"I can only promise one thing: I will never celebrate a goal against Porto because of my respect for the fans and the club," Hulk said last year on the possibility of FC Zenit coming up against his former team, something set to become a reality on matchday three.
Givanildo Vieira de Souza, aka Hulk, is in line for an emotional return to the Estádio do Dragão, the place where he announced himself as a force in the European game, when the Russian side visit FC Porto in UEFA Champions League Group G on Tuesday. Indeed, the Brazilian international might have gone back to the Dragão already this season but for the injury that kept him out of the play-off first leg against FC Paços de Ferreira, who used Porto's ground for the fixture.
"Hulk is a boy with only one year of serious work," said then Porto coach Jesualdo Ferreira after the striker's first term with the club, 2008/09. Hulk had spent time in his homeland with EC Vitória and three years in Japan before the move to Portugal – but made an immediate impact and was rewarded with a Brazil debut in 2009. Such was his progress that he swiftly became a fans' favourite at Porto, going on to claim four Liga titles, three Portuguese Cups and the 2011 UEFA Europa League crown.
"After three years in Japan there were some options to play in Europe," he explained, "but I chose Porto because when I was 15 I went to their stadium once and said to myself, 'One day I will play here.'" Hulk's ensuing 170 appearances for Porto brought 78 goals before a Russian record transfer to Zenit in September 2012. However, he made a slower than anticipated start in St Petersburg, notching just seven goals in his first Premier-Liga campaign as his team finished second behind PFC CSKA Moskva.
This season, though, has seen glimpses of the Hulk who menaced defences in Portugal. He has six goals from seven league outings despite being hindered by injury and registered Zenit's only goal in Group G to date. With a solitary point from two matchdays, Zenit could secure a massive boost from a UEFA Champions League victory in Porto – and a big performance from their No7 would take them a long way towards that. The former Porto hero may have mixed feelings if that proves to be the case.