For 30 days between the end of August and end of September 2013, Gilberto played the best football of his career.
The purple patch, which had a lot to do with Portuguesa’s surprising 12th-place finish in the Campeonato Brasileiro (Brazil’s top-flight), began with a brace at home to Bahia, continued with another two-goal showing only four days later against Ponte Preta and included scoring performances in wins over both Vasco da Gama and Nautico, before ending with a hat-trick against Club World Cup holders Corinthians.
In that match, a 4-0 victory, Gilberto scored twice inside the first 12 minutes—one-touch goals, first with his head and then his foot—and completed the treble after breaking Corinthians’ typically rigid offside trap, rounding goalkeeper Cassio and stroking the ball into the back of the net.
It was the high point of a breakout season for the 24-year-old, but it pretty much ended there. He scored only three goals in his next 10 matches to finish the season, none of which came in his final eight appearances.
He placed just five shots on target during that stretch and didn’t register a single assist. He was a ghost.
“[Gilberto’s] success at Portuguesa was itself a surprise,” Paulo Freitas told Sportsnet over the phone from Rio de Janeiro. Freitas, a Brazilian football expert and researcher for the Football Manager video game franchise, says that while Gilberto has good speed and a decent finishing ability, his passing leaves a lot to be desired.
It’s also worth noting that despite losing Leandro Damião to Santos, Internacional of Porto Alegre—the club that owns Gilberto’s rights—were nevertheless keen to move him on, no doubt encouraged by a lucrative offer from Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC.
So what kind of player can Toronto expect?
For starters, the fact that Gilberto is capable of generating scoring chances with his speed (he also has an eye for goal from distance) should assuage some well-founded worries that he won’t benefit from quality service at BMO Field.
He is also quite capable on the defensive side of the ball, although, as Freitas points out, he has a penchant for finding himself in the referee’s book.
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Still, his work-rank cannot be questioned—at least as long as his head is actually in the match. That he has a tendency to go AWOL for prolonged periods is worrisome, and it’s in this regard that his status as a designated player is curious.
That said, Gilberto’s body of work remains too small and too brief to make a confident forecast of his impact at Toronto FC. If he can build on the best points of his unexpected 2013 campaign it follows that he could become the forward the Reds so desperately require—one who can generate chances on his own and provide an element of physical play.
The alternative, of course, is that he reverts to the player he has been through much of his career—a drifter, an unpredictable striker who is only ever on the fringes of the squad.
This is the risk Toronto is taking with him. The reward could be great, but the chances of a letdown are greater still
Jerrad Peters is a Winnipeg-based writer. Follow him on Twitter.