difficulties. Invited to Bochum for a two-day trial as a defender, he had to work hard to impress. “I wasn’t match fit,” he explains. “We just practised crosses and finishing over and over, and I didn’t speak a word of German and didn’t understand what they were saying. I did well, though. They liked what they saw and we signed the contract.”
While there are many cases of attacking Brazilian full-backs who have converted to midfield positions after moving to Europe, Edu took the process a step further, slotting into the forward line in 2004, by which time he had joined Mainz. “Ever since then there’s never been one game or situation where I’ve felt like going back into defence,” he explains.
Back in the box
His first spell in Germany was coming to an end, though, and in 2007 he made the long trip to Asia joining South Korean outfit Suwon Samsung Bluewings. It proved to be a successful switch for Edu, who collected league and cup winners medals and adapted to a faster of style of play.
Germany called once more in 2010, when he made the move to Schalke, though it did involve yet another positional switch: “When I signed for them they said I was going to form a strike partnership with [Kevin] Kuranyi, but the coach [Felix Magath] had other ideas and decided to play with three forwards, with me always on the flanks, either on the left or the right. Time went by and I wasn’t getting the chance to play where I like most.”
Magath’s departure in March was followed by the arrival Ralf Rangnick, providing Edu with an opening he was not afraid to take: “I said I really wanted a chance to play in my position and he agreed.”
The move has paid off handsomely for both coach and player. That landmark win away to Inter Milan was only Edu’s second game in his favoured central position, and revealed just why he had insisted so much on changing positions and getting into the box, the place where he has always felt at home.