Grafite targets dual success
© AFP

Grafite, or Edinaldo Batista Libano to give him his full name, has been in sparkling form throughout 2008. The striker, on the books at German UEFA Cup hopefuls Wolfsburg, has scored 21 goals and provided 11 assists in all competitions this year. "The club’s made it easy for me to settle really quickly, both personally and professionally. The stability and feeling of support here is reflected in the way I’m playing. I’m very happy here," the 29-year-old explains to FIFA.com.

The Wolves, currently ninth in the Bundesliga, are competing for honours on three fronts (Bundesliga, German Cup and UEFA Cup), but the goal-getter knows his efforts alone will never be enough for success. "New signings such as [Andrea] Barzagli, [Zvjezdan] Misimovic and [Christian] Zaccardo have made us stronger as a team. I’m convinced we can finish at least as well as we did last year and make it into Europe again for next season," the striker declares.

However, the father of one has not always thrived to the same extent as in 2008. The Wolfsburg number 23 grew up in Sao Paulo. "I have nothing but fond memories of my childhood. I grew up very happy, I had a loving family and lots of friends. I was happy playing football, happy at school and happy among my friends," the former Brazil international confides.

Football has always been the controlling passion of Grafite’s life, but there was a time when, in order to feed and clothe his young family, he was forced into a rather different line of employment. "You’re talking about when I used to sell garbage bags?" he asks FIFA.com rhetorically. "It wasn’t that unusual, people still sell bin liners door-to-door. I had to earn money, and it was a job. I’ve never forgotten that time, and I learned a lot of positive things."

Perhaps that upbeat approach and determination were decisive in bin liner salesman Edinaldo evolving into professional footballer Grafite. His pseudonym as a player points to a life which has had its harder moments. "The name, which means graphite, was given to  me by a former coach. He’d had a player called Grafite before who was very similar to me. And it fits well to my physical build," the burly 1.89m, 90 kg marksman insists.

I had to earn money, and it was a job. I’ve never forgotten that time, and I learned a lot of positive things.

Grafite on selling bin liners.

Regardless of the origin and suitability of the moniker, the likeable star has made great strides since adopting the name. He signed professional forms in 2001 with Santa Cruz, and had brief spells with Gremio of Porto Alegre, Korea Republic outfit FC Seoul, and Goias EC, before returning to his home town with Sao Paulo in 2003.

He spent three prolific seasons with the Paulistas, enjoying the best year of his career to date in 2005, when the club carried off the Copa Libertadores and the FIFA Club World Cup. He looks back on those days with great happiness: "There were some really fantastic moments. Sao Paulo was where I made my name, where I won trophies, and where I became an international. If I end up returning to Brazil, that’s where I’d like to play."

However, Grafite was never likely to remain in South America after that, and duly arrived in Europe as a 27-year-old in 2006. Contracted to French side Le Mans, he netted 17 goals in 52 Ligue 1 appearances.

Bundesliga scouts were alerted to the potent Brazilian and he switched to Germany just a year later. "In relative terms, Wolfsburg’s offer was much better than the offers from French clubs. I was also determined to play in the Bundesliga. The working environment is much better here, and the championship is much closer than in France. These were the main reasons for making the switch," the player explains.

Grafite has never regretted his decision to come to Germany, and has his sights set high with Wolfsburg this term. "We want to go as far as we can in all three competitions. Our priority is the Bundesliga, but we’re aiming for the final in both the UEFA Cup and the German Cup," he declares, rounding off his FIFA.com interview with a courageous statement of intent.

And who knows: if Grafite keeps turning in such consistently excellent performances, he might yet return to the ranks of the Auriverde.