Mário Jardel – European football’s forgotten bagsman

When ciphering through the list of European Golden Shoe winners – the award given to the player with the most goals in a European season – you are met with a Who’s Who of some of football’s greatest players. 

From the retro genius of Eusébio and Gerd Müller, to the modern day mastery of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo – it is a true encyclopaedia of the greatest goal scorers to ever play the game.

Since the prize’s inception in 1968, only eleven players have scooped the award more than once, such as the aforementioned Müller, Messi and Ronaldo. But also Uruguayan goal machines Diego Forlán and Luis Suaréz, and the unerring talent of Thierry Henry.

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But one of the lesser known names to have done that is Mário Jardel, a Brazilian marksman from the late nineties and early noughties who propelled Porto and Sporting Lisbon to domestic glory during his six seasons in Portugal.

Despite winning the award twice, Jardel actually topped the European goal scoring charts three times, but due to Portugal’s inferior coefficient rating at the time, he lost out to Kevin Phillips in 1999/00 – despite bagging eight more goals than the Sunderland man.

This seems strange given the fact that in the decade previous the likes of David Taylor and Zviad Endeladze (marksmen in the Welsh and Georgian leagues), were able to take home the award.

Had Jardel been able to claim what was rightfully his, he would have been the first ever footballer to have won it three times, with only Messi and Ronaldo joining him in the years to come. But perhaps that best summarises the Brazilian’s career; no matter what he did, it just wasn’t quite good enough.

So why, with all these accolades and a bucket load of goals, is Jardel not spoken of more often, or in the same breath as those who came before him? It all started in Brazil, as a 22-year-old Mário hit ten league goals in the same season that his twelve goals in the Copa Libertadores propelled Grêmio to the title.

These exploits came at a time when European clubs were shopping in the Brazilian market, with PSV and Deportivo uncovering the talents of Ronaldo and Rivaldo respectively to bring them to foreign shores. Porto saw their way in, and snapped him up for €4m.

To say that fee was repaid is an understatement. Jardel smashed home a staggering 130 goals in just 125 league games, lifting his first Golden Shoe in 1998 after a 36-goal season for the Dragões.

Jardel was a menace in Europe, too, bagging braces against AC Milan, Barcelona and Real Madrid – helping Porto to two Champions League quarter-finals along the way.

By now, he was capable of scoring every type of goal. Left foot, right foot, volley, shot from distance, header; he was a jack of all trades, and a master of goal scoring.

But like many players who succeed in Portugal, their ceiling of ambition typically spans beyond the Algarve; Jardel wanted and needed more.

I say needed as, despite scoring a lorry load of goals both domestically and in Europe, international recognition was scattered and limited. The feeling for Jardel was that he needed to travel further into Europe, to the evolving glamour of Italian or Spanish football – like Romário, Ronaldo and Rivaldo, the three main competitors for Brazilian glory.

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In the summer of 2000, he looked set to join Ronaldo at Inter Milan, where he would deputise for the then injured forward at the sharp end of the Nerazzuri’s front line. But the move failed to materialise, as Inter opted for Turkish forward Hakan Şükür instead.

Şükür’s situation was very similar to Jardel’s; he had scored for fun in Turkey with Galatasaray, and was certainly a cheaper option for the Italian’s to pursue having already splashed the cash on Clarence Seedorf and Christian Vieri the previous year. His eventual £6m move closed a door for Jardel, but opened a promising window.

Naturally, Galatsaray – who had just defeated Arsenal in the UEFA Cup final – needed to replace their star striker, and Jardel was the man picked out to do it. Whilst a move from Portugal to Turkey certainly seems like a sideways step now, Jardel didn’t see it that way. He claimed that he wanted to prove himself in a big European league, but his big money move to Turkey ultimately plunged him further into the wilderness.

Things started well, however. Jardel netted five (yes, five) goals on his home debut for The Lions in a 7-0 demolition of Erzurumspor, before he ruined Luís Figo’s Real Madrid debut in the UEFA Super Cup.

Whilst the eyes of the world were on the Portuguese superstar – whose world record £37m move from Barcelona to Real Madrid had caused quite the stir – it was Jardel who stole the show. His first half penalty had Gala ahead until a 79th minute Raúl equaliser. Undeterred, the underdogs pushed for a golden goal winner – and that’s exactly what they got.

Fatih Akyel controlled a raking ball just inside the Real half, before ploughing towards the penalty area, with Pedro Munitis gaining after every touch. He shoved off the Spaniard’s attention however, and belted a cross-cum-shot towards goal – and there he was, right on cue.

Jardel swept the ball home with consummate ease. In fact, he struggled more when attempting to remove his shirt in the celebrations. Iker Casillas? Roberto Carlos? Guti? Figo? They all didn’t matter, because Gala had Jardel – and in him, they had goals.

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He finished his maiden season in Turkey with 34 strikes, including six in the Champions League. But despite such a promising start, Jardel again wanted more. Another move to Inter was mooted, but it failed to materialise and it seemed like a move to central Europe was fading away for a man who was nearly 28.

It felt that, whilst fruitful on the pitch, his one year hiatus out in Turkey was unsuccessful, as he crawled back to Portugal that summer – signing for Sporting Lisbon.

This was a make or break season for the striker. After seeing his dream move to Inter dashed not once but twice, he embarked on a year that preceded the 2002 World Cup – hoping to force his way into the Seleção’s squad for the tournament in Japan and South Korea.

He gave it his all. Jardel smashed home a simply staggering 55 goals during the 2001/02 season, with 42 of those coming in just 30 league games. He was unstoppable, a force against nature, a European Golden Shoe winner, and sat at home as Brazil travelled – and subsequently won – the 2002 World Cup. This signalled the decline for Jardel.

How, after such a mind-bogglingly good season, could Luiz Felipe Scolari leave him out of the squad? Especially when you consider who went in front of him, like middling Brazilian league forwards Edílson and Luizão, or Denilson, a man who commanded a world record fee when moving to Real Betis in 1998, but struggled massively out in Spain – scoring 13 league goals in seven years.

It goes without saying, but who am I to question a World Cup winning manager? It’s clear that the squad Scolari took worked, but given the fact that none of the three players mentioned scored at the tournament, it makes you wonder why Jardel wasn’t picked after one of the greatest personal seasons ever seen in football.

Unfortunately, Jardel shared this disbelief, as he quickly became disillusioned with the game. He began to struggle with depression, drugs, the collapse of his marriage and another failed move to one of Europe’s elite – as Barcelona baulked at the £10m asking price for the forward.

How mental is that, by the way? According to a trusty Google search, £10m in 2002 is valued at around £14.5m now. Whilst Jardel was creeping towards his 30th birthday, that sort of money feels like an absolute steal for a player who didn’t rely on pace, and certainly had the mental attributes to adapt in his latter years.

Oh, and it was also in the same summer that Liverpool splurged the same figure on one El Hadji Diouf.

But, whilst people knocked, nobody left Portugal with the goal machine – forcing Jardel to leave of his own accord, fleeing back to Brazil and claiming he never wanted to play in the country again.

He did belatedly return to Sporting – albeit after returning from a bizarre swimming pool related injury – to score just nine more goals for the Lions before the end of 2002/03. I say ‘just’ nine goals, knowing full well that’s a decent enough return, and quite frankly a terrific effort considering the demons he was battling.

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A move to mainland Europe did finally arrive at the end of the season, as Sam Allardyce added Jardel to a growing list of former stars including Iván Campo, Youri Djorkaeff and Fernando Hierro a year later at Bolton.

But by the time super Mário had a chance to light up the Reebok, he was a spent force and a shadow of his former self. He failed to register a Premier League goal, but did notch three in the League Cup – including one at Anfield – as Bolton reached the final.

He was always a goal scorer at heart, but sadly, the denouement of his career was upon him by the age of 30. The next seven years were spent across as many different countries and 12 different clubs, with a then 37-year-old Jardel calling time on his career at Brazilian minnows Atlético Rio Negro.

Overall, Jardel’s career was one of unreal success in terms of goals and trophies, but one short on clout and recognition for all he achieved in the game.

He wasn’t perfect, by any means. The implosion of his personal life brought plenty of their own struggles, whilst his supposedly petulant and abrasive character perhaps prevented him from playing more for Brazil or getting a move to one of the big boys.

Undoubtedly though, Jardel was a star in his own right. He scored hatfuls of goals wherever he went during his prime years, managing Messi-esque numbers during his original spells in Portugal and Turkey.

It was just a shame that, whilst he shone, others maybe shone slightly brighter, or in a different way to the big Brazilian. He may not be remembered in the same breath as Ronaldo, Rivaldo or even Adriano, but Jardel was a bagsman – and he deserves the utmost respect.

He could poach as well as Ole Gunnar, he could head it like Tim Cahill and he could volley a football as if he had a foot like a traction engine. He did plenty of the simple stuff, plenty of the difficult and some of the out of this world. If you’ve got a spare 90 seconds, check out his best goals down below.

It’s worth it!

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James Pendleton

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