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Goulart back in the groove

By SHI FUTIAN | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2020-08-21 09:07
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Ricardo Goulart has netted twice in five games for Hebei China Fortune. XINHUA

Ricardo Goulart's surprise loan move to Hebei China Fortune left many fans scratching their heads, but the switch has proved a good fit for the Chinese Super League's latest naturalized player.

Having returned to China from his native Brazil following a lengthy injury hiatus, Goulart had been expected to resume his career with Guangzhou Evergrande, where his goals have made him a firm fan favorite.

However, with a wealth of attacking talent-including naturalized duo Ai Kesen (aka Elkeson) and Luo Guofu (aka Aloisio)-at its disposal, Evergrande elected to loan Goulart to Hebei shortly before the pandemic-delayed CSL season kicked off last month.

Having proved an instant hit for Hebei, Goulart appears delighted with how things have worked out.

"When I arrived at the club, all the players and staff were nice to me. We communicated all the time. So I've fitted in well and quickly with the new team," Goulart, who was reported to have been granted Chinese citizenship earlier this year, told PP Sports.

"I played against Hebei several times in past seasons. It was truly a sudden decision to come to the new club. We met at the airport and now we live together due to the new competition format. So this is a good way for us to communicate and it helped me to adapt to the new team."

To guard against the coronavirus epidemic, the CSL has revamped its format this season, dividing its 16 teams into two groups, with round-robin matches played in empty stadiums in Dalian, Liaoning province, and Suzhou, Jiangsu province. A knockout stage will follow to decide the champion, AFC Champions League spots and relegation places.

Hebei is based in Suzhou and after just one win in its opening five games-including defeats to big guns Beijing Guo'an and Shanghai SIPG-sits fifth in Group B.

Goulart's sparkling performances, though, have given Hebei hope, with the 29-year-old netting in the 2-0 win over Tianjin Teda and 2-2 draw with Chongqing Dangdai.

Although winding up on the wrong end of a 3-1 defeat, he also caused Guo'an plenty of problems last week, with Beijing's naturalized star Alan singling out Goulart for special praise. "A great player with a great sense in front of goal. He can score in many ways," Alan said.

When asked if he could already be considered the core of the Hebei team, Goulart issued a typically humble response: "Now I'm a new player in the team, but I have a little fame in Chinese soccer. I don't think too much about this.

"I will try to deliver great performances, and if I succeed I will become the core of the team naturally. Our current goal is to help the club to become a title contender.

"I know in our group there are many strong teams, so it won't be easy. So every day we try hard in training, and I'm looking forward to playing against Evergrande and we will defend our club with good performances. For me, I see the potential of Hebei to become a champion."

Having been dogged by knee injuries in recent years, doubts had been raised as to whether Goulart could rediscover the form that propelled him to CSL stardom following his arrival at Evergrande from Cruzerio in 2015.

He insists, however, that he now feels back to his best physically.

"I hadn't played for quite a long time, but I now have more minutes on the pitch for Hebei. We played with passion and now I feel really good," said Goulart.

"I have regained 100 percent of my strength. I spent a long time recovering from my injury, but I never stopped training.

"I kept thinking of how I would return to the pitch that I love, and now I'm getting the rewards for my efforts. I'm now a healthy player in peak condition.

"In Brazil, there was a team that took care of me and devised my daily training plans. They told me what to do every day. They had great nutritionists and therapists to keep me in good condition."

Coping with life in lockdown for two months has added an extra dimension to Goulart's comeback.

In both Suzhou and Dalian, players, coaches and match officials are required to stay in designated lockdown areas with no contact with the outside world as part of strict antivirus measures. Goulart, however, appears at ease with all the restrictions, filling in the long hours of downtime on the pool table.

"This is a special year and we've never played under such a format. The Chinese Football Association made great preparations this season and they took good care of us. All the details are great," said Goulart.

"The pool competition was good entertainment. I play a little pool every day after lunch. This is also a good way to interact with others. I play so-so, and it's more like fun for me. I need to let the coach (Xie Feng) win, or he'll bench me," he joked.

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