Charles Pulling profiles Nenê, West Ham’s already forgotten Brazilian from the 2014-15 season…
In 2011, workmen expanding a road in eastern China discovered the mummified remains of a woman dating back 700 years. It was, in terms of the quality of the find and its location one of the most stunning Ming-era discoveries in recent times, a perfectly preserved echo of a long fallen dynasty.
Also in 2011, another altogether less lauded dynasty began in east London. The Allardyce-era at West Ham United may not have stretched over centuries, but for many of the Upton Park faithful the all-too-often turgid, grinding performances may have felt something close to a lifetime in length. And so, with the ominous boos reverberating around Upton Park, ‘Big Sam’ was afforded no reward for securing West Ham’s Premier League status for a third season running and the sun came down on the Allardyce dynasty.
Now, with optimism, a new manager, an impending move to a fancy new stadium and Europa League sojourns West Ham seems a happier, more contented place, despite a ball barely being kicked in anger. But what of the relics of the past four years? What do they tell us?
One of the more rarer finds whilst sifting through the wreckage is the name Nenê, a name that stands out in contrast to the more ‘meat and potato’ Allardyce players such as Nolan or Downing. The name is barely a footnote. Understandable considering the man from São Paulo spent little over three months parking his car at the ‘Academy of Football.’
It seems a curious acquisition – a flamboyant Brazilian, with a penchant for scoring impressive free-kicks being drawn in to a side, that by that stage of the season were consigned to playing blunt-force trauma football to assuage the rot that had set in after Christmas.
But in another way, it perfectly illustrates the contradiction that was Sam Allardyce. This was a man whom it seemed wasn’t phased by a dozen Yorkshire puddings, who believed teams ‘didn’t like it up them’; a man who, in another life, may have parked his Bentley outside his successful used-care salesroom. But, on the other hand, this was a man who signed Jay-Jay Okocha and Ivan Campo at Bolton, who was one of the first early adopters of analytics in football.
Perhaps Allardyce saw Nenê as his Okocha mk2 – a creative, albeit erratic element who would buzz around his disciplined 4-4-2. Certainly injuries would have played a part – with Andy Carroll’s return from a long-term lay-off aborted by yet another injury and with Enner Valencia and Diafra Sakho both looking jaded in their debut seasons, perhaps the free agent was seen as a low risk option, if anything to help meet the matchday quota of players.
Despite West Ham being one of the most prolific from set-pieces in the League, they only managed one goal from a direct free-kick all season, via the boot of Aaron Cresswell. Strikes from the first-choice free-kick taker, Mark Noble, more often than not sent supporters behind the intended goal ducking for cover.
A free agent, on a short-term deal, who could alleviate the strain on a wafer thin squad and pop in a few curlers? Seems like a no-brainer.
And yet why did we see so little of him? He certainly wasn’t a bad player – impressive spells at Alavés and Monaco had ultimately led him to Paris Saint-Germain, where, in the midst of the QSI takeover, he wrested the headlines away from new signing Javier Pastore to become the club’s top scorer in 2011-12 season. Yet with starting places increasingly rare and the arrival of a certain Swedish forward, the Brazilian was deemed surplus to requirements and did what so many of his countrymen do and followed the petro-dollars to Al-Gharafa of Qatar.
What should have been essentially a very well paid holiday soon turned sour after an on-pitch altercation with an opposition player descended into an all-out brawl. For his part Nenê was banned for nine games and fined somewhere in the region of €70,000 and despite making over 40 appearances, his contract was not renewed in January 2015.
Despite, according to Aaron Cresswell, being the last man off the training field Nenê’s contract was not extended and was last reported as having refused a move to the Greek SuperLeague citing concerns over the precarious economic situation.
So what more is there to learn from this Allardyce artefact? With a meagre eight appearances and no goals, Nenê barely made a dent on the collective consciousness at West Ham football club. His name will not be uttered in pre-match pub talk, too obscure for even the most fiendish quiz question. A forgotten artefact of the Allardyce dynasty.