Barça and United in wings as Edu seeks to establish future

Brazilian midfielder has a liking for Old Trafford.
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The Independent Football

If last season was the breakthrough for Eduardo Cesar Gaspar Davo, then this season may represent the breakaway. The Arsenal - and now Brazil - midfielder Edu has made it clear that he is in no hurry to sign a new contract at Highbury with his current deal expiring next summer. The terms have to be right.

If last season was the breakthrough for Eduardo Cesar Gaspar Davo, then this season may represent the breakaway. The Arsenal - and now Brazil - midfielder Edu has made it clear that he is in no hurry to sign a new contract at Highbury with his current deal expiring next summer. The terms have to be right.

Edu wants to stay. However, he adds: "I have to be patient and make the right decision but everyone knows they want to be here because they play for a fantastic side, for a good, good team. So now it is up to Arsenal to keep me here." An opening offer has been made but no talks. "I've been to Brazil and I've been away a long time so now it has stopped. But maybe we will talk about it again soon."

Interested parties are waiting. Among them - supposedly - are Barcelona, and to add extra spice, today's opponents, Manchester United. Edu, not unreasonably, classifies any questions along those lines as "naughty" but states that he knows he can talk to other clubs in January if he does not sign a new agreement. "I'm free if we don't sort it out," he says, before adding: "So we have to do something. We are doing well."

And so is he even if his stance has caused some annoyance to the Arsenal management. Arsène Wenger's attitude is that the club have stood by Edu - and helped make him an international - and he expects loyalty. Edu, however, talks with the confidence of a player who, aged 26, has finally established himself.

Wenger signed the elegant central midfielder in 2000 after watching him in the Libertadores Cup. The £5m fee Corinthians received was more than was paid for Patrick Vieira or that other Brazilian, and World Cup winner, Gilberto Silva.

For a time it seemed it was a rare case of Wenger wasting cash, especially as Edu had to return to Sao Paulo because of passport irregularities. They took six months to resolve, during which time he, his parents Edmundo and Marcia and sister, Jeane, were robbed at gunpoint in their home. Then his other sister, Fabricia, died in a car crash. It all took its toll.

When he eventually made his Arsenal debut in January 2001, he lasted just 17 minutes before pulling a hamstring. As the season reached its climax, he scored an own goal at Highbury in the defeat by Middlesbrough which saw the title return to Manchester. Despite that he has profited against United. He first came across them in the notorious World Club Championship, the competition that Corinthians won, and although Edu was only used as a substitute, he was noticed.

He was noticed again in February last year when scoring with a deflected free-kick at Old Trafford as a weakened Arsenal dumped United out of the FA Cup. However, as Edu recalled, United still went on to win the championship that season. It is why he cautions against talk that Arsenal are already too far ahead. "They have a good side," he says, "and I know we have a lot more points but in our League it is quite difficult to play against every team. I remember two seasons ago we had a six or seven-point lead and they won the League. So we have to be careful and try to play our best."

In last season's encounter Edu was an 82nd-minute substitute for Dennis Bergkamp - immediately after Vieira was sent off - and before the last-minute penalty pyrotechnics. Vieira's dismissal gave Edu his chance to stake a claim. Finally he took it.

Gilberto is missing today and there remain doubts over Vieira. The onus will fall on Edu, one of the more popular squad members. "I'm fine to take that responsibility and I'm comfortable with it," he says. "I'm sure we'll do our best because the confidence is so high. I feel good so I want to enjoy the moment. We know how important the week is. We played against Panathinaikos [in the Champions' League] and we're now playing another very important game. But we are quite comfortable in the League. We have a five-point lead and we have to keep that."

Competition is growing. The emergence of Cesc Fabregas and the arrival of Mathieu Flamini mean Arsenal are over-stocked in Edu's position. Again it doesn't concern him. "I'm not really worried because last season I played in all the League, all the Champions' League," he says. "I played in all the important games." Indeed, he made 48 appearances with his most prominent coming in Europe, noticeably away to Celta Vigo, where he scored twice, including a wonderful curler with his weaker right foot.

That game finally brought him to the attention of Brazil's coach, Carlos Alberto Parreira, and since his debut, straight after the Premiership title was secured, he has been an ever-present, helping his country win the Copa America and eclipsing United's Kleberson. Today's game will be closely followed back home. "It's very popular. Everybody is phoning and saying we have to do our best."

His profile is growing. But when Edu stayed on for a friendly in Haiti, it caused tension with Wenger, who said he might now think twice about signing South Americans. The player missed pre-season training and then had World Cup qualifiers. Once more he has to stake a claim. Indeed, he may be paying a price for his success, but it has also helped him define his value. "We have to do what is best for me and what is best for the club," Edu says. It is to be hoped that will lead to the same result.

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