When people often think of some of Sir Alex Ferguson’s worst signings, one name that often crops up particularly in recent years is Kleberson. The Brazilian World Cup Winner was signed in the summer of 2003 – on the same day as Cristiano Ronaldo was signed in fact – only to leave the club after two disappointing seasons.
Kleberson it would be fair to say to say signed for us with alot of expectation. After all in the words of Sir Alex himself he had ‘won the World Cup for Brazil’ in 2002 and was a player that a lot of European clubs had been looking at.
The two United’s -Leeds and Newcastle – were interested in signing Kleberson and Peter Reid then manager of Leeds claimed a month before the Brazilian signed for us that he was very close to bringing the Brazilian to Elland Road.
A lot of our fans were excited about Kleberson signing for us as in the World Cup he had impressed in Brazil’s midfield, coming into Brazil’s starting line-up halfway through the tournament replacing the ageing legs of Middlesbrough’s old midfielder Juninho.
Whilst he wasn’t the reason Luiz Felipe Scolari’s team won the tournament – as that was down to the goals of Ronaldo and Rivaldo – Kleberson along with Gilberto Silva (who would move to Arsenal directly after the tournament) helped add balance to Brazil’s attack-minded formation.
Six days before we signed Kleberson, Juan Sebastian Veron was surprisingly sold for around £15million to Chelsea. On Kleberson’s unveiling, Sir Alex revealed that: “One of the reasons we sold Veron was because we knew we were getting Kleberson – that shows how highly we regard his talent.”
Veron of course had two frustrating years at Old Trafford where he failed to adjust to the speed and pace of the Premier League. Despite playing well in Europe for us, he just couldn’t ‘hack it’ in England. It was to be a similar story for Kleberson.
Despite have a good squad around him and friends at the club in Ronaldo, Quinton Fortune and Eric Djemba-Djemba (who all spoke Portuguese), right from the start it just didn’t work out for our then no.15.
He was injured on his second appearance away in a 1-0 defeat to Southampton early on in the season and despite looking good in flashes (particularly in a 4-0 home win over Aston Villa at Old Trafford in December) faded away in the second half of the season.
To many it was a surprise that he was not sold before the 2004/05 season, but Sir Alex gave him another year to prove himself. Sadly Kleberson just like Veron before him could not handle the pace and intensity of the league.
Despite getting some starts early on in the season, injury struck again. With competition for places tough in the centre of our midfield, it was only really towards the end of that season that he got a look in.
His final appearance for the club in a way summed up his 2-year stay at Old Trafford. Against Bryan Robson’s West Brom he started the game but was withdrawn with about 20 minutes to go after failing to get to grips with the game.
His last significant touch in a United shirt saw him blaze over a chance inside the box from a Fortune cross when it seemed harder to miss. It was a chance that would have seen us go 2-0 up following Ryan Giggs’ goal in the first half.
West Brom to their credit fought hard and not long after our Brazilian’s miss won a penalty which was converted by Rob Earnshaw and held out bravely for a point with future United keeper Tomasz Kuszczak making some good saves late on.
I can remember reading the Monday papers the next day and the reporters from The Sun and The Daily Mail aside from criticising our overall performance (as we were quite poor on the day) singled out Kleberson for extra criticism.
‘Surely Fergie will get rid of the World Cup Winner now, as if he can’t do the business against West Brom, who can he do well against?’ was the general view that the papers put across.
Unsurprisingly in the summer of 2005, Kleberson was sold to Besiktas for around £2.5million – £4million less than what we’d paid Atlético Paranaense to get his services. After two years in Turkey, a move back to Brazil followed where Kleberson’s been playing ever since.
Surprisingly he was involved in Brazil’s World Cup squad last year in South Africa, where he made one appearance in the tournament against Chile in the second round.
Looking back overall at United’s first Brazilian player, it would be fair to say that Kleberson was slightly unlucky. Injuries of course didn’t help him and during his two years in Manchester we were going through a transitional period during which Arsenal and Chelsea were stronger units than us.
Saying all that though South American players have struggled in the past to adapt to life in the Premier League and Kleberson sadly was one of those who (through no fault of his own) just didn’t have the ability to settle into English football.
At any level in football, there are always risks in signings. No player is ever guaranteed to do well at any club and it’s one of the great thigns about football that clubs have the ability to take chances on players and give them a chance.
We didn’t lose too much as a club by bringing in Kleberson and as time has told us selling him was the right thing to do. His departure helped open space up in the squad and Park Ji-Sung was brought into the team and he’s been a resounding success at us.
Had Kleberson been a success at us, we might not have signed our South Korean and judging by all that Park’s done for us in six fantastic years at the club – that in retrospect would have been a big blow to the balance of our squad, wouldn’t it?
By Adam Dennehey – @ADennehey87