Glenn Moore: Determined Edu relishes chance to prove worth

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The Independent Football

Icons Do not always bear close examination. Heroes are found to be boors; legends are deconstructed by ruthless biographers; artefacts are shown to be faked. Reality can be a harsh judge.

This has been the Premiership's experience with Brazilian footballers. From Pele to Ronaldo, though Rivelino, Socrates and Romario, the canary-shirted South Americans have embodied football's soul. Every kid who ever kicked a ball has pretended to be Brazilian. Then the gods came to England and were found to be mortal.

Twenty-three Brazilian-born players have so far played in the English professional leagues, from Mirandinha to Roque Junior. None have matched the image. Juninho may be adored on Teesside but even in his first spell, when he lit up the Premiership, Middlesbrough were relegated and they are still to win a trophy or qualify for Europe. Emerson Thome and Gilberto Silva have been respectable, Branco, Emerson and Roderigo forgettable, Roque Junior risible. It is too early to judge Kleberson but his start is not promising.

One of the most expensive Brazilians has been another disappointment. Edu cost Arsenal £6m - more than Patrick Vieira, Gilberto or Freddie Ljungberg - but, in his fourth season, is yet to hold down a place. An elegant left-footer, he has had his moments, notably scoring in the FA Cup at Old Trafford last season, but has failed to provide the impact his six-foot-plus frame suggests he should. There are various reasons for this, including personal difficulties and injury, but Highbury has long relegated him to the chorus line.

Today, the 25-year-old has another chance to prove his worth. Chelsea, the new Premiership leaders, are at Highbury. With Vieira suspended, Edu is expected to partner Gilberto in central midfield. It will be his third start in succession, with a possible fourth to come in Kiev on Tuesday. This rare run in the team, initiated by Vieira's thigh injury, has given Edu a confidence which his recent performances reflect.

"I think I'm doing well because in the past I was playing step-by-step, coming on at half-time one day, then playing a whole game, then back on the bench," he said. "Now I'm feeling very well, very confident. I'm feeling very good and very excited."

Adding spice is the probable presence of the Argentinians, Juan Sebastian Veron and Hernan Crespo, in Chelsea's team. Argentina and Brazil are sworn enemies on the football pitch, and Edu said: "We always have something between us, but it is better if we forget that. We have to just play our game."

We are talking at Arsenal's training ground. Edu is living up to his reputation as one of the nice guys, full of smiles, apologising for his English (which is decent), generally being as helpful as possible.

This equable temperament was tested when he signed for Arsenal. Though he was eligible for legitimate documentation he was turned away at immigration when the papers provided by his agent proved invalid. It took six months to resolve the issue, during which time his personal difficulties took on a tragic dimension. His family were victims of an armed robbery, then his sister died in a car crash.

Almost inevitably, when he was finally able to play for Arsenal he pulled a hamstring on debut. Then, when he recovered, he marked his Highbury bow with an own goal before being substituted at half-time.

"When I arrived I had so many problems," he said, "Everything inside my head was broken. I wasn't prepared for English football."

Edu also struggled to deal with the technical aspects of change, finding the English game too fast and too crowded. It did not help that he was still inexperienced having had less than two seasons as a regular with Corinthians, then Brazil's leading side.

It was easier to adapt off the pitch. Edu hails from São Paolo, a sprawling industrial city more noted for its rain than its beaches. London is relatively cold for him but, he said yesterday, "it looks like home". It also has a large Brazilian population, enabling him to buy beef and other favourite foodstuffs. Not that it is churrasco every night at the Edu household. "My wife [Paula] is on a cookery course and learning about food from everywhere," he said. "So at home it is English one night, then French, Spanish, Italian, Brazilian..."

The son of a storekeeper, Edu came under the wing of Corinthians, the powerful São Paolo club named after the English amateur team, while still a young boy. He progressed through the ranks, breaking into the first team at 20. For the World Club Championship, the competition Manchester United entered and Corinthians won, he was only used as a substitute. It is a role he has become familiar with at Arsenal.

"You must be very focussed," he said. "When Arsène calls, you have to be ready. I watch what is going on in midfield, how the opponents play. Whether they are tight or giving you space. I am always thinking for if I come on."

As a youngster Edu admired local heroes such as Rivelino, Casagrande, and Socrates whose languid movement and perceptive passing he echoes. He has also shown an aptitude for the big match and seems to relish the responsibility when Vieira is absent. He notes, though, that he can play well with Vieira, as at Old Trafford where "we had a brilliant time together".

Vieira is, of course, a fixture, which means that when everyone is fit and no one suspended, it is Edu's friend and compatriot, Gilberto, that he has to displace. Nothing personal, but that is his aim.

"That is my ambition but it is hard because there are only 11 places on the pitch and two in my area. But everyone has their moment. I'm doing well, we'll see."

The next step would be a cherished place in the selecao. Having left so early for Europe, Edu has a low profile in Brazil, especially as the only television coverage of English teams is of the Champions' League matches, broadcast on midweek afternoons. Juninho once left Middlesbrough because, he said, Brazilians had to play in Spain or Italy to be noticed by their national coach. That still applies to an extent, though Edu said: "Since Gilberto came here, there has been more attention. Because we are doing well, people start talking about it." Again, he adds: "We'll see."

Brazil do at least now play in England, as they did at Leicester on Sunday when Edu took the chance to show his face.

Wenger has some words of encouragement. "He is playing more regularly now. He has played many big games here, but he's not had a run in the team. It is a big game for him tomorrow."

Edu clearly has talent. The question is whether it will ever flourish in the Premiership. Even if it does he will never live up to our idealised image of Brazilian footballers. He rarely dribbles past people and does not shoot like Roberto Carlos.

But that is our fault, not his. To our minds, forever replaying the 1970 World Cup final, Brazilians should all play as if brought up in kickabouts on the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema. Now even those boys are tutored in escolinhas, the beach soccer clubs.

Brazilian football, Socrates recently complained, has become bureaucratic and standardised. The virtuosos, such as Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Rivaldo, still emerge, but Dunga's heirs, Kleberson and Gilberto, are more typical.

Judge Edu as an individual, not as a Brazilian, and he might make the grade.