By Jack Lang
“I’ve never cried as much as I did this week,” he sighed as the camera bulbs flashed. He won’t have been the only one. After a fruitful eight-year romance, Brazilian playmaker Alex finalised his departure from Fenerbahçe this week, leaving fans in Turkey to lament the loss of one of its biggest sporting stars.
The last few months, he admitted in almost excruciating detail, had been defined by a cooling in relations with the club. Dropped without explanation ahead of a Champions League qualifier, Alex was later told by coach Aykut Kocaman that “there cannot be two leaders in the dressing room”.
Alex hit out at Kocaman with a message to a Brazilian friend on Twitter, claiming that the manager was “jealous” of his status at the club. This, as he admitted this week, was a mistake, and was seized upon by the Turkish media. The fall-out snowballed, revealing an on-off (mostly off) relationship with Fener president Aziz Yildirim and culminating in a divorce few saw coming.
Alex’s achievements in Istanbul will ensure a lasting legacy in Turkey. His penetrative passing and dead-ball ability were crucial as Fener won the league in 2005, 2007 and 2011, while his displays in the 2007/08 Champions League brought wider acclaim. A footballer of rare poise and intelligence, he made up for a lack of pace with his speed of thought. Committed to holding his position between the lines, he stands as one of the purer examples of a number ten in the modern game.
In another era (or in another country), Alex would surely have accrued more than 49 international caps. Even that number overplays his influence slightly; the midfielder was never selected for a World Cup squad and only rarely threatened to become the fulcrum of the Brazil side. For a player of such vision, he can feel somewhat aggrieved that his name will never conjure up memories of gold and green.
But he will be forever lionised in the yellow and black third of Istanbul, where there is even a statue in his image. Alper Ocal, a Turkish journalist and Fenerbahçe fan, told me that supporters sympathise with Alex over his exit: “We’re saying goodbye to a legend, without even a proper farewell, and all because of [Kocaman’s] lack of communication skills. It’s pathetic.”
Alex’s statue. The man will truly be immortal to Fener’s faithful.
While Alex may feel jilted by Fener, some comfort is at hand. He will return to Brazil as the most popular girl at the village dance, with a number of clubs clamouring for his signature.
Coritiba, his boyhood club, have the most emotional leverage, but will need to avoid relegation to Série B this year to stay in the running. Two more former clubs also have strong claims and appear prepared to pull out all the stops; Cruzeiro are seeking a sponsorship deal to finance a hefty contract, while Palmeiras boast a weighty bargaining chip of their own in coach Gilson Kleina, who was best man at Alex’s wedding. Even Santos, who have a playmaker-shaped hole in their midfield since the sale of Paulo Henrique Ganso are in the running.
Even at 35, there is little doubt that Alex would be a sensational signing for any Brasileirão outfit. In a league in which age is no barrier to entry (at either end of the spectrum), fans in his homeland will be blessed with two more years of delicate through-balls, curling free-kicks and 25-yard piledrivers before he hangs up his boots.
Whoever Alex chooses as his new flame should spare a thought for Fenerbahçe fans, though. Breaking up is never easy, especially when both parties appear to be doing so through gritted teeth.
This is a guest article by Jack Lang, a writer who’s fascinated by Brazilian football and has been published on ESPN, The Guardian, and many others. You
canshould follow him on twitter @snap_kaka_pop. Comments below please.
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