Brazil have made a habit of producing a fine profusion of strikers in the past. Tostão, Pele and Rivelinho all graced that 1970 World Cup in a team which some have dubbed the greatest squad in the history of the game.
Eight years prior, it was Garrincha and Vavá who stole the show with their fine movement and keen eye for goal that led Brazil to their second title. Fast forward to the modern era and the 2002 tournament which focused on the “Three R’s” of Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho, the trio working in perfect tandem that eventually landed their fifth World Championship in South Korea and Japan.
However, since 2002, the Joga Bonito style that Brazil possessed in abundance has temporarily deserted them. A poor showing at the 2006 tournament, focused on the ‘Magic Square’ quartet of Ronaldo, Adriano, Kaka and Ronaldinho and an early exit from South Africa last year, courtesy of eventual finalists Holland, has seen the national team criticised by the country’s media and, perhaps more importantly, the fans as well.
While three-time Brazil coach Carlos Alberto Parreira and former captain and World Cup winner Dunga both failed in 2006 and 2010 respectively, the high pressure mantle was passed on to Mano Menezes who currently finds himself forced into reverting back to the successful style that made them such an attractive prospect in the past. With the current coach opting for a 4-3-3, much has been made about the return to the national set-up of Ronaldinho, who made his first appearance in almost a year during the 1-0 win over Ghana earlier this month, or the emergence of Neymar as a world class talent.
Much has been said about Neymar and over the summer, has name was linked with every top club, and Anzhi Makhachkala, during the transfer window, while Santos team-mate Paulo Henrique Ganso has been described as the new Kaka and been touted for a big money move to Europe sooner rather than later. With the spotlight being stolen by the Santos duo, one Brazilian appears to have snuck right under the noses of Europe’s heavyweights: his name is Leandro Damiao.
The Internacional forward may have only made his debut back in March, an unfortunate injury to Milan’s Alexandre Pato meant the 22-year-old was given his opportunity to shine, and may have only scored once on the big stage in the aforementioned 1-0 win over Ghana but Leandro has been turning heads for over a year now after hitting 41 goals in the past two years.
An impressive state considering as a 17-year-old, he was struggling to obtain a pro-contract playing in midfield before switching his position to striker, catching the attention of Internacional in 2009. Tottenham Hotspur remain heavily linked to Leandro but his pre-season performances during the Audi Cup have caught the eye of Europe’s elite. The 2-2 draw between Internacional and reigning European Champions Barcelona saw the striker net an 86th minute equaliser in which the commentator labelled ‘a classic centre forward’s goal’ before scoring the club’s opener in the 2-2 draw with Milan in the same competition.
Nonetheless, his build and technical ability means Leandro isn’t your stereotypical Brazilian player. Fans of Joga Bonito saw the likes of Robinho, Ronaldo and Kaka with the juggling skills of a circus professional, Leandro appears to lack the similar flair of his compatriots which is why Neymar and Ganso, similarly to aforementioned trio, are lauded by the media for their ability to entertain the crowd with the odd step-over or seven.
In fact, Menezes described him perfectly back in May, claiming that “Leandro Damiao belongs to a rare family of strikers that are hard to find in Brazilian football. You need someone with his strength and penalty area presence,” making the 22-year-old more Emile Heskey than Robinho. But, that is exactly what the national team need at the moment, effectively a battering ram to put the onion in the bag. Pato, Luis Fabiano and Nilmar all are currently drawing, or drew, blanks on the national stage and while Leandro only has one goal to his name with Brazil, he has only made three appearances for Brazil.
Nonetheless, a move over the summer failed to materialise despite speculation linking him with a move to White Hart Lane, with the player extending his contract by another five-years, much to the delight of coach Paulo Roberto Falcao who thought his departure was ‘inevitable’.
Tottenham were, and still are to an extent, favourites to land him in January when the transfer window re-opens, despite stiff competition from Barcelona, Milan and rivals Arsenal.
The North London outfit’s commercial relationship with the Brazilian side mean they have first refusal on any player at the club, an option they fully utilised to sign Sandro last summer and the same player has been trying his best to persuade his former team-mate this his future lies in North London.
Some feel his contract signings was to keep him until January at least with Internacional un-willing to do business until the end of the Brazilian season, which will run until the new year. Reports suggest that Tottenham have already agreed a deal to sign him at the beginning of 2012 while others believe Barcelona are readying an offer for the £15m rated star.
Either way, the future certainly looks bright for Leandro and with the 2014 World Cup being held in Brazil, the player will be setting his sights on making the final cut, especially after being dropped in favour of former Lyon striker Fred for the Copa America, and the best way for that to happen will be to step his game up on a club level.
Leandro favours a move to Europe and with an incredible scoring record, the un-Brazilian Brazilian will be a cheaper option than the much-hyped Neymar or Ganso and any team that signs him will, potentially, have a player of similar ability to Milan’s Filippo Inzaghi or Brazilian legend Romario.
This article originally appeared in In Bed with Maradona