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Kalou move to Botafogo catches coronavirus-ravaged Brazil off guard

7:00 AM EDT 7/18/20
Salomon Kalou Botafogo GFX
The Ivorian forward moves to Rio de Janeiro amid a financial crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic which saw players and staff lose their jobs

The coronavirus pandemic – and resulting financial catastrophe for global football – may have slowed down the number of eye-catching transfers in the market, but it has not succeeded in bringing them to a halt altogether in South America.

The last year has been marked by a series of unusual moves, with big-name stars like Daniele De Rossi, Emmanuel Adebayor and Keisuke Honda choosing to cross the Atlantic Ocean for a taste of the continent's passion and big-game atmosphere, to varying degrees of success. 

De Rossi played seven matches for Boca Juniors before deciding to retire. Adebayor's adventure at Paraguayan side Olimpia was over after four games – and one memorabe Copa Libertadores red card – when a mutual contract recission was announced due to the pandemic. 

Honda, however, is still there. His employers Botafogo have now struck again, bringing in ex-Chelsea and Hertha Berlin favourite Salomon Kalou in a move that caught just about everyone off guard.

Kalou, 34, announced his imminent arrival in Rio de Janeiro last week following six seasons with Hertha, the last of which saw him fall out of the Bundesliga club's first-team plans and restricted to just five league appearances.

After negotiating with ex-Nigeria international Jon Obi Mikel earlier in 2020 and moving mountains to convince Yaya Toure to move – only for the midfielder to commit himself to rivals Vasco should a certain presidential candidate win elections – Botafogo have finally captured a second marquee name to sit alongside Honda's on the team-sheet.

Vice-president Ricardo Rotenberg had also announced his intent to pursue Netherlands legend Arjen Robben in the middle of lockdown. That request that, unsurprisingly, fell on deaf ears with the former Champions League winner returning instead to Groningen.

Such an extravagant transfer is curious to say the least, considering that just two months ago the Rio side appeared in dire financial straits. A total of 45 club employees were laid off to cut costs during the coronavirus pandemic, while players and staff alike were left waiting on back salary payments that carried several months' delay.

The club also had no qualms in unilaterally rescinding the contract of Joel Carli, the 33-year-old Argentine defender who represented them for just short of four years and is now pursuing his grievances through the courts.

“I'd like to thank the fans for their unconditional support, my team-mates and ex-team-mates and all the Botafogo staff during this transition period,” Carli explained on Instagram. I was given no choice. I tried everything [to stay].”

Sport in Brazil resumed in the middle of June, cajoled back into regular service by hard-line president Jair Bolsonaro and under fierce protest from the players themselves.

Just days prior to the scheduled resumption of activities in Rio's Carioca State Championship, Botafogo reported 17 cases of coronavirus in their ranks, including five players, and subsequently marked their clash against Fluminense in July with a shared protest; Honda and Flu legend Fred walking out together with a banner asking for authorities to “respect our history.”

Kalou, then, arrives in Rio amid the most abnormal of atmospheres. The likes of Honda and Adebayor were feted by thousands of fans upon joining their new clubs; the Ivorian can expect a rather more muted welcome.

The city is still reporting more than 1,000 coronavirus cases and 100 deaths daily, and the return of football enjoys something less than universal approval. Fantasy football his signing may be, but the situation both in his new club and adopted nation is all too serious and must be treated as such.