We've all got our favourite wonderkids from editions of Football Manager gone by. Those players that we signed at the start of every save and built our whole side around. We're staying in Brazil this week, but going back to Football Manager 2006 to take a look at Kerlon.
Kerlon's career starts at Brazilian club Cruzeiro, but he isn't likely to stay there long with the ability he has and a measly £2.1m release clause. With great pace and acceleration, high levels of flair and technique, and surprisingly high work rate; Kerlon is already a player capable of performing at a high level within Europe. Let's be honest though, Kerlon is known for one attribute above all else...
I don't think it would be fair to say Kerlon wouldn't be remembered without the 'seal dribble' - he did sign for some pretty huge clubs, as we'll cover later. However, I do think that his party trick gave him a certain level of elevation over the majority of wonderkids, an X factor that others could only wish for.
For the second time in two weeks, we have a first in the 'Whatever happened to...' series. Not only is Kerlon a free agent, as Keirrison was last week, but Kerlon is also the first Wonderkid who isn't in Football Manager 2021, having retired in October 2017. From a technical standpoint, Kerlon is still an excellent player and could do a job. The problem comes with his huge deterioration in mental and physical attributes. He still has his flair and even a decent amount of speed, although you'd struggle to call him 'quick', but with his natural fitness having dropped from 14 to a measly 3 plus huge drops to his bravery; determination; work rate and stamina, he's lost everything that would make him a reliable and consistent contributor.
Real World Career
Kerlon became one of the hottest prospects in Brazil way back in 2005, as he led Brazil to the South American Under 17 Championship. He scored 8 goals in 7 games on the way to being crowned top goal-scorer and best player, and instantly attracted attention from Europe's elite... and Middlesbrough!
Kerlon made his club debut in 2006 for Cruzeiro, where he spent three years, making 26 appearances. His 'seal dribble' had already been seen a few times in his fledgling career, but it's most famous moment came in 2007. Due to the difficulty of legally taking the ball away from a player's forehead, defenders were left with a choice to either let him go or foul him. Dyego Coelho decided on the latter, leading with his elbow in a challenge so appalling that he was banned for 120 days, although this was reduced to 5 games on appeal. Manchester United were rumoured to be willing to spend €25million (£18m) to bring Kerlon to Old Trafford, but Kerlon remained loyal and stayed another year; sadly, he ruptured his cruciate ligament in his final year and his reputation tanked.
The move to Europe did come, at the start of the 2008/09 season. He was signed by Inter Milan, but due to non-EU registration rules they essentially 'borrowed' a space from Chievo, where he spent his first year in Italy. Inter had paid a lowly €1.3m for 80% of Kerlon's rights, in a clear indicator that his stock had fallen massively. His agent, the polarizing Mino Raiola, claimed that Kerlon was worth the year waiting to play him - his time at Chievo would make it clear that this was not the case. He made the matchday squad a measly 6 times, never starting a game, and only managing an hour of action from his 4 substitute appearances.
He returned to Inter hoping to be given a chance to shine, but his new manager was none other than Jose Mourinho, a man not renowned for his faith in youth. In a truly sad turn of events, Kerlon was loaned to Ajax for a year, only for them to announce on the day of his presentation that he would in fact be turning out for Jong Ajax, their reserve side. He didn't feature for the Ajax first team at all.
From here it would be a truly nomadic existence for Kerlon's career. It took him 5 years to get another chance to play football in Europe. First were 2 unsuccessful loan spells back to Brazil. Paraná in Brazil's second tier were the first to give him a chance to recover from another knee injury he'd picked up in 2010, but he managed just 4 games. Then he dropped another division, signing for Nacional Esporte Clube in the third tier, but this was an even poorer showing, playing just once.
From there it was off to Japan, where he undoubtedly played his best football since Cruzeiro. It was nothing to get too excited about though; he scored 9 goals in 26 games for his new club Fujieda MYFC, a Japanese Football League side - Japan's fourth tier. He suffered yet another knee injury which signalled the end of his time in Japan, as he returned to Brazil for surgery. Once he was fit enough to find a new club, he made his way to the States, and signed for Miami Dade FC, a side that had been created less than a year previous. 5 games and 3 goals followed before he found himself in Malta with Sliema Wanderers, despite the fact he had originally had a trial with Birkirkara.
Two more clubs would go on to appear on Kerlon's CV, with a combined 7 appearances. 3 more back in his native Brazil with Villa Nova, before 4 games with Slovakian side Spartak Trnava. After being released and spending three months without a club, Kerlon officially retired from football on 20th October 2017 at the age of 29.
What went wrong?
As is the way with many failed wonderkids, injuries had a huge part to play in Kerlon not fulfilling his potential, although he was struggling to adapt to first team football while still at Cruzeiro. He looked brilliant on occasion, but the physical nature of the men's game saw him get hurt over and over, and the mental toll that numerous injuries took on him was evident less than halfway into his career.
There are a lot of 'what if's' with Kerlon's career; what if he hadn't injured his knee in Brazil? What if United had got their man? What if Jose Mourinho had more faith in youth? What if Ajax had given him a chance instead of dumping him in their reserves? Unfortunately, we'll never know.
Did you swear you could pick out a seal dribble in the 2d match engine? If flashy skills weren't your cup of tea, who did you pick up instead? Let me know over on Twitter, and also leave suggestions for wonderkids you'd like to see featured!
Don't forget to check out my personal blog too at onthebreak.net - we've got plenty of Football Manager content over there to keep you entertained!