Kleber, Porto’s wandering star
Though still in its infancy, the career of Kleber Laube Pinheiro has already thrown up plenty of twists and turns. Enduring a setback in his native Brazil before venturing across the Atlantic, the enterprising 21-year-old forward has been rewarded for his willingness to take risks, earning a move to Portuguese giants Porto thanks to his goalscoring prowess.
In conversation with FIFA.com, the young Brazilian refers to his early career moves as “adventures,” the first of them coming when he was no more than 14 years old, when he left his home town of Vitoria for the neighbouring state of Minas Gerais.
Following a trial with Vila Nova, he joined the youth ranks at Atletico Mineiro, impressing to such an extent that he signed a five-year professional contract with O Galo when he was only 17. After being drafted into the first team by Emerson Leao in 2009, Kleber’s rapid ascension was cut short when Celso Roth took over, prompting him to embark on a second adventure, this time much further afield.
“I checked out the island of Madeira on the internet and saw that they had some Brazilian players at the club, like Claudio [Mejolaro] Pitbull, once of Gremio,” he said, explaining his subsequent move to Portuguese league side Maritimo. “That got me excited and I decided to go.”
While others might have baulked at leaving a major Brazilian club for one of Portugal’s more unfashionable outfits, the 19-year-old was in no doubt. His boldness paid off immediately, the youngster quickly making himself at home with Maritimo and playing a starring role as they reached the UEFA Europa League.
His first-season exploits aroused the interest of both Porto and Sporting Club, and though he spent another season with the Madeira side after transfer talks broke down, his move to the big-time would not be long in coming.
“Just imagine it,” said Kleber. “There I was, arriving at Porto just after the most successful season in their history [the 2010/11 season, in which they went unbeaten in winning the league and also won the Portuguese Cup and Super Cup and the Europa League] and being given the job of replacing the team’s top scorer.”
The striker in question was Colombian goal machine Radamel Falcao, who left the young Brazilian with a tough act to follow when he joined Atletico Madrid: “If a class act like Falcao finds it hard to move to a new club and maintain the standards he set last year, then imagine what it’s like for someone like me. The one thing I’m sure of, though, is that things are going to get better. I’ve got a lot more to offer.”
A long way in a short time
You might think from those words that Kleber has yet to find his bearings at the Estadio do Dragao, an impression that could not be further from the truth. In 13 official outings so far, the youngster has struck six goals to add to the five he scored in as many pre-season matches, exploits that resulted in a call-up to the Brazil team.
Anxious to dampen down expectations among Porto fans who believe he is the answer to all the team’s problems, Kleber pleads for a little patience, which might seem a little ironic coming from someone whose career has unfolded at high speed: “At the end of the day I’m only 21. I’m happy and I know that I’m progressing and that things always happen too quickly for me. I’ve only ever had a year here and a year there and now here I am at a big club.”
So quickly has Kleber’s career taken shape that in pausing to reflect on how far he has come, even he is taken aback by the pace of it all: “I got a phone call from Sidnei Lobo, who is Mano Menezes’ assistant coach, two hours before the Brazil squad was announced for the friendlies against Mexico and Costa Rica [last September]. He told me the coach wanted to have a word with me. I was totally speechless. It took me completely by surprise.”
Though injury prevented the up-and-coming striker from figuring in those games, he was named once again for Brazil’s final two friendlies of last year, against Gabon and Egypt in November. “I thought it was great that Mano wanted to speak to me directly,” he added. “Sidnei spoke a lot about the project and the Olympic Games during those days, and it really made me want to get back into the national side.”
Thanks to A Seleção Kleber has another adventure mapped out in front of him, one that begins in six months time at London 2012. And as long as the roving Brazilian poacher continues to make things happen, there is every reason to expect him to be there.