In the first part of a rare and revealing interview, former Gunners favourite Eduardo recalls the highs and lows of three eventful seasons he spent at Arsenal.
Signed from Dinamo Zagreb in the summer of 2007, for whom he scored 73 times in 108 appearances, Eduardo was quick to make an impact for his new club, finding the net in domestic and European competition.
But then in February the following year, what was shaping up to be a great season for both player and club was suddenly turned on its head when the forward suffered an injury that placed his career in the balance. A horrendous tackle from Birmingham City’s Martin Taylor left him with a broken fibula and a dislocated ankle.
At the time, Arsenal were top of the league, and in a rich vein of form, but the incident seemed to derail their season. Eduardo defied initial fears and eventually made a comeback, much to the delight of fans and team-mates alike, though his remaining time at the Club was not rewarded with a trophy. In the summer of 2010, he agreed a move to Ukrainian heavyweights Shakhtar Donetsk.
A lot of people didn’t expect me to come back to the highest level or to play again in the Champions League or for the Croatian national teamEduardo
However, he was back at the Emirates within a few months, after his new club were drawn against Arsenal in the Champions League. With Shakhtar 3-0 down, Eduardo came off the bench to a standing ovation from the Arsenal supporters, scoring a late consolation goal, which was also cheered by the home support. Arsenal eventually ran out 5-1 winners.
In the reverse fixture Shakhtar restored some pride with a 2-1 victory, in which Eduardo scored the winner, though he refused to celebrate out of respect for his former club. As he tells Dan Brennan and Jefferson Rodrigues, that sense of respect and love for the Club remains with him today.
What are your best memories of Arsenal?
I have a lot of memories, but the first that comes to my mind is when I signed the contract. The first days at a club like Arsenal, the first match against Sparta Prague in the Champions League, when I scored my first goal with Arsenal. And of course the other big memory I have is my first match after I recovered from the ankle injury. It was a cup match against Cardiff City and I scored twice. The last memory I have is my return to Emirates Stadium with Shakhtar, when I scored a goal and Arsenal fans applauded me.
You mentioned a few of your goals - which was your all-time favourite?
I have three favourites, two of which I’ve already mentioned. First, the header I scored against Cardiff, which was my first goal after coming back from injury. Then there was a beautiful goal in the FA Cup - I don’t remember who it was against [Burnley], but it was a bit like a beach volley goal. And then there was my first goal for the Club, against Sparta Prague.
Who were you closest to at Arsenal? Did you spend much time with the Club’s other Brazilians?
When I arrived Gilberto was there. He was the one who gave me a lot of support and a big welcome. He didn’t just do that with me, he was the same with all the Brazilian players who arrived at Arsenal during his time there, like Denilson. And that made us close. I would say that Gilberto was the closest friend I had at the Club. After he left, I was closest to Denilson. But I was also very good friends with several of the other foreign guys - mostly the non-French speakers like Rosicky, Fabregas, Almunia and Van Persie.
What did you learn from Arsène Wenger?
I learned a lot. The most important thing was to be as professional as I could. He taught me that the Club is always bigger than any player. And that we have to respect the shirt. I can’t become selfish because I play in a big club and disrespect the players of a minor club. That was the biggest lesson he taught me. And another important thing that he showed me was that he treated every player equally - it didn’t matter whether you were a youngster or an international star.
How did you enjoy life in England? How did you spend your free time?
People who don’t know English football and the English lifestyle think all the players live in fancy apartments in central London. But that’s not true. The players tend to live far away from the centre and it was the same for me. My house was something like an hour and a half from central London, close to the training ground, so it wasn’t easy to enjoy the London lifestyle. Instead, I used to spend my free time with my family. I used my spare time to do things like take my daughter to school, to play with her, and spend a bit of time with my wife.
Obviously a big moment in your time at Arsenal was the broken leg, which at one point left your career in the balance. What do you remember about it now? How did you get through it? And were you ever concerned you wouldn’t play again?
I try not to remember about it actually. It was a tragedy for me and football. I really don’t like to talk about that incident, but the one thing I do remember is that when I arrived at the hospital the doctor who did the surgery came to me and told me to not worry, because I would recover and would play again. That made me strong, it gave me confidence... and it was true. Here I am, still playing.
It must have been especially difficult as you had a young family?
It was hard for my daughter, who was just two years old, but also for my wife, family and friends. All of them played a very important part during my recovery. They were with me 24 hours a day, motivating me, giving me strength, supporting me. All of this helped me to make it back. And of course, knowing that my daughter depends on me made me fight harder to make my comeback. Because football is my life and it’s the only thing I can do, so I needed to recover. And now I’m back, still playing in the highest level, and that makes me proud.
The injury brought a huge outpouring of support for you from fans. Did that help you?
The fans are the reason we play and the reason we give everything we’ve got during a match. Just knowing that the fans were supporting me, sending me their best wishes and praying for me to recover was an unbelievable feeling. It gave me strength to continue my treatment and made me mentally stronger. It was a demonstration of pure affection.
I don’t know if my injury affected the team, but something definitely happened
At the time it happened Arsenal were top of the league, and enjoying a great run of form; but then came a slump, as if what happened to you affected the whole team and club...
I don’t know what happened. I think we were five points ahead of Manchester United, with a game in hand. But we drew five matches in a row, lost our rhythm and never got it back. I don’t know if my injury affected the team, but something definitely happened.
You were part of an Arsenal team that never quite fulfilled its potential. Do you have any regrets that you didn’t win anything with the Club?
Of course. I’ve missed out on winning a title with Arsenal. It’s a club that is used to winning things, and I was used to winning titles with Dinamo Zagreb. I’m the kind of player that always wants to win games and trophies. I spent three years with Arsenal, and I know that the Premier League is a tough, difficult league, but I think that if that team had stayed together for another two or three years we would have won a few trophies.
I watch Arsenal on TV whenever I can. When I’m at the hotel and Arsenal are playing I’ll definitely watch and support them. The Premier League is shown live in lots of countries and Arsenal are one of the favourite teams in the worldEduardo
Do you feel we ever saw the best of you at Arsenal?
When I arrived in Arsenal in July, I spent three months adapting to the club and the country. So when October came, I was ready and I got my chance in the team. I was doing very well but then five months later I suffered that injury. I look back on those five or six months before my injury as one of the best periods of my career.
How do other countries you’ve played in compare to Premier League for physicality? Do you think, for example that type of injury could happen in Ukraine, Brazil or Croatia?
That sort of thing can happen to anyone. A few months after my injury, a player in Croatia had the same problem, but not a lot of people knew about it, because the Croatian League doesn’t have the profile of the Premier League.
Two seasons later you played in the game against Stoke when Aaron Ramsey suffered a similarly bad injury. Would you like to see this kind of career-threatening tackle punished more severely?
Of course. I think that the national associations, UEFA and FIFA should take a good look at that. They know what is best for football, but in England the approach of the referees can be a problem in my opinion. They let the game flow and don’t blow the whistle for every foul. It’s good for the fans and the game, but it can take the game to a dangerous place, because the fouls are harder and as a result there are more serious injuries.
Were you able to offer Aaron any advice based on your own experience?
Of course. I was on the bench when he got injured. His injury wasn’t as complicated as mine, because it was his leg rather than his ankle. That’s why he managed to make his comeback sooner than me. But I remember going to see him and reassuring him that he would come back from it. I supported him and prayed for him to recover as fast as possible.
Does your injury affect you still when you are playing?
No. A lot of people didn’t expect me to come back to the highest level or to play again in the Champions League or for the Croatian national team. They thought I was going to come back and play for minor clubs in the second or third division. But I came back to play at the top level, and I’m delighted by the response I’ve had.
Another incident that marked your time at Arsenal was the dive against Celtic in the Champions League qualifiers? Were you surprised by the controversy that generated?
In England, the mentality is different. People are straight and 100% correct in the way they do things. So diving sounds like cheating and is offensive to them. In countries like Brazil, the referee would have given us a penalty, I would have become a hero and nobody would say a thing. In Uruguay it’s probably the same, so Suarez would have been a hero after he used his hand to deny Ghana a goal in the World Cup quarter-final in South Africa. Uruguay won and Suarez became a national hero. In England that is regarded as a horrible thing, and you are viewed as dishonest. And that’s what happened to me, and my name was mud in the media. And it’s harder if you’re
a foreigner; I’d say they have a little bit more tolerance with British players.
Do you ever get chance to watch Arsenal on TV? And what do you think of current team?
I watch Arsenal on TV whenever I can. When I’m at the hotel and Arsenal are playing I’ll definitely watch and support them. The Premier League is shown live in lots of countries and Arsenal are one of the favourite teams in the world. They’re still a great team, regulars in the Champions League, and not far off competing for trophies. But personally I’d say that this current team isn’t quite at the level as the one with Rosicky, Van Persie, Fabregas and Arshavin at their best. That team was something like Barcelona today. Everyone enjoyed watching them.
Read the interview with Eduardo and more in the latest edition
Do you remember Jack Wilshere when he was first coming through? Did you see his potential back then?
I remember Wilshere - he was just 16 but I could see he had a lot of talent. I’ve always told my friends in Brazil to remember his name, because he would become one of the best players in the world. He’s a world-class player and, for me, the stand-out individual in the current Arsenal squad.
Would you ever consider returning to England?
I still have one more year at Shakhtar and I don’t know where my future lies after that. If I have the opportunity to go back to England, I would return with pleasure. The Premier League gets inside you, and most players who leave want to go back there. I’m no different. I do miss playing in the Premier League, the intensity of the matches and the mentality of the English game.