By Onofre Costa
Lisbon giants Sporting Clube de Portugal started 2005 in a healthy state - well positioned in the Portuguese SuperLiga, they also had the prospect of Portuguese Cup and UEFA Cup football in the spring. However, the absence of one player was giving all of those close to the club sleepless nights.
Brazilian forward Liedson, the slender striker whose form lit up Lisbon in the autumn campaign, failed to turn up for training after Sporting's Christmas break. Having missed the first eight training sessions of 2005, Liedson's asbence gave Portuguese football fans plenty to talk about.
With the 'eternal derby' between Sporting and their capital rivals SL Benfica looming on 8 January, the 27-year-old was nowhere to be seen. Had he missed his flight? Or fallen out with the club? Or received a better offer from elsewhere? Or simply decided to extend his holiday without permission? Nobody knew.
When he eventually returned from Brazil four days before the game against Benfica, he was handed a fine by Sporting and coach José Peseiro insisted that he explain his absence to the whole squad saying that the players' reactions would influence his decision as to whether to field Liedson against Benfica.
To their credit, the players let the 1.75m-tall former supermarket employee, who did not start to play professional football until he was 22, back into the side and he rewarded them in customary style with the goals that saw Sporting win 2-1 against Benfica and seize top spot in the SuperLiga.
With reigning champions FC Porto having drawn 1-1 at home against Rio Ave FC, Sporting's victory saw Peseiro's men take sole control at the summit of the division for the first time in 498 days. A first league title since 2001/02 may yet be on the cards.
However, as far as Liedson was concerned, his goals - a superb 22nd-minute header and a deft close-range finish after 68 minutes - were a penance, as he apologised to his team-mates for his extended absence in the only way he knew how; scoring goals and winning games.
Having scored 15 goals in 30 outings in his first season in Portugal in 2003/04, the one-time Brazilian Under-23 star has struck 14 times in 15 league games this season. Tellingly, Sporting have not won a league or UEFA Cup game this season without a goal from their agile, 63kg hitman.
"I don't know if I will continue to score as many as I have so far but I can promise
I am going to work very hard in order to keep delivering," Liedson told uefa.com. "Sporting have plenty of quality players who can score goals at any time so the most important thing for me is to help our squad to succeed."
Porto are the only SuperLiga team who are yet to concede a goal to the former Prudentópolis, Coritiba FC, CS Flamengo and SC Corinthians Paulista forward, and his goalscoring is already reminding Sporting fans of Mario Járdel - the wayward Brazilian whose goals helped them seize the title in 2002.
A banner at all of Sporting's games this season has proudly stated 'Liedson resolve' - 'Liedson solves the problem'. With that in mind, it is easy to understand why the No31's unexplained absence caused such consternation in Lisbon and that he was forgiven so readily when he eventually turned up.
After all, a striker who is on target so often should be allowed to go missing occasionally.
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