Twitter can, at times, be a wonderful place.
Accounts from across Saudi Arabia united last week under the hashtag ادواردو#. Rumours about an impending exit from Al Hilal for skipper Carlos Eduardo had sparked this stream of compliments and video highlights to be curated.
Such salutation is thoroughly merited if a five-year stint in Riyadh for the club’s all-time-leading foreign scorer comes to an end upon his contract’s expiry this summer.
But should the Brazilian attacking midfielder’s departure be fated after 53 goals from 90 Saudi Professional League games and seven major trophies? Especially when the presence of Italy maestro Sebastian Giovinco caused him to sit out the final pursuit of 2019 AFC Champions League glory, plus be regularly shunted into an unnatural wide-left role for domestic duties.
The future of an undisputed modern great is a complex problem for the administration to unpick. There are no simple answers.
iG Esporte’s revelation showed plenty of options exist for Eduardo. An appealing renewal proposal from Hilal, after months of prevarication, has joined offers from a quartet of major Brazilian clubs (Corinthians, Jorge Jesus’ Flamengo, Gremio and Athletico Paranaense).
Eduardo’s contract is scheduled to expire at the end of this month, but a short-term extension is likely because of March’s postponement of the 2019/20 season.
Arriyadiyah newspaper have also reported consistent links to 2020 ACL group-stage opponents Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club. The player himself was non-committal when quizzed by the same publication earlier this month.
“I have two months left in my contract with Al Hilal, and I will wait until the last day, then I will make a decision regarding my future in respect of the club and my contract that applies to him,” said the 30-year-old.
Overtures from Al Ahli Jeddah have been discussed, while outfits from the Qatar Stars League and Turkey’s Super Lig linger.
Such interest should raise questions about Hilal’s dallying. To be coveted is to hold intrinsic value, surely…
Goals have been the Brazilian’s currency since a deal worth up to €10 million (€7m fee + €3m in variables) was inked with Porto in July 2015. This followed the outstanding loan at Nice for 2014/15 that featured 10 of them during 30 Ligue 1 appearances, a stint in which his five-goal haul at Guingamp makes him one of just 11 players to gain a perfect 10/10 rating in L’Equipe’s esteemed pages.
The tone was set on debut. Eduardo’s refined instincts set him on a course to burst forward from midfield and be perfectly positioned to slide in the only strike of August 2015’s Saudi Super Cup triumph against Al Nassr at London’s Loftus Road.
A startling 22 came from his first 24 matches in dark blue. Some impact.
Not even November 2017’s devastating knee injury picked up within the first eight minutes of the doomed continental finals versus Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds, or subsequent influx of elite foreigners, could seriously curtail Eduardo’s ability.
Commitment is also key. Eduardo is the glue that has held a multicultural squad together, always leading by example when under the care of 10 different – permanent or temporary – coaches and bringing colleagues along with him.
The Hilal cause is sacrosanct to him.
Brazilians have played a lead role in Hilal’s 63-year history. Eduardo’s name sits comfortably alongside the revered Mario Zagallo, Rivellino, Sergio Ricardo and Thiago Neves.
Only former France centre forward Bafetimbi Gomis (26) has netted more times, in all competitions, than Eduardo (14) during 2019/20. Giovinco has only half the latter-mentioned’s tally (seven).
Eduardo’s haul includes winning strikes in both SPL meetings with historical rivals Al Ittihad, plus an 88th-minute effort in the eventual 2-2 draw at Al Faisaly. These hard-earned points helped earn Hilal a healthy advantage over second-placed champions Nassr.
Longevity is further exemplified by the fact Eduardo appeared well on course to better 2014/15’s SPL best of 14 goals, prior to March 14’s postponement because of coronavirus. He’ll have eight fixtures to fire further efforts in, if the campaign recommences on August 20 as planned.
A goal-conversion percentage of 29.7 in the SPL is the highest for club-mates with more than one goal this season. He’s also played the third-most minutes.
This last statistic, however, is consequence of a bittersweet second half of 2019.
A return of one goal in six group-stage fixtures was not enough to extend his presence for the knockouts in the reduced four-player quota required by the ACL. The snub was repeated for the curtailed 2020 edition.
SPL opportunities, thus, followed when continental commitments necessitated rest for the chosen quartet.
Natural width and penetrating pace provided by Andre Carrillo was preferred. The Peru winger went on to notch the only goal in November’s first leg of the finals in Riyadh.
This victorious run also cemented Giovinco’s standing as the team’s creative fulcrum.
Eduardo has yet to register an assist in the 2019/20 SPL. Giovinco has six.
The agile $3m signing from Toronto FC in January 2019 greater ability to influence proceedings is exhibited by superior numbers per 90 minutes, according to Wyscout, for; dribbles (5.2/3.2), key passes (0.8/0.4), passes to the penalty area (5.2/2.5) and throughballs (1.8/0.6).
Coach Razvan Lucescu’s wildly successful 4-2-3-1 formation favours a technician in that central position, rather than a box-to-box powerhouse like Eduardo.
But even when pushed to the left, Eduardo’s brilliance shines through.
Eduardo’s 11 SPL goals dwarfs the contribution from mesmeric left winger Salem Al Dawsari (two goals, two assists). The Saudi Arabia superstar’s superior pressing off the ball and ability to advance the team with electric dribbling when in possession, however, has been favoured by Lucescu.
This is not to diminish Eduardo’s ability and influence. Stylistically, the Romanian tactician is fortunate to possess pieces that fit better into his tactical jigsaw.
Eduardo can be seen as a victim of familiarity. His long stay in Riyadh – by standards of a league in which non-Saudis are shifted with frequency – can detract from the fact he is notably younger than direct competitor Giovinco (30/33).
A propensity to excel in numerous positions further strengthens his hand.
Yet, is Hilal’s XI stronger without him? Eduardo, furthermore, can feel aggrieved about his Asian exclusion and desire a prominent role elsewhere.
His numbers remain supreme.
Which route provides the best medium term bet headed into a prolonged 2019/20 and uncertain 2020/21; push through a renewal for Eduardo, or free up space in the seven-player domestic contingent and take advantage of varied avenues the next transfer market will provide?
Hilal have conquered Asia without Eduardo. But he has been an exemplary performer on the home front.
A consequential decision is looming. Which direction will Lucescu and president Fahad Bin Nafil Al Otaibi move?
Expect a respectful separation.
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