Fans like the look of latest Brazilian artist
Young playmaker Oscar introduces himself to the Stamford Bridge fans with a flourish. AMY LAWRENCEreports
CONSIDERING WHAT happened the last time Chelsea supporters saw their number 11 with a football at his feet in the Champions League, they would have been forgiven for not expecting anything too rapturous in a hurry.
Didier Drogba’s penalty in Munich last May, and its consequences, are still so fresh in the memory in these parts. It was quite a statement of intent when Oscar dos Santos Emboaba Junior, the Brazilian prodigy signed over the summer when he was just 20 years old, was handed that venerated shirt.
As a player, Oscar bears no resemblance to the powerhouse who left for China after an unforgettable Chelsea career. But as a presence capable of stealing the show at Stamford Bridge, Oscar introduced himself with an iridescent flourish.
Oscar’s first start for Chelsea began innocuously enough. In the first quarter he looked like a young foal finding his legs. It seemed he was in for a tough introduction against a defensive collective as drilled as Juventus. Spaces were closed, avenues blocked, and Oscar’s touches were not quite coming off.
On the half-hour mark, with two rockets in three minutes, his night was transformed. The Brazilian seized the moment to announce himself on the European stage. Eden Hazard’s amble opened up a sight of goal for Oscar. He struck the ball with ferocity, and a ricochet off Leonardo Bonucci helped it on its way.
Gigi Buffon cursed as he fetched the ball from his net. But what followed was beyond any reproach. In an instant, all but a black and white corner of Stamford Bridge was absolutely bowled over. Completely smitten.
Oscar’s name was already on everybody’s lips when Ashley Cole prodded the ball towards him, and with a dainty, yet determined twirl, he turned away from the combined attention of Bonucci and Andrea Pirlo. The boy who recently celebrated his 21st birthday puffed his cheeks out and took aim. With a ravishing curler he took the breath away. His boyish smile of celebration only added to the charm.
Pirlo, Italy’s master creator, may have noticed a passing resemblance to a player he knows well, with whom he won the Champions League in 2007 in the colours of Milan. With his slender, upright physique, his thoughtful movement and easy guile, he is reminiscent of a young Kaka.
That is also true of his character. Oscar is a clean-living, devout, teetotal young man. Under the wing of his compatriots David Luiz and Ramires he is settling into life in London comfortably enough.
When Cole first clapped eyes on him in pre-season he said: “Wow, he looks young.” By the time Oscar was substituted last night, the crowd knew they had witnessed a coming of age.
With the caveat that there is clearly considerable development to come, his eye-catching runs, the way he glides over the pitch, and his willingness to take the initiative are hugely encouraging for Chelsea. With the World Cup coming up in Brazil, the next two years promise to be an intriguing stage of Oscar’s career.
It is a reflection of his self belief that while one of his fellow tyros, Neymar, chooses to stay at home in the build-up to Brazil 2014, Oscar was not at all anxious about moving to the European champions.
He has said that he is not concerned by the hype. “Back in Brazil, when I broke into the national team, people were asking did I feel pressure at being the No 10 of the team, the new star? But I didn’t feel pressure. I think it will be similar here.” He certainly looked carefree.