To anyone unfamiliar with his goal celebrations, the sight of Vasco da Gama striker Alecsandro’s charging across the pitch with his tongue out, head shaking, hands raised and palms outspread might suggest a touch of lunacy. And though the front-man is merely paying homage to his father Lela, who played professionally in the 1980s and celebrated his goals in such a manner, there were many who did question Alecsandro’s sanity when leaving Porto Alegre heavyweights Internacional for Vasco in March.
“When it came out that I was joining Vasco, some people did say I was mad for going to a club which hadn’t won anything for a very long time. They couldn’t understand it, when I was settled at a club like Inter, which is always challenging for honours. My response was, 'But, why not?'” the front-man told FIFA.com, on the decision to leave the 2010 Copa Libertadores winners. Attacking midfielder and fellow Vasco recent signing Diego Souza has also revealed he faced similar scepticism when he agreed to join the Sao Januario outfit, yet the events of recent months have proved there was method to the pair’s “madness”. Following 1 June’s 1-0 first-leg win at home against Coritiba in the final of this year’s Copa do Brasil, O Gigante da Colina need just a draw in their opponent’s Estadio Couto Pereira to lift the trophy.
Climbing off the scrapheap
Intriguingly, Os Vascaínos’ current attacking arsenal consists of a clutch of players who touched down at the Rio de Janeiro side having struggled at their previous clubs. Diego Souza, for example, had endured a less-than-vintage year at Atletico Mineiro, while Eder Luis was used little in Portugal with Benfica. Youngster Bernardo, meanwhile, had his loan spell from Cruzeiro extended to a second successive year and Alecsandro himself had been gradually falling out of favour at Inter.
Under Vasco coach Ricardo Gomes, however, these players have gelled remarkably quickly and are within touching distance of capping that progression with silverware. “It’s been the case with Leandro and Eduardo Costa too,” explained Alecsandro.
“These are all players who’ve won things, who’ve left their mark as winners when at other teams. Whether or not things went badly for them at their previous team, they’re players who’ve come here looking to win trophies and with the goal of helping Vasco back into the mix. All that collective desire is what’s driving us forward.”
In his own case, Alecsandro also feels driven to repay the Vasco directors’ determination to make sure he signed on the dotted line. “They travelled over to Porto Alegre three times in order to bring negotiations to a close. I had offers from other teams, but it was the fact they wanted me so much that brought me to Vasco. They kept on saying that they needed me, that I’d fit right in here. That’s why I have to give my all to repay them for the effort they put in.”
The Vasco directors were not wrong about the new man fitting in, with the powerful front-runner hitting six goals in his 12 games thus far, including a headed winner in the aforementioned Copa first leg. “It’s been great,” continued Alecsandro, whose CV also includes spells at Vitoria, Cruzeiro and Sporting Lisbon. “It’s all happened so fast in such a short time at the club, with everybody already knowing that Alecsandro is a Vasco man now. It feels like I’ve been here for over a year already.”
Following in Lela's footsteps
Intriguingly for a player who has built a career on leading the line, the No9 insists he is not obsessed with finding the net every time he takes the field. Nevertheless, the goals have kept on flowing and each strike gives Alecsandro the opportunity to imitate his father’s trademark half-crazed celebration. What's more, the winner against Coritiba had a special resonance due to the latter’s links to the Parana state outfit, with Lela part of the Coritiba side crowned Brazilian champions in 1986.
“It all started with him, we’ve always lived and breathed football,” said Alecsandro. “Me and my brother (Atletico Mineiro midfielder Richarlyson) experienced the day-to-day stuff of training and matches with him, ever since we were in our mum’s belly. Something he always used to say was that, if we decided to take up football, it should be to make a career out of it and not just treat it as a hobby.”
Indeed, former striker Lela predicted Vasco would come up against his old club in the final of this year’s Copa. “Given the way the competition was panning out, my dad had said to me that we’d end up against Coritiba in the final, because they’d been playing really well. He said: ‘Make sure you beat Avai, because the final will be against them (Coritiba).’ Of course it was lovely for him that the final’s turned out like that.”
Warmly congratulated by Lela after last Wednesday’s decisive strike and first-leg win, Alecsandro had already told pitch-side reporters that he would “swap all the goals he’d scored for the title. It’s no good scoring two or three goals only to miss out on the trophy.”
He did, however, slightly alter this statement of intent when speaking to FIFA.com. “If I can score the goals that help us win the title then I’ll be very happy, because everything would fall into place then,” he said. “I’ve won things at every team I’ve played for and I believe the same will happen at Vasco too.”