It has not been smooth sailing for the Brazil international forward since arriving in Russia last year and he has continued to be linked with a switch to Chelsea
It felt like the defining moment of a career that promised – and had already delivered - so much. Like many before him, Givanildo Vieira de Souza had outgrown life at Porto. The Hulk had become a monster. It was time to move on.
Terrorising Portuguese defences with guile and trickery as much brute strength and frightening athleticism, he had everything, all the raw ingredients of a world-class performer in the modern game: pace, power, skill, flair, devastating in one on one situations, crucially possessing the ability go either way, an eye for a pass and the ability to play it, a left foot that struck fear into defensive walls across Europe and had produced over a goal every other game in the league during his time in Portugal.
Well, almost everything. Because for every occasion on which he left his admirers wide-eyed and drooling, there would be another when he had everyone else banging their heads against a brick wall in frustration.
|HULK'S CAREER STATS
|Zenit St Petersburg||2012-13||30||11|
Whether it was attempting the wrong pass, shooting from 40 yards when his coach had demanded that his side simply retain possession, standing up an opposition defender and attempting the most intricate of tricks when he would have been much better served just nudging the ball into the space in behind and flicking on the afterburners, or attempting to burst through a crowd when he could simply play a colleague in on goal, Hulk has always had a tendency to make the wrong choice.
When Zenit St Petersburg stepped forward with a bid that has since reported to be worth as much of €60 million, it appeared a sideways step for the Brazilian, one that he admits was largely motivated by financial reasons. "I will not lie," he conceded, "I had to seize the moment with Zenit's financial offer.”
Life in Russia did not start well for the 26-year-old, his mammoth wage packed instantly alienating his new team-mates. "Yes, the club has bought good players," said captain Igor Denisov, "but do you think they are so much better than us that they should make three times as much?"
"The other players started to judge me without even knowing me," Hulk noted. "They wanted me to be the star." He did not perform as such, particularly in the Champions League, where his lone attempts to elevate Zenit to the next level more often ended in embarrassment then glory.
It was a baptism of fire, so much so that he admitted that he may have to leave the club just weeks after his arrival.
Chelsea had expressed interested, as had Tottenham. He was also linked to Barcelona while Jose Mourinho is known to be an admirer and considered taking him to Real Madrid. But none were willing to pay the fee demanded by Porto. Hulk's primitive approach to game had scared them off. He was too much of a gamble.
His international form was also erratic, with Brazil coach Mano Menezes dropping him for the Olympic Games final in order to offer more protection to Marcelo at left-back.
While Hulk's performances and personal relationships in Russia have since improved - notably, since the weather brightened up, he could once again enjoy the pleasures of grass pitches - if he is ever to reach his full potential then a move to one of Europe's elite still feels a necessity.
Whether anyone will be able to prize him away from Zenit remains unlikely, however, despite the 26-year-old himself refusing to rule out a move to Chelsea following the Confederations Cup, due to the exorbitant fee required to facilitate a departure.
Less than 12 months into a five-year contract in Saint Petersburg, any potential suitors would also need to match €5m-per-year salary.
Despite the relationship with Andre Villas-Boas forged during their time together at Porto, the financial demands of any deal would likely rule out Tottenham even if they do cash in on Gareth Bale. Big-spending Monaco have also expressed an interest but Chelsea remain the front-runners should he elect to leave the Russian Premier League.
As a player, Hulk probably needs a bigger pond, one in which he could take his place alongside a host of big names and even bigger characters instead of ahead of them – an environment in which he would become simply another part of the collective, forcing him to function as such.
A move to the Premier League would undoubtedly suit his physical, dynamic playing style and would also make himself more visible back home in Brazil, which could be key to his international career going forward. Having made just one professional appearance in Brazil, with Salvador-based Vitoria, the forward has nobody lobbying for him back home and he has increasingly come in for criticism from a demanding public.
Mourinho is said to be eager to force through a move to Stamford Bridge for the Brazilian but it would take a monstrous financial commitment from the Blues to convince Zenit to let him go.
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