The collective sighs of relief from everyone involved with Corinthians and Sao Paulo were almost palpable at the news that their big-money signings from back in March, Adriano and Luis Fabiano, were finally fit to play. And their returns to competitive action could barely have come at a better time, with both clubs in the thick of one of the most tightly contested Brazilian title races of recent years.
However, the pair's impact since rejoining the Brasileiro fray in early October has been less than spectacular. While Adriano played just 42 minutes spanning two games and showed little of the rampaging presence of his Inter Milan pomp, Luis Fabiano failed to find the net despite starting three matches and even missed a penalty. All of which has meant the optimistic hype surrounding the former Brazil stars' returns has been replaced by calls for calm and patience.
“Nobody at the club is demanding goals from Adriano at the moment, because we´ve seen just how much effort he's been putting in to come back from that unfortunate injury,” Corinthians left-back Fabio Santos told FIFA.com. “Plus he´s a big lad, so you always need to be that bit more careful.”
There is a similar mood in the São-paulino camp, according to coach Adilson Batista. “The plan is for Luis Fabiano to gradually improve his match fitness. That´s why we want him to play right to the end (of matches),” he explained. “It's not easy for him to adapt, people have to be understanding and forgiving. The most important thing is that he´s getting better every day.”
Nor are the two men at the centre of this story unaware of the size of the task facing them as they attempt to reignite their careers. Readjusting after their time in Europe, the lengthy spells on the sidelines, plus the ever greater intensity of matches in the final third of the championship chase, all add to the level of difficulty.
“I've been working very hard, but I'd still ask for people to be a bit patient,” said O Imperador, after making his debut in the 3-0 win over Goianense on 9 October. “I'm still not ready, but I'm slowly getting back to ideal fitness.”
For Luis Fabiano, the sense of frustration is arguably even greater, with O Tricolor Paulista having lost once and drawn twice since his return. “My comeback's been more gruelling than I expected, but I´m here to battle hard and I'm not going to let my head drop,” said Brazil's three-goal top scorer at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ after missing a penalty in 5 October´s draw with Cruzeiro.
“It's tough, but the goals will come,” added the front-runner, who has spent seven months recovering from a knee tendon injury picked up at previous club Sevilla.
The level of euphoria surrounding the big-name duo may have dipped, but fans of Corinthians and Sao Paulo remain a long way from doubting the potential impact of two players with proven track records in Europe and A Seleção. “He's got fantastic quality and there are very few players that know the centre-forward´s role as well as him,” said Luis Fabiano's team-mate Dagoberto, Sao Paulo's leading scorer and main man so far in the Brasileiro 2011.
“He gets hold of the ball, shields it and opens up spaces for the midfielders to break forward,” added the attacker, whose side's current five-match winless run leaves them back in fourth spot, though only three points behind joint leaders Corinthians and Vasco da Gama. "I'm certain that once Lucas comes back too it will kick-start the team again."
Turning back to O Timão, and Fabio Santos insisted that Adriano´s mere presence in training has lifted his club-mates´ morale. “While he was recovering from his injury, the tension around the place increased, and we all went through that together. It was getting to the lads,” said the wide player. “Once he came back into training the atmosphere really relaxed. It was just what we needed,” added Fabio, referring to the build-up to that win over Goianense, which sent Corinthians back into top spot.
Yet regardless of any psychological boost provided, both Paulista state heavyweights will at some point need their marquee strikers to rediscover their shooting boots. “If Adriano can get back to just 50 per cent of his best he´ll score goals,” concluded Fabio Santos, on how the club's No10 could help O Timão reclaim a Serie A crown last won in 2005. “He's an icon and someone who gets respect from opponents. That´ll be vital in helping us win the title.”