Hulk following Deco's lead
© AFP

Porto's battling first-leg display against Atletico Madrid in the first knockout round of the UEFA Champions League had fans dreaming of a repeat of their glorious 2003/04 campaign. Now, five years after the Deco-inspired side were crowned kings of Europe, they are impressing the cream of the continent with another Brazil-born star.

The man in question is Givanildo Vieira de Souza. Born on 25 July 1986 in Campina Grande, the striker arrived at the home of the Portuguese champions last year after three seasons in Japan, where he defended the colours of Kawasaki Frontale, Consadole Sapporo and Tokyo Verdy. Through a combination the latter's famous green jersey, a strapping physique and his powerful forward play, he was quickly dubbed 'Hulk', after the comic book hero.

Though he took time to adapt at the Estadio do Dragao, Hulk is the man of the moment in the Portuguese Liga, where he has scored seven times so far this term. However, with his talent beginning to win acclaim across the continent, his coach is calling for a little perspective.

He clearly has great potential. In the future he could become one of the best in the world in his position.
Porto coach Jesualdo Ferreira on striker Hulk

"He's not the star of the team," said Jesualdo Ferreira. "Yes he clearly has great potential, but he still has a lot to learn. In the future, after he's achieved a great deal with Porto, he could become one of the best in the world in his position. Let's hope he has the good fortune and sense to realise that, which I think he does."

Hulk's recent performances have generated countless glowing reports, in which his physical strength, skill and formidable shooting have been singled out. However, this explosive left-footer and free-kick specialist is modesty itself when it comes to self-assessment. "Receiving that kind of praise really thrills me, but I'm not going to let any of it go to my head. I'm going to continue working just like I have been and remain humble," he said.

One reason the Brazilian is taking the plaudits lightly is because he has seen first hand how hard life can be for an aspiring footballer. As a youth, Hulk honed his skills at modest Corinthians Alagoano, just as Pepe and Deco had done before him. With that illustrious pair having also dazzled for Porto before making the short hop to Spain's La Liga, many are tipping the youngster to follow suit.

The 22-year-old is nothing if not his own man, however. While his compatriots both opted to play for Portugal, the powerful frontrunner has already made it clear his ambition is to represent his native Seleção. Indeed, Hulk has already come to the attention of Brazil coach Dunga, who had this to say about the player: "Given Hulk's attributes, the comparison with Ronaldo makes sense. He too has a scorer's instinct, and is also fast and strong."

Hulk said: "Knowing that Dunga is watching me makes me very happy, and I'm honoured to be compared with my idol. I'm going to work very hard to achieve my goal of playing for the Seleção."

Big in Japan
While it is true that the Brazilian feels less of a bond with Portugal than Pepe and Deco, things could have been different had his first foray in Lusitanian football gone better. As a teenager, Hulk had a spell at Vilanovense, a small club in north of Portugal, but his qualities were not sufficiently valued there and he returned home to play for Sao Paulo and Bahia side Vitoria.

In 2005 he decided to try his luck in Japanese football and since then has never looked back. In his three-year sojourn there, he scored an impressive 70 goals in 104 games, the highlight being Verdy's J2 campaign in 2007, when he propelled them back into the top flight with 37 strikes in 42 outings.

By then Porto had seen enough and, convinced his return to Portugal would be a successful one, shelled out 5.5 million euros to secure his services. The newcomer took time to settle but by the start of 2009, Hulk had hit his stride. As well as rediscovering his scoring instinct, he has learned how to link up with his team-mates, create openings round the edge of the box and make the most of his strength to storm tight defences. Inevitably, more than a few yellow cards have resulted, but the Brazilian insists this is entirely down to his physique.

If Hulk can help his team-mates past Atletico and advance in Europe's premier club competition tonight, who is to say he could not rival the heroics of Deco and the class of 2004?