'I won't celebrate if I score,' says Eduardo on return to Arsenal

Brazilian has fond memories of Gunners despite horrific leg break. By Nick Harris
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The Independent Football

Eduardo can be forgiven his mixed feelings in returning to Arsenal, the club where he endured a horrific injury, as his new club Shakhtar Donetsk arrive on Champions League business tonight.

The 27-year-old Brazilian-born Croatian striker spent three years as a Gunner from 2007. Broadly speaking, the first was spent establishing himself, the second in recovery from the double leg break sustained against Birmingham in February 2008, and the third trying to re-establish himself. Then he was shipped out for a fee of around £6m to Shakhtar to make way in the summer for Marouane Chamakh.

"It was the hardest decision of my career to leave," he said last night. "When you spend three years at a club you have great moments but some problems, [like for me] when I was injured. But I'm nearly 28 and I think I made a good decision to play for Shakhtar."

They are not the words of a man who was desperate to leave North London. What is not in doubt is that he has mixed feelings about coming back. On joining Shakhtar, he spoke about the prospect of European competition, saying: "I look forward to playing in the Champions League. I don't want to play against Arsenal."

And yet when that very prospect became reality, as the sides were paired in Group H, he changed his tune completely. "Even before the draw was made, I dreamed of playing against Arsenal, meeting my former team-mates and playing in front of the fans again at the Emirates," he now says.

Conflicted? Possibly. But then this is a player whose career changed completely on that fateful February day when Martin Taylor's tackle put him out of football for a year.

He believes that but for that tackle he might still be playing for Arsenal. "It wasn't my fault I broke my leg, but it's true to say that moment changed my sporting career. I don't know what would have happened if I hadn't suffered the injury, but perhaps with more continuity I would still have been in the team."

Asked if he would take extra pleasure in scoring tonight, he said: "It depends, I think no [goal celebration]. I spent three years here and had great moments and I have respect for the supporters, for Mr Wenger and the network of the club. If I score it will be good for Shakhtar and I hope we can finish with a positive result."

Shakhtar, under Mircea Lucescu, currently top the Ukrainian Premier League after 13 games, with 11 wins, a draw and a defeat putting them five points clear. They've scored more goals (25) and conceded fewer (five) than any other team, although Eduardo has not been prolific, yet.

He scored on his debut in August in a 5-0 win, and two other goals after coming on as a substitute to seal away wins, but that has been it for league goals. He anticipated a transitional season as he needs "time to adapt myself to the requirements of the new team and the new league".

Certainly he has not been expected to be a mainstay, playing in only 10 games, eight in the league, and not for more than an hour in any match since his move. But after the trauma of his injury – he was, he says "tormented into pieces" – it's good simply to be playing.

The transition from England to the colder, harsher climes of Eastern Europe has been softened by having seven compatriots of his birth nation also at the club. Eduardo already also knew Shakhtar's captain, Darijo Srna, a team-mate with Croatia. "It's a very nice city and the club is very good. The stadium is one of the best in Europe, I think," he said.

Lucescu added: "It's bound to be emotional. He wanted so much to play in Arsenal, he wanted to remain here but his injury created such problems. But now it's Shakhtar who are helping him to come back to a big, big level."