It could have been John Motson or Barry Davies, screaming those words with accustomed familiarity on Match of the Day, but for us, in those first few games of the TPL season 2014, it was probably just in our heads. Leandro had, inevitably, scored and we were ahead, and for a while, top of the League. They were giddy times, and Leandro, his exploits in the previous season’s promotion campaign still buzzing through the memory banks, was our hero. I loved him and, to show my devotion, popped down to MBK to buy a Port blue t-shirt to have it emblazoned, in bright orange lettering, with that commentary above and, ‘The Perfect 10’ on the back. So, what of the man who had inspired this devotion?
The Pedigree (courtesy of Wikipedia)
Leandro was born in Candido Mota in Brazil on March 3rd, 1983. At the age of 19, he joined the legendary Santos in the top echelon of Brazilian football, Pele numbering amongst its former luminaries. The following year, he represented his country at U23 level, scoring one goal in 4 appearances. His career took on a rather wayward, nomadic turn after this, as he wandered through a number of home-based teams before making his way to Hai Phong in Vietnam in 2008.
It was here that he reached his own personal level of excellence, scoring 53 goals in 68 appearances, being made captain and winning Player of the Year 2009 in an on-line, unofficial poll. Leandro left Vietnam in 2012 to return to Brazil, but it was no doubt during his time in the V League that he had come under the radar of Dusit Chalermsan, Port manager 2013-14, who was coaching in Vietnam at the time.
The Goals 2013-14
Leandro announced his arrival with a stunning, left foot volleyed goal against Bangkok Glass in a rather meaningless, pre-season tournament in Chiang Rai. A header and a trademark free-kick in the first, victorious, away game at Ayuthaya confirmed that we had something special on our hands. ‘Getting a Brazilian’ became a subject that could now be discussed in Port family circles without any hint of embarrassment or recrimination. We won the first four away games in a row, were top of the League and the promotion adventure had begun.
The goals flowed: twenty-four that season, to win Leandro the Golden Boot. And they were, often than not, spectacular. Left foot shots and volleys, long and short range, of all description – meeting the ball dropping out of the air; crosses from the right; crosses from the left. Had they been scored by.. (insert here the name of a top Premier League striker) they would have been talked about incessantly. But they weren’t and they were.
Then came the headers, dispatched with deadly accuracy: diving with power; hanging in the air with placement; deftly cushioned into the corner. And, the penalties – he never missed. Every corner, free-kick and penalty was met with an expectant intake of breath, ready to be discharged in an exultant roar to announce yet another Leandro goal. We almost expected him to score direct from a throw-in.
His goals took us to promotion in 2013, to the top of the TPL at the beginning of 2014, and helped to save us from an unjust relegation after a 9-point deduction following the annual Battle of Muang Thong.
Leandro: what was there not to like…….?
The Dark Side
Quite a lot, according to some, and there is no doubt that Leandro had his detractors. He was, without doubt, egotistical; he wanted the game to revolve around him, often berating team-mates for some perceived indiscretion. In the true Latin tradition, he was, to put it kindly, theatrical. He dived, he rolled over, he screamed, clutching numerous body parts with varying degrees of pain intolerance. He argued with officials and had tantrums. He carried his baby into the pre-match line-up. In other words, he was the epitome of the modern footballer.
Whether you loved him or hated him (it was hard to be indifferent), you just couldn’t stop talking about him. Still, as Oscar Wilde once said, “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” I suspect Oscar would have admired Leandro.
My question to his detractors is: “Would you rather have had him for those two years or not had him? Would we have won promotion and climbed to 9th place in the League without him? If not Leandro, then who?”
He could be a rogue, but to my mind, a loveable one, and we English love a loveable rogue – just look at the Krays!
The Dismantling of an Icon
So, how will we look back on Leandro? For two years he was our God, our mercurial wizard; his left foot – his magic wand. We all knew he could be a bit of a twat. But, he was our twat, and we adored him. To watch him on his last return to Port with Air Force was to only feel sad at how much he had lost that magic. Never possessing a sylph-like figure, he looked overweight and well off the pace; even his aim letting him down. His once feared free-kicks never surmounted the wall and he spent most of the game in a running battle with the ref, Port players (and his own), and, ultimately, the crowd, that had once adored him and chanted his name. When he was sent off after a second yellow card for a nasty foul on the young Port keeper, Rattanai, his departure was greeted with ironic cheers, or were they jeers? This was the third time he had returned to Port as an opposition player; on the first occasion, he did a lap of honour around the ground, signing autographs and posing for selfies.
With each subsequent visit, his allure had diminished.
I, for one, will not forget him. Thanks for the memories, Leandro – Once You Were King.