Julio Baptista has been unveiled by Real Madrid CF as the latest piece in their South American jigsaw.
By Andy Hall
Julio Baptista was unveiled at Real Madrid CF today, the latest piece of the South American jigsaw being assembled at pace by former Brazil coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo.
Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos have been long-term favourites at the Santiago Bernabéu and the arrival of two of Brazil's most promising young attacking players, Baptista and Robinho, has given the squad a distinctly Latin feel, a fact not lost on the club's larger-than-life chairman Florentino Pérez.
No stranger to hyperbole, Pérez was probably not too far off the mark when he said at today's press conference: "Brazil has always represented and symbolised the magic and fantasy of football and in this Madrid side, we are going to see one of the best examples of that."
Baptista does not necessarily fit into the archetypal mould of a Brazilian player, however. 'La Bestia' [the beast] as he is known in Spain, displays a powerhouse style more akin to Ferenc Puskás than Pelé. That technique was right at the fore when the 23-year-old powered in the winner at the Bernabéu in December - Sevilla FC's first victory at Madrid in 20 years.
Little over two seasons ago, Baptista was being used in a holding midfield position for São Paulo FC but that all changed after he signed for Sevilla in the summer of 2003. Under coach Joaquín Caparrós, the Brazilian was given a freer, more attacking role which manifested itself into some of the most pulsating performances seen at the southern Spanish club and eventually earned a switch to the capital.
"This is one of the happiest days of my life," devout Christian Baptista gushed on being handed the No8 shirt he will proudly wear for the next three seasons at his new home. He fulfils his dream of playing alongside compatriots Ronaldo and newcomer Robinho, who is due to arrive at the end of the month after months of media speculation.
It will also mean that Madrid now have a surplus of attacking players in the squad and must dispense with at least two first-team players ahead of the new campaign. Luís Figo, dropped by Luxemburgo at the end of the season and with one year to run on his contract, may be the first to leave with FC Internazionale Milano and Valencia CF the best placed to land the Portuguese star.
Onus on Owen
Michael Owen might also feel obliged to seek a new club. Despite enjoying a superior goals-per-minute rate to Ronaldo in his debut season, the English international must now realise that he will never carve out a regular niche in the side. Likewise, skipper Raúl González and playmaker Guti may also find themselves surplus to requirement in Luxemburgo's South American revolution.
Although Argentinian Walter Samuel has followed Santiago Solari to Inter, Uruguayan international pair Pablo García and Carlos Diogo have also arrived this summer to lift the continent's contingent to five. Robinho will soon make it six and Roberto Carlos has lauded the Santos FC star: "The best player to have come out of Brazil in years. He's elegant and direct - the most extraordinary player I have seen."
Director of sport Arrigo Sacchi is more cautious, saying, "Robinho will need some time to adapt to the European game, but I am sure that he can be one of our most charismatic players. He is all elegance while Baptista's strength and versatility will give us an extra dimension."