Cléo cut quite a swathe across Serbian football during his two-and a-half seasons in the Super League and his absence will doubtless be felt when the championship resumes at the end of the month.
The Brazilian striker famously crossed Belgrade's great divide, leaving FK Crvena zvezda for FK Partizan in the summer of 2009, and the 25-year-old also scored twice in the UEFA Champions League group stage last autumn (plus eight more in qualifying), and went into the winter break as his side's joint top scorer in the league with eight goals.
He will not be adding to that tally, however, as this winter he left for Chinese side Guangzhou FC. "I received the best offer of my life and it was impossible to say no," he explained. "I don't know very much about Chinese football, but they are heading in the right direction. I had a brilliant time at Partizan and will never forget it."
The feeling that it may be the end of an era was underlined when the club allowed midfielder Almami Moreira to move on, with the Guinea-Bissau-born player also eager to try his luck in China. The diminutive 32-year-old joined the club in 2007 and won three domestic titles and two Serbian Cups during a stellar period in Belgrade.
Coach Aleksandar Stanojević summed up the mood. "It is tough to be losing two of our most important players, perhaps the best foreign players in our history," he said. "Honestly,
I still have a photo of Cléo next to my bed because he helped us get to the group stage, but we couldn't refuse an offer like this one."
Zvonimir Vukić, signed after nearly a year as a free agent, has returned for a third spell at Partizan and may help fill Moreira's boots, while Ghanaian duo Prince Tagoe and Dominic Adiyiah – on loan from TSG 1899 Hoffenheim and AC Milan respectively – will look to take on Cléo's goalscoring mantle.
"We have brought in two very, very high quality players and I expect that they will help us turn a new page," said Stanojević. "In midfield, we have enough players who can cover for Moreira. We will carry on regardless. We wish both Cléo and Moreira all the best, but I really believe we will be even better in the times ahead."
A fourth successive title remains in the offing for Partizan. They lie five points clear of Crvena zvezda, but ‘Red Star' have been rebuilding too, signing Brazilian attacking midfielder Evandro as well as securing Colombian forward Cristian Borja and defender Uroš Ćosić on loan.
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