‘Solo Performances That Changed The Game’ – The Brilliance of Baptista

Former Arsenal attacker Julio BaptistaArsenal fans – anyone remember Julio Baptista? The Brazilian striker was only at the Emirates for a single season, and made an overall limited impact on Arsenal’s 2006-7 campaign. A burly forward most familiar with the Spanish style of football after three years in La Liga, he struggled to adapt to the pace of the Premier League and made little impact on the competition, with over half of his 24 appearances coming as a substitute.

Arsenal had nearly landed Baptista the year before. After two seasons at Sevilla which produced a remarkable 47 goals in 79 appearances across all competitions, by 2005 Baptista was touted as one of the most talented forwards on the market as Real Madrid and Arsenal led the chase to sign him. In addition, the then-24-year-old was an emerging part of the Brazilian national squad, for whom he often featured in more of an attacking midfield position and acted more as a link-up playmaker than a goal threat.

In that one-year stay, however, Baptista did break a club record, registering four goals in a single game againstLiverpoolin the League Cup quarter-finals. It was the performance that summed up why Arsene Wenger had been so interested in Baptista’s services before. A free-kick, a placed 20-yard strike and two tap-ins showed his versatility and for once Baptista’s trickery and guile were complimented by some genuine pace. He could have had a fifth goal but Jerzy Dudek saved his second-half penalty.

Wenger, a staunch defender of the striker throughout his difficult season inEngland, hailed Baptista’s performance after the game, calling him “a mentally very strong player… his quality is fantastic”.

The goals kept coming in the next round of the League Cup as Baptista scored two more against arch-rivals Tottenham in the semi-finals. He couldn’t help Arsenal overcomeChelseain the final, but the two games – the virtuoso performance againstLiverpoolin particular – had left Gunners fans with some insight into what might have been from Julio Baptista.

It’s obvious that his best performances came in the League Cup for Arsenal and his goals are equivalent to those of Theo Walcott in this year’s Capital One Cup – although Arsene Wenger will be hoping that Walcott takes his form into league games, something which Baptista failed to do.

Unfortunately, ‘The Beast’ hasn’t produced the same magic since, either. With the loan expiring in the summer of 2007, Baptista returned to Real Madrid but couldn’t produce the La Liga form of his time at Sevilla, and is currently without a club after stints with Roma andMalaga, where on both occasions he faded away after showing early promise. His involvement with the national side has fizzled out, too, and the 31-year-old has not been capped since 2010.

English fans, then, can count themselves lucky that they got a little taste of Baptista’s brilliance with that memorable display against Liverpool at Anfield.