Fred finds footing in French fields
"Goalscoring Sensation Leaves For Europe" is a headline hardly alien to the Cruzeiro supporters. Just over a decade ago, the club parted company with teenage phenomenon Ronaldo after a big money offer from PSV Eindhoven.
Today, that very same player has been named FIFA World Player of the Year three times, won a collection of honours at club level and, unforgettably, inspired his country to the most prestigious prize of them all - the FIFA World Cup™ crown.
But now there is a new kid hoping to follow in his famous footsteps, and his goal scoring record is just as stupefying as Ronaldo's was in the blue of Cruzeiro. On Tuesday, Lyon announced the signing of the Raposa's latest boy wonder - Fred.
Having scored 40 goals in 43 appearances during 2005, it was hardly surprising that the 21-year-old had been courted by a number of clubs from across Europe. But while finding the back of opponents' nets is the predominant aspect of Fred's game, he is not exclusively devoted to goal scoring.
Not Just An Artilheiro
One man who knows about the attacker's range of attributes more than most is ex-Cruzeiro boss Levir Culpi. Fred spent seven-and-a-half months under the tutelage of the 52-year-old - an intelligent, foresighted coach with a reputation for nurturing emerging talents - and he credits Culpi with having played a major role in his development as a player.
"Fred has a good physical bearing. He can shoot well with both feet, heads the ball well, is intelligent and knows where to position himself. But he also works hard for the team," enthused the actual São Caetano tactician.
It is an opinion shared by Fred's former team-mate Athirson. "People talk about the goals he scores, but he's much more than just an artilheiro. He's got a lot of ability but above all, he helps his team-mates, always giving us an option," said the wing-back, before completing a switch from Cruzeiro to Bayer Leverkusen earlier this year.
Responding to Rejection
Fred enjoyed a meteoric rise to prominence. Thirteen months ago he was on the books of Minas Gerais side América-MG after purported moves to Atlético-MG and Cruzeiro had failed to materialise. To compound his initial disappointment at failing to win contracts at the state's two biggest clubs, the forward found himself left out of América's first-team.
So when he started a match for their youth side, against Vila Nova of Goiânia, he wanted to make a statement. And that he did, in truly emphatic fashion, scoring the fastest goal in Brazilian football history after just 3.17 seconds of play!
He was duly promoted to the América first string, and 18 months and 34 goals (scored in 57 appearances) later, the hot-shot had earned a "dream" transfer to Cruzeiro.
The Goal King
After penning a deal with the Belo Horizonte big guns, Fred continued to frequent the score sheet at an alarming rate. He top-scored in the Mineiro state championships during 2005's opening third, before going on to score fourteen goals during the Copa do Brasil - a competition record. It was inevitable that the Europeans would come knocking - when they did, they came in their droves. CSKA Moscow, FC Porto, Sevilla, Marseille, Nantes, Benfica, Monaco, AC Milan and Sporting Lisbon were all mentioned as potential suitors for the free-scoring forward.
The Fred saga rumbled on and just last week, after switches to Russia and Spain had collapsed, it looked likely that he would stay put - at least until the conclusion of the Brazilian Championship in December.
But out of the blue and reportedly unbeknown to the dashing front-runner, Lyon had reached an accord with Cruzeiro for his services and before he knew it, he had boarded a plane for France.
The Brazilian has not joined a side attempting to assert itself in French football, but one that is going in search of a fifth straight Ligue 1 title. And while retaining the domestic crown is an objective, Lyon's priority remains triumphing in the UEFA Champions League and to go one better than Monaco - losing finalists in 2004.
For all Lyon have impressed in recent seasons, the absence of a quality marksman within their ranks has been apparent. In each of the last three seasons, their top scorer has failed to reach the twenty goals count, highlighting their need for a top-rate striker. While few of the club's fans will forget Sonny Anderson in a hurry, more recent Brazilian forwards, Nilmar and Elber, have not made a similar impression.
But in Fred - the club's fifth summer signing - president Jean-Michel Aulas believes he has got someone special: "It's a pleasure to welcome one of the best goal scorers in Brazil. Fred is a fabulous player which other great clubs like AC Milan have tried to get too. No other Brazilian had scored such a huge amount of goals in one season."
After linking up with compatriots Cláudio Caçapa, Cris and Juninho Pernambucano at the Stade de Gerland, the Teófilo Otoni-born prospect expressed his delight; "It's a great honour to have joined a club like Lyon, and to have the chance of playing in the Champions League - it's a dream come true."
Frederico Chaves Guedes may have been allocated the number 11 shirt, but he looks to have every chance of emulating Brazil's most celebrated number 9 - Real Madrid mega-star Ronaldo - in establishing himself as one of the most prolific scorers in the Old Continent.
And it comes as no surprise to discover which player Fred most admires: "Ronaldo is an example. He's always humble, a good character, never allowing success to go to his head. He's also a great footballer - one of the best."
As it has transpired, a meeting between two of Brazilian football's finest goalscorers of recent times is imminent. Fred's baptism of fire begins when Lyon face Monaco on Saturday week, before making their UEFA Champions League bow against Real Madrid three days later.