Friday 25 October 2019

Whatever happened to Leandro Damião?

Eight years on from the season that shot him to fame, Leandro Damião could barely be further from the gossip columns.

He is 30 and playing in Japan. He has not featured for Brazil since 2013. He scored against Chelsea in July, but that was in a pre-season friendly, and his chances of ever playing in the Premier League have now dwindled to precisely zero.

His name, once synonymous with irrational hope, now evokes a sort of bruised nostalgia. When people think of him at all, they do so in the form of a rhetorical question: “Whatever happened to Leandro Damiao?”

So, what did happen?

Find out in my latest for The Athletic.

Saturday 12 October 2019

From Elkeson to Ai Kesen: The Brazilian at the vanguard of China's quest to end their World Cup exile

When the opportunity arose to join Guangzhou Evergrande in the Chinese Super League, Elkeson leapt at it.

It was a way to secure his family’s financial future for decades — generations, even. It likely meant forgoing a shot at international football – he had been called up from Brazil two years earlier – but it was a price worth paying.

This week, however, Elkeson played in a World Cup qualifier. He took to the field at the Tianhe Stadium in Guangzhou wearing a red jersey with the number 11 on the back. Local commentators spoke in excited tones about him but didn’t use his birth name.

They called him “Ai Kesen”. He was playing for China.

Read my piece on China naturalising players in a bid to end their World Cup exile on The Athletic.

Tuesday 8 October 2019

Almost three years after the Chapecoense plane crash, families are still looking for answers, and for redress

In London's financial district, eight other Brazilians are staging a protest. They are wrapped up warm against the wind, coats zipped to the very top and gloved hands firmly jammed into pockets. Some hunker down on a bench. Others stand on the pavement, holding the edges of a banner they brought over from their homeland.

"Fighting for justice, we are stronger," it reads.

A few passers-by to ask what is going on. Those who do hear the latest chapters in a story that once held the world's attention but has since slipped off the radar.

Three of the protesters are lawyers. One is an activist. Four are widows of footballers who died when the aeroplane carrying the Chapecoense squad to the final of the Copa Sudamericana crashed in Colombia on 28 November 2016.

The ninth protester is Neto. He was on that plane.

The reason for their presence in the UK? Almost three years after the crash, the Chapecoense families are still looking for answers, and for redress.

Read the rest of this piece in The Athletic.