Lulinha: The ‘New Ronaldinho’ Who Could Have Had It All

Harry Burford

We’ve heard the same story hundreds of times before. An up and coming young superstar, born usually from the mean streets of South America, suddenly bursts onto the scene amid great hype and anticipation for what his promising top-flight career will soon have to offer.

The player is brash, inexperienced and largely unorthodox – yet the fans just can’t seem to get enough of him. They love the way he marauds around the pitch with that all-important sense of unpredictability aligned to every fibre of his being. Via his mounting skill and technicality, the player is capable of leaving his supporters permanently fixated upon the edges of their seats.

Then, just as the so-called superstar is seemingly unable to detach himself from the growing praise and thriving expectation that has been so readily thrust in his direction, everything somehow begins to fall apart at the seams. The goals stop flying in, the tricks become easier to foretell – and everyone is left wondering just what all the supposed fuss was about in the first place.

The player subsequently witnesses his once exciting top-flight career wither and die before his very eyes. Now no one seems to care about his future, for the spotlight is already full with a whole host of brand new stars-in-the-making, each looking to capture the footballing world as their own. Such is often the way within the realm of top-flight modern day football.

Brazil’s Lulinha is one of many fallen prodigies to have descended into such a category. Although few casual onlookers among the modern European game may have admittedly heard his name before, there was a time when the fresh-faced 17-year-old could seemingly do no wrong.

His skill was considered parallel to some of the best and most well-loved tricksters out there, leading some to label the up and coming young South American as the ‘next Ronaldinho’ of world football. It was a title that ultimately arrived in somewhat premature fashion for the young attacker, who sadly fell off the face of our collective footballing consciousness despite a rather promising start to life among the famed Brazilian game.

Take your minds back to the summer of 2007; Chris Kamara has been missing vital match-winning moments left, right and centre on our television screens, Manchester City are on the verge of taking the Premier League by storm with their insane summer spending, whilst Thierry Henry has finally sealed his long-awaited move to Barcelona despite ardent protest from the Arsenal supporters.

Yet away from the bright lights of the English top-flight, a young kid has seemingly rocked up to the South American U17 Championships in Ecuador and taken his opposition by storm: Lulinha was his name. The attacking midfielder finished the competition as the leading top goalscorer, helping Brazil seal ultimate victory in the final against a Colombian outfit who simply didn’t know what hit them.

It was the beginning of what could have been a great career for the youngster. Lulinha was quick, both when running into position and with the ball at his feet. He could score goals from almost anywhere just outside the opposition’s penalty-box, whilst his tantalizingly quick-feet drew gasps of wonder and delight from all those who saw him play.

Brazil’s next big star-in-the-making had apparently introduced himself. Even the great Ronaldinho would have arguably struggled to match the feeling of sensation brought about by Lulinha whilst playing at youth level. The young talent had succeeded in capturing the wider attention of his adoring audience, now it was just a matter of time before the classic no. 10 continued his rise to power upon the grandest club stage of all…

It’s unfortunate how things ultimately turned out for Lulinha. The outstanding ‘next Ronaldinho’ of the Brazilian game somehow failed to establish himself at Corinthians despite achieving many accolades with the U17s. He subsequently wound up enduring several unsuccessful loan spells away from Sao Paulo and exploring the lower reaches of the Brazilian game with very little to show for himself.

Perhaps it was a case of gaining too much too soon for the young goalscorer. Word on the street revealed how Nike had already tied the frontman down to a long-term sponsorship deal before he had even celebrated his eighteenth birthday. With so much hype and expectation swimming around his head at the time, who knows what state of mind Lulinha must have found himself in during those oh so impressionable early days.

Had Chelsea ultimately landed the fresh-faced Brazilian in January of 2007, maybe things would have turned out entirely differently for both the player and his nation. Roman Abramovich’s Blues were seemingly keen on installing a much-needed wow factor back to Stamford Bridge after recently parting ways with Jose Mourinho in less than clear-cut circumstances.

Although certain question marks would have resided over Lulinha’s ability to wholeheartedly cut it among the English top-flight, the step up in responsibility could have been good for the young South American. As fate would have it, Chelsea were ostensibly put off by the problematic £25million price-tag supposedly lingering above his head, and the rest is seemingly history.

Lulinha’s story is one that has been repeated many times over. Had the young Brazilian simply drifted onto the scene away from the spotlight of South America’s U17 Championships, perhaps the up and coming attacker could have developed his overall game amid far more accommodating and accepting circumstances.

The quick-footed no. 10 could have been a real delight to watch, for he certainly served us all with some great showcases of skill during the early part of his career. It’s just a shame that he could never fulfilled those burgeoning expectations that served only to weigh him down defiantly in the end.

Today, Lulinha can be found expressing the odd moment of brilliance among the South Korean game with Pohang Steelers – a far cry from what could have been for the kid they labelled the ‘next Ronaldinho’ of world football. Sometimes, without wanting to pour cold water on everything that makes the beautiful game what it is today, it’s probably best to keep those wild assumptions and impractical expectations at bay for a while…

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