Paris Saint-Germain coach Antoine Kombouare didn't even want Nene when the Brazilian winger joined the club from Monaco for €5 million ($6.5 million) last summer. He would have rather had Rennes' hot property Sylvain Marveaux, perhaps knowing that at Monaco, Nene was a highly-paid (€2 million/$2.6 million per year) yet disruptive influence. "Our team lacked team spirit and Nene, though he had the ability, was one of those who created more problems than solutions," former Monaco president Jerome de Bontin told
It has taken Nene less than five months to win over Kombouare: the Brazilian has been one of the best players in this season's Ligue 1 and is its second-top scorer. A two weeks ago, his two goals in the 2-1 win at Valenciennes pushed PSG, for so long underachievers in France,
Before his career took off, Nene almost missed out entirely. "Religion put me on the right path," he told
He moved to Europe in 2003, playing for Real Mallorca in Spain where the center forward was Samuel Eto'o. "It was my assists that got him the move to Barcelona!" Nene joked. He was only there one season, and he moved to Alaves, then Celta Vigo, then Monaco, before spending one year on loan at Espanyol.
"Nene will continue the tradition of Brazilians that shine in Paris," said club president Robin Leproux when Nene signed in July, but no one took him too seriously. After all, Nene was already 29, and to compare him to former greats like Valdo and Ricardo (who both played alongside Kombouare in PSG's run of European semifinal appearances in the mid-1990s) as well as Rai and Leonardo, not to mention Ronaldinho, seemed generous in the extreme.
"Nene has brought to the capital club something that it lacked for the seven years since the departure of Ronaldinho," wrote France Soir, forgetting that though
Nene, who is at the other end of his career, has had the opposite effect. He spent his playboy years in Spain and Monaco and is now focused only on football: his presence has also brought out the best in Ludovic Giuly, the 34-year-old right-sided winger in PSG's 4-2-3-1 system. Guillaume Hoarau, the center forward, is also benefiting from Nene's superb crossing, and has scored six goals so far this season. Stephane Sessegnon, one of the stars of last season, is stuck on the bench because of the form of Giuly and Nene.
"A Brazilian player is guaranteed a great welcome in Paris simply because of the success of those players from the 1990s," Alex Bellos, author of
Nene has surprised himself by how quickly he has settled in at PSG, though he claimed that he was playing just as well when he was at Alaves in 2004. "If I had been playing for any other team then, I would have been called up by Brazil," he said. "But I agree that this is perhaps the best form of my career."
Now, he is dreaming: of a Brazil call-up in February, which would be appropriate given that the opposition in its next friendly match is France; and of winning the French title with PSG, who last won it in 1994, with a side that contained David Ginola, George Weah and current coach Kombouare. "We can be champions again, this team is good enough," Nene said. It is his arrival that has made such title talk possible.