Worlfsbrug will be hoping that a return to his native Brazil will improve the fortunes of striker Grafite.
It’s hard to reach the top and even harder to stay there. This old maxim should ring true for Wolfsburg’s Brazilian striker Grafite, who only last season scored an amazing 28 goals in 25 games to help his side claim their first-ever German title, but is now looking to escape a depressing spiral of leaking confidence, frustration and rebellion.
After spending most of his career off the footballing beaten-track, Grafite finally hit paydirt with Wolfsburg in 2008-09, topping the marksmanship list and voted Germany’s Player of the Year, only the third foreigner to take the prize. Very much the man of the Bundesliga moment, his consecration did come relatively late in life – at the age of 30 – but he had plenty of gas left in the tank and, forming a brilliant front-line duo with the Bosnian Edin Dzeko, there seemed every chance of more success.
Well, that was the theory anyway. Unfortunately for the burly Brazilian, Grafite II has proved a carbon-copy of most Hollywood sequels. The cast is the same, the budget is bigger. Yet the final cut still flops at the box office.
Apart from the odd salvo – a fine goal against Stuttgart on the opening day of the season and a hat-trick in a Champions League match with CSKA Moscow – his season thus far has been one of unremitting doom: just two goals in the league up until early November, a bust-up with coach Armin Veh, a red-card for violent conduct in a European tie with Besiktas and the loss of his automatic first team place.
No one saw this all-too public fall from grace coming, Grafite least of all, and as a result, he has cut a lonely, agitated figure. Diva-like in his protests about being substituted early in the second-half of a fixture with Bochum (“I deserve more respect. I’m not a liitle boy any more.”); limp and resigned of body language and not above showing his displeasure with team-mates for not providing him with the right service.
Peculiar that he has turned into such a lost soul recently. After all, he was anything but short of mental toughness last term. Although deeply affected by the death of his father, he played through the pain and following a knee operation, he gritted his teeth to make a rapid recovery.
In an desperate attempt to put him back on an even-keel and rekindle the goalscoring prowess which once had Bundesliga defenders quaking, the Wolfsburg management decided to send him home to the Brazilian city of Recife for a week’s rest-cure. “It was exactly what I needed,“ explained Grafite. “I could relax with family and friends and recharge my batteries. Armin Veh was right when he said I was putting myself under to much pressure to repeat my exploits of last year. I know I must not get as frustrated on the pitch if things do not go well.“
Man-management techniques clearly are a changing here. Confronted with the same problem, German coaching greats such as Hennes Weisweiler or Udo Lattek would have told Grafite to knuckle down, to pull himself together. These days, though, a homeward-bound trip across the Atlantic is the prescription.
It remains to be seen whether the break does the trick. Especially as the two root causes of his downturn have not gone away. 1. The extra competition for places up front caused by the arrival from Newcastle United this summer of the Nigerian Obafemi Martins. 2. Armin Veh’s preference for a short-passing style.
Last term, under Veh’s predecessor Felix Magath, Wolfsburg’s favourite attacking ploy was to hit the Brazilian with long balls and let his power and straight-for-goal instincts do the rest. Now, with the onus on playing through midfield, Grafite no longer has the direct service he thrives on. If it ain’t broke.
Rather than a spot of rest and recuperation or a session on the analyst’s couch, perhaps Grafite would be better served by a change to tactics past.