The leading goalscorer in the 2011 Brasileirão with 23 goals in 29 games, Santos forward Borges could justifiably be described as something of a late developer, having recently broken into Mano Menezes’ Brazil side at the ripe old age of 31.
Yet while some believe he is in the form of his life, the Peixe poacher does not quite see things that way, as he explained in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com just days before Santos’ opening match at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2011.
“To be perfectly honest, I really don’t feel as if I’m in the best form of my career,” said the centre-forward, playing down his annus mirabilis. “Obviously it’s been a brilliant year for me, and it feels great to be the top scorer and to have the chance to go on and play in the World Cup. But I also had a fantastic run with Sao Paulo in 2008, when I played a big role in a team that ended up winning the league title.
“I want to achieve something similar now with Santos and have a big hand in winning the title here in Japan. If I can do that, then I’ll be able to sit back and say, ‘Yes, this has been the best spell of my career’, because what counts at the end of the day are trophies.”
The Neymar connection
What has made Borges’ achievements in the Santos No9 shirt all the more remarkable is the fact that he only arrived at the Vila Belmiro a little over six months ago, just before their win in the Copa Libertadores final - a game for which he was cup-tied, having appeared earlier in the competition with Gremio. Slotting into a smoothly functioning team, he settled in immediately, a process made all the easier by having some very talented performers around him.
“He’s the perfect type of striker to play with,” said one such team-mate, Neymar, in a recent interview with FIFA.com. “He knows exactly what to do with the ball when he gets it, he’s quick and he can play one-twos as well.”
Such lofty praise from his highly-rated colleague takes Borges by surprise: “Well, I think I’m the one who gets the most out of our partnership. He uses the speed he’s got to go off on solo runs, and 90 per cent of the time they come off. That’s great for me as the target man because he creates a lot of space. That’s why I’ve been able to fit in so well.”
Santos coach Muricy Ramalho knew what he was doing when he brought the powerful striker in, having worked with him at Sao Caetano in 2004 and again at Sao Paulo, where player and coach won back-to-back Brazilian league titles in 2007 and 2008.
“Whenever I’ve worked with Muricy he’s always made the most of the fact that I like to get hold of the ball up front,” said Borges. “Him knowing me has made life easier for me here. As soon as I arrived here he told everyone I was someone he knew well and that I had what it took to succeed.
“The main thing for me, though, is that things have finally started happening,” he added. “I would have liked them to have happened earlier, but we can’t always get what we want, when we want. And I think it’s only lately that I’ve become mature enough to understand that.”
Though only recently considered a key player, the fact is Borges has scored goals wherever he has gone in a career, even if some of his destinations along the way have been well off the beaten track. His first major opportunity came with Parana Clube in the 2005 Brasileirao, the striker finishing the season as the league’s second-highest scorer. Then came a season with Vegalta Sendai in the Japanese second division, followed by a chance to consolidate his career with Sao Paulo in 2007.
Basking in the spotlight
The reward for his persistence has been widespread acclaim for his striking skills and an international call-up, albeit for the September friendly against Argentina, for which only home-based players were selected.
“Obviously coming to Santos has raised my profile and brought me a lot more recognition,” said the much-travelled striker. “And I know it’s not easy to break into the Brazil side and not have people wondering if you should be there, especially at this stage of my career. I’m delighted that everyone felt I deserved my chance. I had a great chat with Mano Menezes, and that really relaxed me ahead of the game. That was the first step and now it’s up to me to carry on scoring goals and to keep my name out there in 2012.”
All Borges is hoping for now is to complete a golden year with a trophy - a wish that may well be granted in the next few days.