Eninho, Jeonbuk’s set-piece master
The scorer of two goals from corners in the semi-finals of this year’s AFC Champions League and two penalties in the two-legged Korea Republic K-League championship decider, as well as supplying assists aplenty via pinpoint set-pieces and wicked crosses, Brazilian dead-ball maestro Eninho has belied his relative anonymity back home to help drive Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors FC to their finest ever season.
In the club’s quest for domestic and continental glory in late 2011, the attacking midfielder’s expertise from set-piece situations became Jeonbuk’s most dangerous weapon. Just ask AFC Champions League last-four opponents Al Ittihad, whose defence Eninho drove to such distraction he was able to net twice direct from corner kicks.
“To be honest, I got a bit lucky with that one,” he told FIFA.com, on his early strike in the 3-2 first-leg win. “I slipped when taking the kick and the ball flew in really low. A defender took a swipe at it and gave his keeper no chance. But what matters is that they credited me with the goal,” added Eninho with a grin.
“The second one [scored in the following week’s 2-1 second-leg win] was nicer, because I hit it directly into the net,” continued the 30-year-old. “My confidence was high and I just went for it. I nearly scored a few others like that later in the year.”
His run of corner-kick goals has ended there, for the time being at least, but the goals have continued to flow. Indeed, Eninho netted ten times in the last nine games of the season, stats which even bettered those of team-mate and K-League Player of the Year Lee Dong-Gook. “I’m well-respected here,” said the Brazilian. “If you were to ask a lot of club owners, they’d say they’d love to have Eninho in their side. I’m very happy to get that kind of recognition.”
Champions League pain
Despite his purple patch in recent months, even Eninho’s best efforts were unable to help his team lift the AFC Champions League crown. The omens were good after Jeonbuk’s No8 put them in front on 19 minutes with an exquisite free-kick from the edge of the box, but Qatari outfit Al-Sadd ended up winning the final on penalties, though Eninho predictably tucked away his own spot-kick.
Yet even in the face of this desperately disappointing reverse, Jeonbuk fans remained enraptured by the free-flowing and attacking football played by coach Choi Kang-Hee’s charges. “We scored more goals than any other team in the K-League and that’s thanks to Choi’s style,” explained Eninho, a firm admirer of the supremo’s forward-thinking convictions. “The motto he wanted us to follow was ‘shut up and attack’ and he was very good at knowing how to use every player at his disposal.
“We’ve got an excellent relationship. I’d even go so far as saying he’s been like a father to me here in Korea,” continued Eninho, on the man freshly appointed to the Korea Republic helm. “He keeps his cool, not like a lot of other coaches. He likes to talk things over and get the job done without having to punish people or tell them off. That’s the approach that led to us winning nearly everything.”
Life begins at 30
It could have all been so different for Eninho, who did not begin making his mark until his late 20s. After struggling in vain to carve out a niche for himself at clubs the length and breadth of his homeland, his luck changed in 2007 when Daegu FC snapped him up to kick-start his second spell in Korea Republic.
“I was playing in the Alagoas state league with Coruripe at the time, and I didn’t have to think twice before agreeing to the move. I never had an agent before and that made things difficult for me. Aside from that, I never found much consistency in Brazil: I’d play well for two games and then fall away,” he admitted. “When I came back over here things changed, to the point where people couldn’t understand how I’d been released by Suwon [Samsung Bluewings] back in 2003.”
Toughened up by his years of uncertainty in Brazilian football, Eninho embraced his time at Daegu and earned a move to Jeonbuk in 2009 – a switch which would prove a perfect match for both parties. “I’m happy to say that I’ve played a positive role in the growth of the team,” said the versatile performer, who turns 31 on 16 May. “The respect I’m given at the club makes me keep playing well and be even more motivated.”
And with successes such as the 2009 and 2011 K-League crowns coming relatively late in his career, Eninho’s determination to savour life at the top remains undimmed. “When I’m in a good place mentally everything else flows naturally. I’ve always carried the burden of wanting to help give my parents an easier life and now I can do that,” he said, as our conversation drew to a close.
“That makes me want to go on and achieve even bigger and better things over the next four or five years. I know that I can keep getting better.”