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May 29, 2014

Hulk's wandering road to Brazil's forward line

Hulk's club career has spanned the globe with stops in Japan, Portugal and Russia.
Hulk's club career has spanned the globe with stops in Japan, Portugal and Russia.

The Brazilian fan likely can't remember, but Hulk, a probable first-string player of the first World Cup at home since 1950, played professionally in his huge home team of Vitória. "I left early, I didn't have many opportunities, I didn't get a chance to play, but I don't look at what didn't work," says the player currently playing for Zenit St. Petersburg of Russia.

Hulk succeeded in Japanese soccer before playing for Porto, where he transferred to in 2008 and won 11 titles in four years. Now he plays for Zenit, which contracted him for the price of 60 million euros.

"He has always been the type of player who likes to win. He has actually matured, but losing was very hard for him to accept. He was courageous, always in search of the game in technical terms, he has always had lots of strength and a powerful kick," said João Paulo Sampaio to ESPN.com.br, the former coach of the lower divisions of Vitória and currently coordinator of the Bahia-based club.

"He had lots of qualities, a force that was inexplicable, speed and a powerful kick," says an old teammate to ESPN. "They guys at practice complained a lot, because he would put the ball in the front and, with no hesitation, he'd run them over."

Why didn't the forward, trusted by Brazil head coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, shine at home? The player himself has an explanation. "At the time, Vitória was doing well, it had forwards Edilson and Obina. Obina was having a great phase and Edilson was well known."

Edilson, the "Capetinha" (Little Devil) and Obina, who later entered the folklore of the nation, as being hailed better than Samuel Eto'o, blocked the giant from Paraíba of the senior team at the Salvador club.

"Yes I lived a great moment and Edilson has his own history, the quality that everyone knows he has," said Odina, the same teammate who describes Hulk three paragraphs above.

The forward of the Brazilian National Team is the type of person who complains from the bench. "There was a game in which I yelled at him, he opened his arms and said, 'let me play'. As soon as I entered the locker room, I grabbed him by the shirt, and I said: 'Never do this to a coach again'. He started to cry. Hulk is a good kid. He calls and send presents to the kids here at the base every time he gets a chance, he recognizes that," says Sampaio.

Givanildo Vieira de Souza, who was known as the green superhero since he played for Vitória, played only twice for the team of Bahia in the Brazilian Championship of 2004, with two losses by 3-2 to against Fluminense, at the Barradão and 2-1 against Internacional, at Beira-Rio, and always entering the game on the second half. Vitória ended up being relegated and, in the following year, Hulk was sold to Kawasaki Frontale for an amount that would currently be considered ridiculous for his standards.

"In dollars, it was approximately a little over one million. But he has no regrets, at the time, Vitória was constantly growing. It was similar to David Luiz, who ended up being sold to Benfica when we dropped to Serie C for two million euros in 2007. You are nuts about money and end up selling to get out of the hole," says Sampaio.