With strike partners by the name of Michel Platini and Zicu, Brazilian forward Junior Moraes could have been forgiven for thinking he had travelled back in time when he signed for CSKA Sofia earlier this year.
The Platini in question is not the French legend, however, but a compatriot of the same name who has spent the last four years in Bulgaria, while the near-namesake of the former Flamengo and Seleção superstar star is none other than Romanian international Ianis Zicu.
“Some people still fall for the joke when I tell them they’re my team-mates up front,” the 24-year-old told FIFA.com. The only people who are not laughing at the coincidence are opposing defenders, with the triumvirate accounting for 22 of the 32 goals CSKA have scored in their 15 Bulgarian A PFG games this season.
Among Brazilian fans, Moraes is best known for his stay with Santos, where he failed to make much of an impact but did score the goal against Sao Caetano that gave O Peixe the Campeonato Paulista 2007 title and proved the highlight of his career back home. Moves to Ponte Preta and Santo Andre followed before he made the switch to eastern Europe, where he quickly made a name for himself.
The scorer of 20 goals in 33 games for Romanian outfit Gloria Bistrita in 2010, he was voted the league’s forward of the season, an achievement that brought him to the attention of Ukraine’s Metalurg Donetsk. A transfer deal never materialised, however, due to problems with his employers that saw him sidelined for seven months. Salvation eventually came with a move to Bulgaria, where he was welcomed with open arms.
“I didn’t know that much about the country but I’ve been amazed by the fans,” he said. “I sat out the first few games and saw what they got up to. Then in the league they really put on a show. I was taken aback by just how fanatical they are and how they always get behind the team. Brazil’s the home of football, and I’ve played in a few big derbies for Santos and know how passionate Brazilian people are, but these fans are even more fanatical if you ask me.”
While language similarities helped him settle in Romania, it was that passion and the presence of several compatriots that made the move to Bulgaria a smooth one. Aside from Michel, left-back Ademar, formerly with Nautico, is also in the CSKA ranks, while four of the Bulgarian top tier's top 12 goalscorers hail from Brazil.
“My two team-mates are fantastic people,” he said. “I’m not saying that because they’re from my country but because they’re friends of mine. I get on well with the others too. We always try to have lunch or dinner together and enjoy typical food like rice, beans and meat, if we can find the right type. That’s important.”
Moraes can also count on the support of his older brother Bruno, who is currently with Portuguese side Uniao Leiria, having previously turned out for Porto. The two siblings, whose father Aluisio Guerreiro was a forward for Santos and Flamengo in 1970s and '80s, speak virtually every day and meet up as often as they can during the season.
Bulgarian battle or big-league move?
The Bulgarian league began its midwinter break last week, with CSKA locked in a fierce battle for first place with newly promoted Ludogorets. Both sides are tied on 36 points, though the season’s revelations hold top spot thanks to their superior goal difference.
Moraes explained: “In the past there were only ever two or three teams fighting for the title, but the level’s really good this year, with six sides in the hunt for the championship and the European places. We’ve dropped silly points in two or three games this season, like our last match against Ludogorets. I scored a couple of goals, but we conceded twice late on and had to settle for a draw.”
It remains to be seen, though, if Moraes will see out the rest of the campaign with CSKA. Currently back home in Santos, he received a call from the club’s directors informing him that a number of other European sides had expressed an interest in him.
“It’s a dream of mine to play in Spain and Italy, and I’ve had a bit of interest from clubs in both countries,” he revealed. “[The CSKA directors] made it very clear to me that they want me to stay until the end of the season. I’m very happy there and it’ll be great to stick around for the second half of the season and fight for the title.”
While a move to La Liga or Serie A would bring an end of his playing days with Platini and Zicu, he would at least get to rub shoulders with some of the finest strikers in the modern game.