Kerlon: The Brazilian ‘seal-dribbler’ who time forgot

Harry Burford

If you have access to YouTube and possess a moderate interest in the beautiful game we all know and love, then you would have likely heard all about former Brazilian international and notorious technical showboat – Kerlon, the infamous ‘seal-dribbler’ who somehow failed to set the European game alight.

Football has seen many failed wonderkids come and go throughout the years, far too many to mention in one concise and compact list. Yet in the case of Kerlon Moura Souza – the apparent spiritual heir to the great Ronaldinho himself – it’s difficult to see why the young Brazilian talent never quite made it among the upper echelons of European football.

In fact, whilst it takes more than just the odd bit of skill or daring technicality to really take the footballing world by storm these days, Kerlon once held the beautiful game in the palm of his hand like an oyster ready to be robbed of its most joyous pearl. He was an innovator, someone willing to rewrite the rules of football under an exceptionally novel and widely unprecedented pretext.

So why then did Kerlon seemingly fall off the face of the planet before reaching standard footballing maturity? Why did no like-minded European club believe in the young Brazilian with so much otherworldly potential working in his favour? And why aren’t we all still talking about Kerlon today as one of the greatest technical marvels the modern game has ever seen?

Source: Twitter
Source: Twitter

On the back of the 2005 South American U17 football championship in Venezuela, Kerlon was widely touted as one of the most exciting young talents to drift their way onto the esteemed international scene. After dazzling his Brazilian crowd with a range of delightful manoeuvres inside the final third, the up and coming talent finished the competition as both the tournament’s top goalscorer and all-round best player, with a host of elite European clubs reportedly in the hunt for his signature.

Kerlon’s name became synonymous with a range of ridiculous showcases of skill that few top flight footballers could ever come close to replicating. The young South American was boisterous and confident with the ball locked tantalisingly at his feet. He made mincemeat out of opposing defenders who sought to run him out of play, often scoring remarkably well-worked individual efforts on more than just the odd occasion.

The rapidly emerging attacker also proved proficient when it came to scoring set-pieces from all manner of unlikely angles, and with great style too. Although he was just a fresh-faced 17-year-old kid at the time, the young Brazilian’s reputation was already spreading like wild-fire.

It was for his outrageous ‘seal-dribble’ however, that Kerlon will be most fondly remembered…

Cruyff had his infamous turn to look back on in wonder. Panenka can always call the glaring penalty chip his own. But the ‘seal dribble’, a type of skill never before performed with the same level of panache nor out-in-out astonishment among all those who were lucky enough to see it happen? That particular showcase of daring individual brilliance will forever belong to Kerlon…

The young Brazilian attacker often displayed more emphatic ball control with his head than some players ever manage to achieve in the traditionalist manner, with the ball stuck firmly at their feet. He would calmly chip the ball up when caught in tight situations, subsequently launching it above his head and parading through the opposing defenders like an overzealous baby seal on the precipice of feeding time. Really, there has never been anything quite like it.

Such a talent failed to go down well among Kerlon’s hardnosed challengers of course, as many opposing defenders would simply clatter the young Brazilian before he had the chance to really show them up in front of all those on-looking fans. His talents were unique, but that didn’t stop a variety of painful elbows and brutal body-slams coming his way during those famed early days among the South American game.

It was all going so well for the youngster, yet Kerlon’s top flight career was nonetheless halted by a series of testing knee concerns which saw him spend much of his prime years left out injured on the sidelines. The Brazilian received his big-money move to Europe after impressing with Cruzeiro, yet after seemingly failing to make the grade at each of Chievo, Inter Milan and Ajax – the injury-stricken Brazilian was soon on his way back home after watching much of his early potential slip desperately by the wayside.

Injuries had seemingly put an end to what could have been one of the most standout careers the modern game has ever witnessed. Subsequent spells in Japan, USA, Malta and Slovakia also failed to come off for Kerlon, forcing the former talent to regress further into the shadows in light of his mounting injury concerns.

Does the Brazilian talent, therefore, represent little more than a lightweight frontman with a whole bunch of limited gimmicks to his game, or was Kerlon merely a tad unfortunate in his quest to dominate the European scene? Was it only a matter of time before the attacker’s body was battered into submission by all those who sought to stop him in his tracks, or did the former South American star suffer from a simple lack of mental stability when push invariably turned to shove?

We will never quite know the full picture it seems – but if it hadn’t been for those dastardly injuries keeping him locked down on the side-lines for a number of lengthy spells at the time – the world of football may not have lost out on one of the most technically gifted assets the beautiful game has ever produced. Here’s to you Kerlon…

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