Off-field troubles cast an uncertain shadow on Jo's future
Even by the standards seemingly set by owners and directors of Brazilian clubs, the announcement last week that Atletico Mineiro had released a trio of players, including former Seleçao forward Jo, looked curious given that they were just 48 hours away from playing a decisive return match against Flamengo for a place in the Brazilian Cup final -- after losing the first leg 2-0. Atletico's move was vindicated by a thumping 4-1 win that set up a mouth-watering clash against local rival Cruzeiro, and the possibility that the club might buy out Jo's contract, valid until 2016, doesn't look that bad anymore.
The final straw for his latest club came a few days before last week's memorable win. Jo and two other Atletico players were caught red-handed smuggling women into the team hotel, according to a columnist for popular Brazilian website R7. Atletico are reportedly seeking legal advice to dismiss Jo for gross misconduct, and it is highly unlikely that Brazilian clubs will fight to sign him.
It's still a bit sad, though, to see a 27-year-old footballer hurt his career in such bizarre fashion. Atletico represented perhaps a final chance at yet another comeback attempt.
The Sao Paulo-born player has amassed 268 games for seven clubs: Corinthians, CSKA Moscow, Manchester City, Everton, Galatasaray, Inter Milan and Atletico Mineiro. Although he did win some important trophies along the way, Jo never really settled or left a team via the front door, some mileage for a player his age but also an indication of a difficult guy to settle.
Jo looked set to shine when, at just 16 years old, he became the youngest-ever player to don the shirt of Corinthians, a Brazilian club with over 30 million supporters, in 2003. At the time, they tried to keep the player on a short leash. Jo was sheltered from the press, and the few times he spoke, he mentioned the dangers of sudden riches to the mind of young athletes -- a riskier proposition in Brazil, where football remains an escape from poverty.
The tall, left-footed striker looked promising, and after 17 goals in 81 games for Corinthians, Jo attracted the interest of CSKA. In 2005, the Russians forked out £4.4 million for the player some were already comparing to Zlatan Ibrahimovic due to his unconventional height/skill ratio. In three years in Moscow, Jo netted 32 goals in 61 matches, including two against mighty Inter Milan in the Champions League. He won a Russian league title and two Russian Cups but was shocked by the racism of various fans; he was allegedly abused at a McDonald's in the Russian capital.
Bigger European sides were impressed by his numbers and in July 2008 Manchester City pounced. Looking purely at the cold, hard numbers it would be a terrible deal: he managed just six goals in 38 games, essentially three million pounds ($4.7m) per ball in the back of the net.
The struggling forward was then loaned to Everton in February 2009, where his numbers didn't improve and he had issues with then-manager David Moyes thanks to an unauthorized Christmas trip to Brazil. Lent then to Galatasaray next, Jo played less than 20 games before returning to Eastlands and earning a free transfer to Internacional in 2011. Tales of wild nights and feeble commitment were already reportedly haunting him, circulated in the local media to the extent that many observers were surprised the Brazilian club took him on. In the end Jo lasted just 23 games amid more stories of excess in the Porto Alegre party circuit before Atletico offered him a lifeline.
He was already 25 then and his new employers were adamant that he needed to shape up. Ultras (hardcore supporters' groups) promised to report him to the club if he was spotted on the Belo Horizonte scene. But Jo duly shaped up, becoming an instrumental player in Atletico's main Libertadores Cup title in 2013 -- in fact, Jo finished South America's top club competition as top scorer in a team that boasted a revived Ronaldinho. He then benefited from a Leandro Damião injury to join the Seleção in the Confederations Cup, scoring twice and earning a possible World Cup call-up.
By the time the 2014 tournament came, however, tales of indiscipline had crept up again -- the media speculated that he was sweating more on dance floors than on the training pitch. Jo failed to ignite even when Brazil's first choice striker, Fred, could hardly run. His marriage broke down. In October, Jo completed a six-month scoreless streak and Atletico began to lose patience. His father Dario gave interviews expressing how worried he was with his son's behavior. "It seems to me Jo is digging his own grave," he told Brazilian website UOL in October.
What seems to be missing in all of this is true professional guidance, something quite surprising considering that Jo is signed to the same management company (Euro Export) that handles the careers of established Brazilian players such as Oscar and David Luiz. At the very least, his advisors appear to be taking a long time in figuring out how they want to manage the situation. To date, there have been no public statements or comment. Above all, however, it's about time Jo started helping himself.
Fernando Duarte is a U.K.-based Brazilian football expert who has reported on the Selecao for over a decade. Follow him on Twitter: @Fernando_Duarte.