The third-most-common surname in Brazil is “Oliveira”. Football fans in the UAE can be forgiven for thinking it might be No 1, given that three Brazilians with that family name were among the most prominent strikers in the country over the past half-dozen years.
Alexander Oliveira scored 38 league goals for Al Wasl through 2010, which included the Dubai side’s most recent championship, in 2007. Marcelo Oliveira put in 47, all but seven for Sharjah, whom he kept from relegation for two years.
But the most prominent and productive of the UAE’s Oliveira trio has been Ricardo, formerly of Al Jazira and, as of this week, of Wasl.
Over two full seasons with Jazira, and halves of three others, Ricardo Oliveira was that rarest of expatriate commodities: he was worth the money spent on him, a record Dh72.5 million paid by the Abu Dhabi side to the Spanish club Real Betis.
Oliveira soon became Jazira’s most dependable and creative attacking player, and one of the finest in the modern history of the league.
To watch Jazira was to see Oliveira gliding through the attacking third, sleek and alert as a shark and nearly as dangerous, ready for the pass over the top or to take off on the diagonal run that would put him in alone on the goalkeeper.
He was a refined finisher and, unlike many top scorers here, did not require teammates to bring him the ball in an advantageous position. He could carry it half the pitch, switch feet, elude tackles and find a place inside the post.
Oliveira was in the team when Jazira won their only league championship, in 2011, as well as their first and second President’s Cups, in 2011 and 2012. He scored 10 league goals in only 11 matches for the 2011 champions, providing the final piece to an attack that included Matias Delgado and Bare. He provided a goal in the 2011 cup final victory over Al Wahda, and the decisive goal in the 3-1 triumph over Baniyas a year later.
He also contributed to the development of Ali Mabkhout, his Emirati strike partner and a UAE international. Mabkhout had a deserved reputation as a creator – but not a taker – of chances. It was Oliveira who, two years ago, flatly predicted Mabkhout would become the national team’s most effective forward, and that has been the case for more than a year now. Oliveria’s support of his young teammate, and Mabkhout’s daily exposure to such a consummate professional, may have been the difference in his emergence.
Oliveira’s most impressive season was his first full campaign in the UAE, 2011/12, when he scored 41 times in 41 matches, including an astonishing 12 in seven Asian Champions League matches as Jazira won their group, the most impressive run by a UAE side in nearly a decade. In the last 16, he scored what should have been the winner, in added time, against the Saudi side Al Ahli, but Jazira conceded a moment later, and the home team went out on penalties.
Oliveira missed a spot kick in that shoot-out, and it may have been another missed penalty that proved the turning point in his time with Jazira.
In a league match at Sharjah three weeks ago, he missed a spot-kick early in the second half with an oddly indecisive shot. Five minutes later, he intercepted a pass in the attacking end, went in on the goalkeeper and, in what subsequent viewings showed was a difficult chance, shot it straight at the keeper.
A frustrated Oliveira, memorably, walked up the post and banged his forehead into it.
The game ended in a draw. Afterward, Walter Zenga, the new coach, rued the two missed opportunities, without naming Oliveira. A few days later, Zenga began to talk about Abdelaziz Barrada as his difference-maker, and by last week Oliveira sat out a game with an apparent knee injury, then heard his name come up in numerous transfer-window rumours, before the loan to Wasl.
He has not had a strong season; 11 goals in 17 matches is a low rate of return for him, and he often has seemed disconnected from the action. Much of that was about Jazira’s broken midfield; they stayed with Ibrahim Diaky and Subait Khater for far too long, gave up on Delgado and had no viable replacements.
But some of it, too, is about his birth certificate; Oliveira is 33, 34 in May. In modern football, most strikers are done by 33, particularly those who rely on athleticism.
Those who have admired the greatest of UAE Oliveiras for his reliability and professionalism will be wishing him good luck with Wasl. And Jazira supporters will hope the club did not give up on him a bit too soon.
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