Of all the qualities Kleberson possesses, perhaps none have shaped his career as much as his perseverance and ability to bounce back. On a journey that has taken him from England to Turkey and now back to his native Brazil, the 30-year-old has had more than his share of ups and down. Speaking to FIFA.com this week, the midfielder touched on many of these, from his difficult spell with Manchester United, to missing last season’s Brasileirao triumph through injury, to his recall to the national team.
Nothing has been straightforward in Kleberson’s roller-coaster career. A standout figure in the Brazil side that triumphed at the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™, the player was soon out of favour with the Seleção. Now back to his best with Flamengo as they chase this year’s Copa Libertadores, Kleberson has been named in the Brazilian squad for their friendly against the Republic of Ireland in London on 2 March.
Though the veteran would dearly love a starting berth in what will be the team’s final outing before Dunga names his final 23 players for South Africa 2010, his very inclusion in the squad is testimony to his ability to bounce back – something that seemed a long way off at times. “The secret is to keep believing in your ability. All bad things come to an end,” the player points out.
A promising start
Kleberson’s early career coincided with a golden era for Atletico Paranaense at the start of the millennium. Only two years after his professional debut in 1999, the then-22-year-old had already won two state championships and the club’s one and only Brasileirao.
The midfielder’s talents did not go unnoticed by the then national coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, who took a chance by naming him in his squad for Korea/Japan 2002. Kleberson repaid the faith his coach had put in him with a series of hugely impressive displays in the knock-out stages, culminating in an appearance in the Final as the Seleção secured their fifth world title.
His triumph in the Far East paved the way for a high profile move to Europe in 2003, and he became the first Brazilian to don the colours of Manchester United. Such was his standing on his arrival at Old Trafford that many wondered whether he, or a certain young Portuguese winger by the name of Cristiano Ronaldo, would take pride of place in Alex Ferguson’s midfield.
However, a catalogue of injuries and his subsequent failure to establish himself at United limited Kleberson’s time in England to just two seasons. The player’s ambitions were not helped by Ferguson tendency to rotate his midfield, nor by his own return of just two goals in 30 games. “I don’t regret going to United. I didn’t perform as well as I had hoped, but it was an honour to play for such a great club,” the Brazilian says.
His transfer to Besiktas was to prove much more fruitful, however. In his first year in Turkey, surrounded by compatriots, he managed to play more games than in two seasons for the Red Devils, although it would not be enough to earn him a place in the Seleção squad for Germany 2006.
“We all have difficult moments in our careers, when we just have to remain patient and trust that things will get better,” said the 30-year-old who in 2007 decided it was time to go home and signed on the dotted line with Flamengo.
Back in Rio, it took Kleberson some time to achieve match fitness and re-emerge as the holding midfielder of old who was so adept at closing down space and adding numbers to the attack. By 2009 he was back to his best and played a pivotal role as Flamengo won their third consecutive state championship.
He was rewarded with his first call up for the Seleção since 2004 and featured as Brazil won the FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa last June. However, his international comeback was cruelly interrupted just two months later when he was injured in a friendly with Estonia. Even worse than the consequent shoulder surgery that was needed was having to look on as his colleagues lifted the national championship. "It’s not easy being out of the picture as the Brasileirao reaches its climax, nor having to watch [your team’s] victory from the sidelines," the player laments.
Yet, Kleberson ability to overcome so many difficulties was not lost on Brazil boss Dunga. On selecting the deep-lying midfielder last year, the Auriverde coach was keen to highlight his qualities as a “team player”, highlighting how he sat patiently on the Fla bench “without making a fuss.”
Speaking at the announcement of the squad for the Ireland game, Dunga added: "He’s experienced, has played in the World Cup and the Confederations Cup and has always shown character when selected. That’s the reason we’ve called him up – to give continuity to this process.”
Asked about the prospect of appearing at another FIFA World Cup finals eight years on, Kleberson says: "I had a great Word Cup in 2002, and I’d love to do the same in 2010 if I got the chance. I’ve no doubt that my experience is a point in my favour. It’s also my job to guide the younger players on the field."
Given the patience and resilience the player has shown over the years, he would unquestionably have plenty to offer. And given the chance to shine once again on the biggest stage of all, you would not bet against him making the very most of the opportunity.