‘The Beast' on the prowl again

AP

There are plenty of reasons for suspecting Baptista could revitalise his career at Malaga. Like Sevilla and to a lesser extent Arsenal, the Brazilian will find himself freed from the colossal expectations of Madrid and Rome. By Eleanor Crooks.

Julio Baptista was not the only player to sign up to Sheikh Abdullah Bin Nasser Al-Thani's Malaga revolution this month. But arguably the Brazilian 29-year-old is the one with the biggest point to prove.

Baptista joined the likes of Ignacio Camacho, Enzo Maresca and Martin Demichelis in moving to La Rosaleda, where Al-Thani's capture of highly-respected coach Manuel Pellegrini speaks volumes for the extent of his ambition.

Malaga were said to have fought off the likes of Tottenham and West Ham for Baptista's signature, preventing a return to London for the player who spent the 2006/7 season on loan at Arsenal from Real Madrid.

Yet for all his undoubted talent, Baptista's story both before, during and after his time at Arsenal has come to be something of a hard-luck tale of scant opportunities and missed chances.

Baptista underlined that ability one night in January 2007 when he blasted four goals, as well as missing a penalty, as part of a young Gunners side who thumped Liverpool 6-3 in their Carling Cup quarterfinal.

Arsene Wenger was full of praise. “He's mentally a very strong player,” said Wenger. “It took him some time to adapt but I don't think he gets disillusioned. He has got the physical and mental strength to adapt.” Yet, despite another brace in the first leg of the semi-final against Spurs, Baptista's Emirates Stadium statistics did not end up looking impressive. He scored 10 goals in 35 games, but only three in his 24 Premier League appearances.

“Arsenal have told me they are not able to buy me,” shrugged Baptista at the season's end. “All I can do is return to Real Madrid. I adapted well. I didn't play much at first but I finished much better.”

It was back to being a bit-part player at Madrid for the man they call ‘The Beast' for his sturdy physique. It was not turning into quite the career Baptista had in mind when he first arrived in Spain with Sevilla in 2003.

In those first two seasons in La Liga, Baptista scored 50 goal and when Real inevitably came knocking it seemed the player, who by then had already been a full Brazilian international for four years, was destined to become another Galactico.

But Baptista struggled in a first tempestuous, trophy-less season at the Bernabeu and it got little better after his short respite at Arsenal. Although he was given more time by new boss Bernd Schuster, he fell down the pecking order.

In 2008, Baptista moved to Roma for GBP7million and would spend three years in Italy. But again despite his obvious talent he could never quite ignite his goal-scoring potential and with Roma sliding towards mediocrity, began to look elsewhere.

There are plenty of reasons for suspecting Baptista could revitalise his career at Malaga. Like Sevilla and to a lesser extent Arsenal, the Brazilian will find himself freed from the colossal expectations of Madrid and Rome.

He joins a new, young team itching to prove a point, and is clearly comfortable in a country in which he arrived as a 21-year-old from Sao Paulo and immediately marked himself out as a future talent.

“The return to La Liga is a great joy for me,” said Baptista earlier this month. “I was quickly convinced by the project at Malaga. I hope that I can be important for them in the league.”

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