This week, Elano Blumer announced his retirement from professional football at the age of 35.
For many of us, the news prompted reminiscences of that exciting, magical summer almost a decade ago when the mysterious Brazilian arrived in Manchester and swiftly became the poster boy of Sven-Göran Eriksson’s new-look City – a side which, we now realise, represented merely the beginning of the club’s metamorphosis from serial underachievers to the stylish and sophisticated footballing powerhouse it is today.
Elano joined City from Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk (a well-trodden path for Brazilians coming to Europe) for a fee reported to be in the region of £8 million and his signing was announced on 2nd August 2007 as part of a hat-trick of new acquisitions for City (Javier Garrido and Vedran Corluka were the other two) following the club’s takeover by Thaksin Shinawatra – the former Prime Minister of Thailand and, according to Amnesty International, a “human rights abuser of the worst kind”.
For the first time in a long time, City had a bit of financial clout that summer and as well as the aforementioned three players, newly installed Blues’ boss Eriksson tapped into his extensive scouting network and brought in winger Martin Petrov, midfielders Gelson Fernandes and Geovanni, and strikers Rolando Bianchi and Valeri Bojinov to bolster a squad which had narrowly avoided relegation from the Premier League under Stuart Pearce the previous season.
2007 was hardly the Dark Ages but people didn’t yet have access to quite the same amount of information as they do today and it’s fair to say that little, if anything, was known about any of Eriksson’s new recruits when they first arrived at the club. That only made those players seem more exotic and intriguing and a great deal of anticipation surrounded City’s first match of the 2007/08 season, away at West Ham.
Eriksson gave seven players their debuts at Upton Park that day and although two of them scored (Bianchi and Geovanni) to give the Blues a 2-0 opening day victory, it was Elano who made the biggest first impression.
In the 18th minute, the then 26-year-old picked up the ball inside his own half and ran at the Hammers defence. With a deft flick of his right boot, he ghosted past the flat-footed Matthew Upson and played an inch-perfect, slide-rule pass across the goalmouth which Bianchi bundled home at the far post to open the scoring. It wasn’t the greatest piece of skill anyone’s ever executed on a football pitch but when you’ve been starving for decades, even the smallest crumb can seem like a grand banquet.
Watching the highlights on Match of the Day that evening, I was as spellbound as anyone by City’s classy new Samba boy, prompting a Manchester United supporting mate of mine to remark that Elano was probably the first player of genuine quality I’d seen play for City during my lifetime. He may have been patronising and factually inaccurate (I had, after all, enjoyed the delights of Georgi Kinkladze and Ali Benarbia in my time) but I can’t deny he had a semblance of a point.
Elano notched up his second assist in City’s second game of the season, teeing up Michael Johnson to score the only goal in a 1-0 victory over Derby County (incidentally, that goal was City’s first at home since New Year’s Day 2007) and though he was his team’s stand out performer in the opening weeks of the season, he would have to wait a little while for his first goal.
Like City, Sam Allardyce’s Newcastle had invested in their playing staff during the summer (signing Joey Barton, amongst others) and both clubs had ambitions of pushing for a UEFA Cup spot that season. They were the visitors to the City of Manchester Stadium on a sunny Saturday in September and it was they who took the lead when Obafemi Martins lobbed the ball over Joe Hart after 28 minutes.
However, City rallied and with the virtuoso Elano as their orchestrator, they drew level and then took the lead either side of half time thanks to goals from Petrov and Emile Mpenza respectively. The crowning moment, however, was yet to come.
With the minutes ticking towards full time, City were awarded a free kick 25-yards from goal and up stepped – you guessed it – Elano. It may have seemed a little too far from goal for a shot but shoot is exactly what he did and the ball flew off his boot, past Shay Given in the Newcastle goal and, with next-to-no backspin, nestled beautifully in the top corner of the net.
The Brazilian wheeled away as if he’d just done the most natural thing in the world and it was City defender Nedum Onuoha who verbalised what we were all thinking when TV cameras picked up him mouthing the words “Oh my God!” to a teammate as they joined in the celebrations.
Elano scored two more goals – another free kick and a fine curled effort – in City’s next match, a 3-1 victory at home to Middlesbrough, and he would score again in a 1-0 win over Birmingham and away at Bolton in the League Cup. However, partly due to the fact his manager deployed him in a number of different positions (at one stage he even played right back!) he suffered a dip in form around the middle of the season and “mercurial” soon became the operative adjective to describe the former Santos man’s performances.
Nevertheless, he ended his first season in English football with 10 goals and as many assists to his name, including arguably the best goal of the game in City’s 8-1 thrashing away at Middlesbrough on the final day. The Blues finished in a disappointing 9th place and Eriksson was sacked, but Elano’s debut campaign had been a personal success and he was expected to kick on the following year.
Unfortunately, that didn’t really happen. City were taken over by the cash rich Abu Dhabi United Group in September 2008 and though Elano was joined at the club by compatriots Jô, Robinho and Glauber Berti, he was unable to hit the heights of his first season and soon found himself marginalised under new manager Mark Hughes.
City’s Brazilians are said to have formed something of a dressing room clique that season, of which Elano was thought to be the ringleader, and his supposed bad attitude and poor work ethic made him an unreliable member of Hughes’ squad. Where he could always be relied upon, however, was from the penalty spot and he scored several times from 12-yards out that year, including an ultimately futile pen against Hamburg in the second leg of the UEFA Cup quarter-final.
That night proved to be Elano’s swansong in a City shirt and after just shy of two years at the club, he was sold to Galatasaray in July 2009. He made 32 appearances in Turkey before returning to his native Brazil in November 2010, where he had spells at Santos, Grêmio and Flamengo. He has been capped 50 times for Brazil, scoring nine times in the shirt of Verde-Amarela.
In 2014, Elano joined Chennaiyin FC for the Indian Super League’s (ISL) inaugural season. His time in India proved to be eventful as he became the first “marquee player” to score in the league – a free kick on his debut – and was later arrested for allegedly physically assaulting the co-owner of FC Goa following the 2015 ISL final.
In January 2015, he returned to Santos for a third spell at Brazil’s second most successful club but then in June that year, he agreed a loan move back to Chennaiyin, where he won the ISL Cup as captain. His playing days ended back at Santos, where he is now expected to become assistant manager, and to commemorate his career, there’s been talk of a friendly being arranged next season between Peixe and City, for whom he apparently still maintains a great deal of affection.
Elano wasn’t the greatest player to ever don the sky blue shirt (he isn’t even in the top 10) but he was the first bit of real class we’d seen around these parts for decades. He was a glint of light at the end of a long, dark tunnel and for that, he will always occupy a very special place in our hearts.
Written by Dan Burke
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