Few people foresaw the transfer of Portugal midfielder Petit from Boavista to Benfica.

When Boavista president Joao Loureiro declared at the end of last season that he intended to sell off one or two stars to satisfy the bank manager, everyone knew Petit would be one of them. But the assumption was that the 25-year-old would leave the country. Indeed, the player said as much himself.

“Boavista are a great team, but I want to play in a more competitive championship,” said Petit, whose real name is Armando Goncalves Teixeira but who earned the nickname because of his slight build and the fact he was born in France.

On returning from Portugal’s shambolic World Cup campaign, it seemed as if he would have his wish, with Spain’s Atletico Madrid and Real Betis showing the strongest interest. However, Boavista turned down offers of œ3.3million from both clubs and neither would raise their bid. Enter Benfica, who finally concluded a deal to take him to Lisbon on a five-year contract for a reputed œ4m.

It was not the overseas move Petit had longed for and he had given up the opportunity of European football this season – Boavista qualified for the Champions League as domestic runners-up, while Benfica finished only fourth to miss out even on the UEFA Cup.

Even so, Petit insisted he was happy.

“This is a positive move,” he argued. “I shall be playing for a League title with Benfica, and that’s something special.”

Benfica have not won the title since 1994, and Petit knows all about their tendency to look good on paper and insipid on grass. But he has already come through much tougher challenges.

As a youngster, he had to have an operation on a deformed left leg and, for a time, thought he would never play again. Then, after helping Boavista’s youth team to the 1995 national championship, his form dipped sobadly during loan spells at three lower league sides that he contemplated quitting the game and working in his parents’ cafe in Oporto.

Petit did not give up, though. Another loan move, to Gil Vicente, worked out so well that Boavista recalled him for the start of the 2000-01 season. Nine months later, he was a star of a title-winning side and a full international.

Benfica have a player who loves a battle, and that is just what they need. “It does not matter if I’m playing against Bayern Munich or a regional side,” says Petit.

“I always give everything. I’m a competitive animal.”

Club Benfica
Country Portugal
Born September 25, 1976, in Strasbourg, France
Previous clubs Bom Pastor, Esposende, Gondomar, Uniao Lamas, Gil Vicente, Boavista
International debut June 2001, v Rep Ireland
International caps 13 (0 goals)
Honours Portuguese League 2001 (Boavista)