Friday 28 July 2017

'Tormented' star returns

Jettisoned Eduardo haunted by leg break but not looking for revenge on return to Emirates

Eduardo will be full of mixed emotions on his return to the Emirates tonight. Photo: Getty Images
Eduardo will be full of mixed emotions on his return to the Emirates tonight. Photo: Getty Images

Ian Herbert

Eduardo can be forgiven his mixed feelings in returning tonight to Arsenal, the club where he endured horrific injury, as his new club Shakhtar Donetsk arrive on Champions League business.

The 27-year-old Brazilian-born Croatia striker spent three years as a Gunner from 2007. Broadly speaking the first of those was spent establishing himself, the second in recovery from the double leg break sustained against Birmingham in February 2008, and the third trying to re-establish himself. Then he was shipped out for a fee of around £6m to Shakhtar to make way in the summer for Marouane Chamakh.

"I was there for three years and the supporters like me and I liked the supporters," he said soon after his departure. "Everyone at the club was great with me and I have a lot of friends there, but that is life."

They were hardly the words of a man desperate to leave.

reality

On joining the Ukrainian team, he said: "I look forward to playing in the Champions League (but) I don't want to play against Arsenal."

And yet when that very prospect became reality, as the sides were paired in Group H, he changed his tune. "Even before the draw was made, I dreamed of playing against Arsenal, meeting my former team-mates and playing in front of the fans again at the Emirates," he said in recent days.

Conflicted? Possibly. But then this is a player whose career changed direction completely on that fateful February day when Martin Taylor's tackle put him out of the game for a year.

He believes that but for that tackle he might still be playing for Arsenal, against Shakhtar tonight. "It wasn't my fault I broke my leg, but it's true to say that moment changed my sporting career. I don't know what would have happened if I hadn't suffered the injury, but perhaps with more continuity I would still have been in the team."

He adds that it will be "emotional" to get on the pitch, that it "won't be easy" for the visitors to find a third successive win in the group, and that he won't have any "revenge" agenda driving him to defeat Arsenal for letting him go.

"I want to be remembered for being the best player on the pitch and not for my past with the Gunners, although I don't go into this game looking for any personal revenge. The fans were always behind me and they are in my heart and I am still in touch with Denilson, Cesc Fabregas and Robin (van Persie)."

Shakhtar, under Mircea Lucescu, top the Ukrainian Premier League after 13 games, with 11 wins, a draw and a solitary defeat to leave them five points clear. They've scored more goals (25) and conceded fewer (five) than any other team, although Eduardo has not been prolific.

He scored a goal on his debt in August in a 5-0 win, and two other goals after coming on as a substitute to seal away wins.

Certainly he has not been expected, so far, to be a mainstay, playing in only 10 games and only eight of those in the league, and not playing more than an hour in any match since his move. But after the trauma of his injury -- he was, he says "tormented into pieces" -- it's good simply to be playing.

The transition from England to the colder, harsher climes of Eastern Europe has been softened to some extent by having seven Brazilians also at the club -- Fernandinho, Jadson, Luiz Adriano, Willian, Douglas Costa, Alex Teixeira and Bruno. Eduardo already also knew Shakhtar's captain, Dario Srna, a team-mate with Croatia.

Arsene Wenger has a respect for Eduardo that goes beyond his playing ability. "I rate Eduardo, not only for the quality he has, but for his mental attitude and the strength he showed when he was so badly injured," he said.

"I let him go because he wouldn't get the games and needed to play. He was at an age where he needed to play and convince himself he can play again. He never gave up, but when you're out for such a long time somebody else comes in."

Wenger has been boosted by the return of Cesc Fabregas, his captain, following a hamstring problem. "Cesc is available," he confirmed. "He is good and has prepared well. He had a little setback, but got over the hurdle and is ready to play at full fitness.

Theo Walcott is also back in the squad following an ankle injury. (© Independent News Service)

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