Riddle me this.
I’m one of Europe’s most prolific goalscorers. I’ve won the European Golden Shoe twice. I failed to score during my time in the Premier League. I once turned out for St Mirren.
The man in question is Mario Jardel de Almeida Ribeiro. As you’ve probably already twigged, Jardel’s career was quite the roller coaster. But, for six prolific seasons, Jardel was arguably Europe’s deadliest striker.
That’s quite a statement, given Jardel played during a time in which Ronaldo was at his peak, Serie A was the world’s premiere destination for world-class strikers and England had Kevin Phillips.
But the numbers speak for themselves.
Having scored between 67 and 81 goals (depending on which Wikipedia page you look at) during a year on loan at Gremio, Jardel found himself in the middle of a tug of war.
A move to Rangers collapsed over British rules limiting the number of non-EU players in a squad, leaving the Brazilian free to sign for Porto in 1996.
During four seasons at Porto, three of which ended in a Portuguese title, Jardel scored 130 goals at better than one a game. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo levels of destruction.
Jardel was crowned Europe’s top goalscorer in 1999 after ploughing his way through 36 goals in 32 league games. He went
one two better the next season, scoring 38 goals, only to be beaten to the top gong by Kevin Phillips due to Europe’s mysterious coefficients.
Flat track bully? Anchovy farmer’s league? Jardel netted ten goals during Porto’s 1999/2000 Champions League campaign, leaving him tied level for the Champions League golden boot with Rivaldo and Raul.
Galatasaray, fresh off the back of a UEFA Cup title, activated Jardel’s release clause in the summer of 2000.
A casual five goals on his league debut, as well as a double against Real Madrid to guide Galatasaray to a UEFA Super Cup win, were a sign of things to come.
Jardel was pipped to the Turkish Super Lig golden boot by Buraspor’s Okan Yimlaz, with injuries limiting the Brazilian to 22 goals in 24 league games.
But that disappointment was offset by Jardel scoring against Monaco, Rangers, Sturm Graz, AC Milan and Madrid during Galatasaray’s run to the Champions League quarter-final.
Thirty-four goals in all competitions meant Jardel was still holding his own in the battle to be recognised as Europe’s most prolific striker.
The following summer Jardel moved back to Portugal and joined Sporting CP.
He broke records in scoring 42 league goals- a figure not even Eusebio could match- during his first season at the club, once again lifting the European Golden Shoe and Portuguese league title.
Let’s take a step back. In six seasons in Europe, Jardel had been crowned the Portuguese League top goalscorer five times, European Golden Shoe twice and Champions League top goalscorer once.
No one else in Europe at the time could claim to be so consistently prolific.
And then it happened. The goals dried up. A knee injury suffered during a trip back home for the 2002 Christmas holidays hampered Jardel’s progress.
Before long he’d put on weight and looked a shadow of his former self. Jardel would later admit to taking cocaine during his career, stating that both doctors and physiotherapists knew about it when he was at Porto.
Jardel would play for another 12 clubs without ever making a lasting impression.
But let’s not focus on those times. Let’s focus on the six seasons Jardel reigned supreme. All hail a goalscoring genius.
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