Better late than never for Gremio's Jonas
There can be little doubt that scoring a hat-trick is manna from heaven for any striker, and Gremio hotshot Jonas, currently flying high at the top of the Brasileirao scorers’ charts, is no different. Yet so emotional was the 26-year-old after his three-goal haul in the 4-0 home league win over Gremio Prudente on 6 October - witnessed from the stands by parents Ismael and Maria Luiza - he was unable to even complete his post-match interview, instead needing a short break to compose himself before fulfilling his media duties.
Cruelly dubbed “the world’s worst striker” by Spanish sports daily El Mundo Deportivo after a profligate display against Colombia’s Boyaca Chico in the 2009 Copa Libertadores, such barbs now seem ridiculous after a brace away to Vasco da Gama on 9 October took his tally for the Brasileirao 2010 to 19 goals from 25 games. However, just two years ago Jonas had required a loan move to modest outfit Portuguesa to get his career back on track, while seven years ago playing professional football was not even on the cards.
The current situation represents an incredible turnaround in fortunes for a player whose prolific campaign now has him pushing for inclusion in the Brazi national squad, as well as storming up the list of all-time top scorers at his Porto Alegre club. “Things are happening for me at the right time,” said O Tricolor da Azenha’s leading light in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com.
It could have turned out so differently for Jonas who, after two unhappy stints as a youth player at Guarani at the ages of 12 and 15, was all set to pursue a career as a pharmacist. “I wasn’t able to live far away from my parents,” said the player, who first caught the eye as a youngster in the small town of Taiuva in Sao Paulo state.
So, in contrast to fellow Brazilian stars Robinho, Ronaldinho or Neymar, all of whom burst onto the scene as teenagers, Jonas’ roundabout route to the top had begun. “I was already enrolled at the pharmacy faculty, when the coach suggested I put my course on hold for a year and give football another go,” he said, recalling the approach by Guarani youth boss Sergio Luis Donizetti, who was determined to draft the then 20-year-old into his squad.
“It helped me to grow up and from that point things started to go right,” added the versatile forward, who within six months turned pro and by 2005 had finished second-top scorer in Brazil’s second tier, Serie B.
Signed by Pele’s former club Santos on the back of those displays, two inconsistent campaigns followed before Jonas made the switch to Gremio in 2007. After a promising start, injury and loss of form led to the aforementioned loan move to Portuguesa, where he shone despite the club’s relegation from Serie A. “I’ve had to fight for my place,” he said of his battle for recognition at Gremio. “But I think the fact it’s taken a while is to be expected, given I was a late starter and didn’t come through the youth system anywhere.”
His patience began to be rewarded in 2009, when he hit 14 goals from 26 Serie A appearances for Gremio before injury ruled him out of the latter stages. “I was in the running for the top scorers’ award when I got injured,” added the striker on an honour eventually shared by the 19-goal duo of Diego Tardelli and Adriano.
Jonas has already matched that pair’s tally this campaign and stands nine clear of closest pursuer Bruno Cesar of Corinthians. He was also his club’s top scorer in both the Gaucho state championship and the Copa do Brasil, netting 11 and eight goals respectively. This makes for an average of 0.66 goals a game this calendar year, with Jonas accounting for 32.7 per cent of the two-time Copa Libertadores winners’ goals in 2010 and 38 per cent of their Brasileirao tally.
Key to his resurgence has been coach Renato Gaucho, in the hotseat of the Porto Alegre side since August, with Jonas having grabbed 14 goals in 12 games since September. However, this means the Gremista supremo could soon find himself eclipsed in the club’s all-time scorers’ charts by his current charge.
“Even if I do overtake him it’ll only be in terms of goals scored, because he was a much better player than me,” said Jonas humbly after moving to 71 goals and within reach of coach Renato and Loivo, who are joint-fifth in the standings on 74.
While the current No7 has left former Gremio luminaries Ronaldinho and Mario Jardel behind in the rankings, Alcindo’s 264-goal record remains safe for the time being. Not that Jonas will be focusing on such long-term aims, with his energies centred on firing O Tricolor da Azenha to success in their final nine games of the league campaign.
Currently back in eighth spot but only six points behind third-placed Corinthians, Gremio’s phenomenal form of late has revived hopes of bagging a berth in the 2011 Copa Libertadores. And if Jonas’ flurry of goals continues, who would bet against them?