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The Helder Postiga Mystery

Last week’s round of European Championship play-offs didn’t throw out many surprises: Republic of Ireland steam-rolled Estonia, Montenegro’s tenacity eventually ran out as they lost to Czech Republic, and Portugal – true to form – made their long-suffering, debt-ridden nation have to wait on tenterhooks as they made hard work of defeating Bosnia.

But, and it arises from this latter observation, there was one detail which did elicit a certain amount of bemusement, especially in north London: how is Hélder Postiga, the insipid Tottenham flop, still managing to get into the Portuguese national team? The man who, at 29, has already played in five different countries, has never been prolific, never been resounding, and never been displayed commitment to one club. Yet he started up front, alongside heavyweights Nani and Cristiano Ronaldo , in what was his country’s biggest game of the year.

Following the 0-0 result from the first-leg, the tie was rested on a knife’s edge; taking place in Lisbon, the Portuguese may have just had the upper-hand, but the resilience and determination of the Bosnians – spearheaded by Manchester City’s Edin Dzeko – was always going to make this match-up entertaining. It didn’t disappoint: Portugal ran out winners 6-2, despite at one point throwing away a 2-0 lead and having to dig deeper than previously anticipated.

Two players scored a brace in the game; both strikers, both dastardly handsome and both in their late 20s. But that is where the comparisons end: one is the world’s most expensive and infamous player, famed equally for his gargantuan talent and his model good-looks, decorated with accolades and medals. The other is a journeyman striker, with disappointment and mediocrity stalking him at each of the six clubs he has played for, as the scorching potential he had flickers into a dying ember.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Hélder Postiga were meant to be part of a new generation of Portuguese football, taking the mantle from the legendary enigmas of Luis Figo, Pauleta and Nuno Gomes. Only one of them has lived up to that potential and he netted his 18th and 19th goals of the season on Tuesday night; the fact that only three times in the last 10 seasons has Postiga managed to reach a goal tally of double figures suggests it wasn’t him.

But where did it go wrong for this precocious talent? Where, along the way, did he disprove those journalists and writers who, in the infancy of last decade, resplendently place him in magazine ‘Talent Scout’ sections, labelling him as one to watch?

After massively assisting in FC Porto ’s vanquish of the 2002-03 Portuguese Primeira Liga – 13 goals in 31 games – few could doubt that Postiga had talent. So when Glenn Hoddle, Spurs manager at the time, signed the then-21-year-old back in 2003, red-top headlines went into overdrive: “Portuguese Postman will deliver” and “How will Hodd Héld on to this great talent” could be heard, with some quarters even labelling Cristiano Ronaldo – signed by Manchester United a month later in the same transfer window – a copycat of Postiga.

Fast-forward 12 months later, to the European Championships of 2004 – taking place in Postiga’s native Portugal – where England and Portugal are vying for a place in the semi-finals. England, leading through a 3rd minute Michael Owen goal, are looking strong, wanting to progress and prove the many, loquacious doubters wrong.

As the clock ticks on, into the latter stages, the hosts are looking desperate; the final throw of the dice is to bring number 23 on, Hélder Postiga, a striker who is short on confidence. England fans breathe a sigh of relief: what can he do, he’s a flop. Commentators reel off the disparaging stats of Postiga’s debut season in England, namely the fact he only managed one league goal in 19 appearances.

But, well into the last 10 minutes, who should pop up and equalise but the man who the Spurs fan perceive as a joke and waste of the £6 million that they forked out for him. The rest doesn’t need re-telling: England lost on penalties with Postiga even scoring one of them. An immediate return to Porto followed (if Tottenham, or England, fans are seeking irony as to dispel their grievances with the striker, in the one season that he was in England, he missed out on Jose Mourinho leading Porto to Champions League glory).

So, seven years and five clubs later, Postiga finds himself back in Iberia, this time plying his trade for Real Zaragoza of Spain. Stints in France and Greece didn’t work out – lack of goals/it not being Portugal , namely – nor did a three-season spell at Porto’s deadly rivals, Sporting Lisbon (12 goals 71 appearances is an awful contribution to a team who have league-winning ambitions).

His star has faded, and continues to fade: he no longer commands the big transfer fees or inflated wages that he used to be able to get away with (Zaragoza paid less than £1 million for him), yet he still lines up alongside his compatriots, some of the world’s best footballers, when on international duty. One thing’s for sure: ‘The Postman’ won’t deliver glory for Portugal next summer with his paltry return of 19 goals from 46 caps.

Article courtesy of Theo Rowley from This is Futbol

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Article title: The Helder Postiga Mystery

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