Player Profile: Afonso Alves
Date of Birth: 30/01/1981
Height: 1.85 m
National Team: Brazil
International Caps: 8
International Goals: 1
Every now and then, there comes a player whose exploits in one of the minor European leagues send shockwaves across the continent. Then a team from England, Italy or Spain snaps him up, and his many flaws are laid bare for the world to see,.
Afonso Alves was such a case. His goalscoring exploits for the relatively low-profile SC Heerenveen in the Dutch Eredivisie led many to dub him a “goal-machine” and laud him as a successor to the likes of Romario and Ronaldo. After an acrimonious exit from the Dutch club, Alves moved to English Premier League side Middlesbrough for a record fee. There, he went on to become an expensive flop, a liability for the club during their rapid fall from grace.
The striker developed at Brazilian side Atletico Mineiro and was a contemporary of a number of illustrious club alumni like Gilberto Silva and Guilherme. When he was just 21, he left his home country to seek his fortune in Europe. His destination was little-known Swedish club Orgryte.
He spent only two seasons there, but that was enough to establish his reputation as a reliable goalscorer. Twenty-three goals over two seasons saw Sweden’s big boys, Malmö FF, to sit up and take notice. There, Alves continued scoring goals for fun. His first two seasons at the club yielded 26 goals.
Elsewhere in Europe, around the same time, Heerenveen were looking to replace another prolific goalscorer in Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who had been snapped up by Ajax. Their sights eventually zeroed in on Alves and Heerenveen paid a record €4.5 million for the striker’s services.
It was an investment that they would not regret. Alves took no time to adjust to life in the Netherlands and finished as the league’s top goalscorer in his very first season at the club. His performance prompted comparisons with a couple of other illustrious Brazilians – Ronaldo and Romario were the only other Brazilians to achieve this feat in Holland. Alves also finished second in the race for the European Golden Boot.
However, trouble was brewing for the relationship between player and club. The success and the attention that it brought appeared to have got to Alves’ head as the player publicly began to talk of a move elsewhere. There was controversy off the pitch as two agents fought over the right to represent Alves. There were reports of missed training sessions and unprofessional behaviour. It appeared that Alves’ stint at Heerenveen was headed to an acrimonious end.
For a time, it appeared that AZ Alkmaar had won the race for the Brazilian’s signature, but it was English club Middlesbrough that eventually proved to be Alves’ next destination. Boro were flying high, having reached the final of the 2006 UEFA Cup and their capture of Alves was supposed to help them take a step towards being counted among the elites of English football.
Alves arrived in the January transfer window in 2008 for a reported fee of €20 million. It was the highest fee Boro had ever paid for a player. His initial returns were promising, if not spectacular. His first two goals came in a high-profile fixture against Manchester United that Boro drew 2-2. Then he hit a memorable hat-trick against Manchester City as Boro thrashed them 8-1. His first experience of English football had yielded 6 goals in 11 appearances.
But it was in his second season at the Riverside Stadium that things began to unravel. Under promising, but inexperienced manager Gareth Southgate, Boro slipped into an early relegation dogfight. Their biggest problem was goalscoring as Boro ended the season with just 28 goals, the lowest in the league. The primary cause for this was the barren run that Alves, their main striker, was on. The Brazilian ended up scoring just seven goals all season as Boro suffered relegation, ending their 11-year stint in the English top-flight.
When Qatari club Al-Sadd came in with a £7 million offer, Boro did not have to think twice. It was quite the ant-climatic end to a player that Boro fans had really hoped would take them to the next level.
Afonso Alves never played in Europe again after his failed English stint. His solitary season at Al-Sadd was a disaster – he scored only thrice in fifteen games – prompting Al-Sadd to loan him to Al-Rayyan the next season.
There, he fared much better, scoring 18 goals in 17 appearances. His move was made permanent and the next two seasons saw him score 25 goals from 32 games.
After a stint at Al-Gharafa, Alves, still only 32 was left without a club. He waited it out for a couple of seasons, even training with Heerenveen’s youth team at one point in a bid to maintain fitness. But the Brazilian who had promised so much was forced to call it a day in 2015.
Afonso Alves managed just eight appearances for Brazil. His first cap was in a friendly match against England in 2007 when he appeared as a 71st-minute substitute for Kaka. His only goal for Brazil came the same year in a friendly against Mexico.
Where is Afonso Alves now?
After retirement, Afonso Alves returned back to Belo Horizonte where he now works as an agent. He travels all over Brazil to watch football matches and uses his contacts to arrange trials in Europe for the youngsters he spots.
Alves is also involved in charity work in Brazil where he raises money for the benefit of young underprivileged children.
Did you know?
– Alves had a son before he left Brazil to seek his footballing fortunes in Europe. Throughout his career in Europe, he was cut off from his child, something that he has expressed a lot of sadness about.
– He still holds the record for the most goals scored in an Eredivisie game. In 2007, he fired in seven goals for Heerenveen against Heracles Almelo.