AND the award for the most startling comeback since Darius from Popstars had a No.1 single goes to: Manchester City striker Jo.
His finish against Red Bull Salzburg last night was not particularly tidy. It may even have been a mis-hit. No matter. It was the Brazilian’s first competitive goal for City since September 2008, and it proved that second chances can turn up in the most unlikely of situations.
At a press conference seven days ago, City manager Roberto Mancini was met with a general look of bemusement when he described Jo as “a fantastic player”. He had, after all, struggled to make an impact in his first six months after arriving from CSKA Moscow, scoring three goals in 18 matches and earning the wrath of manager Mark Hughes for going out clubbing while he was off sick with tonsillitis.
Two half-season loan spells at Everton did produce a slightly better strike rate, although he then enraged David Moyes by going home for Christmas – fine if you work as a university lecturer, not such a good idea if you are a professional footballer in England.
(In his defence, Jo clearly hadn’t realised that the traditional English footballer’s way of taking Christmas off is to pick up a handily-timed three-match ban. Allegedly.)
Jo went off to Galatasaray, and those of us who don’t follow the Turkish Super Lig that closely forgot about him. When Mancini set about shaping City his squad for the new season, it was generally assumed that Jo would be on his way out, along with Felipe Caicedo and a few other fringe players.
The first hint that this might not be the case came when Mancini included him in the squad for City’s pre-season tour. While Caicedo was left at home to play with the reserves at Barrow, Jo was scoring against Portland Timbers and New York Red Bulls. He got another against Borussia Dortmund in Germany at the start of last month, and ended pre-season as City’s leading scorer.
Meanwhile, Craig Bellamy left, Stephen Ireland left and Robinho left. Roque Santa Cruz was left out of the Europa League squad. Jo had not only survived the cut, he was making the team.
He has been in the 18-man matchday squad for every one of City’s competitive games this season, starting two Europa League matches, and has failed to get on the pitch only once.
Mancini has been an admirer of Jo since he first encountered him in a couple of Champions League group stage games three years ago. In the late autumn of 2007, Mancini was in his final season in charge of Inter Milan, while Jo was in his final campaign at CSKA Moscow. The two clubs met, and Inter won home and away – but only after Jo had given CSKA the lead in both games.
Both goals were well taken. In Moscow, he beat Inter defender Ivan Cordoba before lobbing the ball over keeper Julio Cesar. But his strike in the San Siro was even better, as he played a one-two with Vagner Love before smashing an unstoppable effort into the corner.
It was enough to show City’s future manager just what an awkward customer Jo could be. And after returning from Galatasaray, he did enough to convince Mancini he should be a part of the Blues’ final 25 in the Premier and Europa Leagues.
When asked about Jo’s qualities, Mancini points to his physical strength, his speed and his useful left foot. He has, though, also indicated that the striker needs to develop his self-belief.
All of that was clear to see when he scored in Austria last night. He was in the right place and quick to respond when keeper Gerhard Tremmel saved a Carlos Tevez’s shot. But the finish, though it went in, was a little bumpy.
There was a moment during the home game against Blackburn too when a more confident striker might have grabbed a goal. Tevez had done brilliantly to keep possession, turn the Blackburn defence inside out and set up the chance. But Jo didn’t attack the ball, and Chris Samba dived in to make a terrific challenge.
Maybe, with a little bit more self-belief, Jo will become the striker Mancini feels he can be. Maybe all he needs is a willingness to get hurt and a skin as thick as a rhino’s. The alternative would be to fade into obscurity. And given that Jo has already proved he has considerably more sticking power than a one-hit wonder, that would be a shame.