Mario Jardel: Forever A Star Beneath The Big Stage

Mario Jardel at his peak had a goal record that every striker envied. It’s an absolute certainty that he’d have secured a big money move to a top class side if he were scoring them in 2017, but instead, his career was spent on the fringe, never quite breaking into the elite class. He lit up three countries and built a name for himself by being able to naturally do the most difficult thing in football – what more could Jardel have done?

Jardel, like most Brazilians, started his career in Brazil – specifically at Vasco da Gama. His four years there went well for him, boasting a record of roughly one in two, while he was also part of the sides that won the Campeonato Carioca (the state Championship of Rio de Janiero) in 1992, 1993, and 1994.

It was at Gremio, however, that Jardel really started to show what he could do. His record there was phenomenal – nearly a goal a game – and he managed to lift four trophies in a little over a year there.

He won the Campeonato Gaúcho (this time the state Championship of Rio Grande do Sul) in both 1995 and 1996, meaning Jardel had won the state Championship five years in a row, with two different clubs, in two different states – quite some going by 23-years-old.

The shining light of his time there was the 1995 Copa Libertadores. Gremio hadn’t been champions of South America since 1983 – the only time they’d achieved it – but Jardel was inspired, firing the team through to the title as the tournament’s top scorer.

The pinnacle of the run was in the quarter-final where they met Palmeiras. That Palmeiras side was the best in Brazil, which is easy to see just by looking at Brazil internationals like Edmundo, César Sampaio, and Antônio Carlos in the lineup – and that’s before adding in Cafu, Roberto Carlos, and Rivaldo. Still, the first leg ended 5-0 to Gremio after a Jardel hat-trick.

The return leg then finished 5-1 to Palmeiras – Gremio scraped through. They went on to defeat Atlético Nacional of Colombia in the final, and suddenly Jardel was a superstar.

His collection at Gremio was completed with the 1996 Recopa Sudamericana, and of course, Jardel scored. His prolific record naturally attracted the attention of Europe, eventually signing for FC Porto.

Jardel was now in Europe and he immediately began establishing his reputation. Porto had won the Primeira Liga in eight of the previous eleven years, adding the Taça de Portugal three times in that span – not to mention the European Cup in 1987 – basically, this was a team that was used to success and used to top players, but Jardel was something else.

In his four seasons at Porto, Mario Jardel tore Portugal up: his domestic record in that time reads 137 games played, 147 goals scored. He was top scorer every year he was there (you can’t be too surprised), and only once did anyone get within ten goals of him; this wasn’t a case of everyone scoring a lot in Portugal, Jardel was just an anomaly. 30, 26, 36, and 38 – these are the numbers of a world-class player.

It was a shame for Jardel that the method for awarding the European Golden Shoe changed the year he moved to Europe. His 36 league goals in 1999 won him the award, but the following season his 38 lost out to Kevin Phillips’ 30 – goals in England were deemed more impressive than Portugal.

The Brazilian had won three Primeira Liga’s and two Taças de Portugal by the time 2000 arrived, and it was seen as the time for him to move on.

Internazionale were interested in Jardel, looking for a goalscorer with Ronaldo rehabilitating, but instead went for Galatasaray’s Hakan Şükür (who admittedly was prolific in Turkey, and one-upped Jardel by winning four consecutive league titles by that point, as well as just helping his side to the UEFA Cup).

But in the crazy world of the football merry-go-round, Inter not choosing Jardel and instead choosing Şükür meant Jardel got a move – Galatasaray replaced their forward by paying Jardel’s release clause.

Now Jardel was playing in a country outside of his native tongue for the first time, having probably not gotten the move he wanted to a major European league, and replacing a club hero – doubts over just how well he could fit in at Galatasaray were natural.

He scored five on his debut – doubts gone. When the European Super Cup against Real Madrid came around, Jardel scored twice in a 2-1 win for the Turks, goals that took his total to ten in his first five games.

Injuries and personal problems held the Brazilian back a bit, and would eventually form the reason that he never fully settled in Turkey. Still, he managed 34 goals in the 2000/01 season, although it was already time to leave. Once again there were hopes of Internazionale after Hakan Şükür’s disappointing season there, especially after two Galatasaray players were signed by the Milan club, but once again it never came to be.

It’s worth wondering whether Jardel would have been a success at Inter, given that a move there was the closest he ever came to testing himself in a top league. The answer is a difficult one, though. There was never really a better opportunity to make a claim, as Ronaldo was out for the entire season, but Jardel would have had to compete for goals with Cristian Vieri – a tough challenge for any predator.

Şükür certainly got his opportunities, however, and perhaps Jardel would have taken them, propelling him into the elite. It is, unfortunately, forever to be the greatest what if over Jardel’s career.

Instead, Jardel returned to Portugal, this time with Sporting Clube de Portugal. Might as well get right to the important bit: 42 goals in 30 league games, 55 in all competitions. A League and Cup double. The European Golden Shoe. That, right there, is about as good a debut season as you can get. Jardel was a phenomenon.

Now, it’s probably quite obvious by this stage that, for such a prolific goalscorer, there is a distinct lack of any mention of the Brazilian National Team. By 2002, Jardel only had ten caps with one goal, never really coming close to establishing himself as part of his countries squad.

55 goals and the European Golden Boot really (definitely, absolutely, any other similar word) should have secured Jardel a place in Brazil’s 2002 World Cup squad. While he wouldn’t have started ahead of Ronaldo, Rivaldo, and Ronaldinho – because who would have? – a place in that squad should have been his as backup.

Instead, Scolari (who, just as one of those weird things in football, was Jardel’s manager back when he became a star at Gremio – he knew exactly what the forward offered) chose Edílson and Luizão – two strikers from Brazil with less-than-stellar records.

Brazil, of course, went on to win that World Cup. Jardel would never be the same.

Having scored 55 goals the season before the World Cup, he scored just 12 following the competition. Seeing that number follow his previous six years in European football is staggering, but unfortunately, that was by far the best season of Jardel’s post-World Cup career.

One reason for the bloke’s fall, why he never received that big move, or why he was left out of the World Cup squad, was his temperament. He had left Portugal in September of 2002 to go back to Brazil, declaring that he’d never return. Sporting allowed it, on the condition that they received updates on his fitness.

The situation worsened, however, and once the club suspended his pay, Jardel was demanding the termination of his contract.

It would also later come out that 2002 had seen Jardel sink into depression and pick up a cocaine habit.

“I only consumed one drug, cocaine, but not while I was playing. I only took it during vacations.”

“It all started with bad friendships. Then came my divorce, depression and drugs. This happens a lot in football, but I can’t talk about it. I haven’t taken it for two months.”

— Jardel in 2008

He was moved on to Bolton Wanderers in 2003 for €1.5m, but seven Premier League games followed without a single goal – here was Jardel’s big chance in a top European League, but he was in no shape to take it. And that shape was summed up when he moved on loan to Italian side Ancona that winter: the fans nicknamed him Lardel (which is admittedly very funny).

Image Source: Twitter

A string of small clubs around the world is all that followed (as well as a bizarre knack for picking up trophies despite not doing anything: Jardel won the Argentina Primera Division, The Campeonato Goiano, The Cypriot Cup, and the Australian A-League without being particularly good), as Jardel’s career wound down into nothing through a selection of small Brazilian clubs.

The question of whether Jardel could have gone down as one of the greatest of his generation is forever to be a strange one. He scored goals on an (at the time) unprecedented level, and these days absolutely would have gotten that move, but instead, he was never allowed to show what he could do on a truly grand stage.

On the other hand, he’s hardly lost to obscurity, having starred in Portugal and Brazil, as well as showing he could do it in Turkey.

He was the star beneath the big stage.