“Flamengo is joy,” said the club’s star man Bruno Henrique after he scored a hat-trick against Sao Paulo at the iconic Maracana on Sunday night.
For much of the last year, however, you’d have struggled to believe that the words ‘Flamengo’ and ‘joy’ could be uttered in the same sentence – especially if you’d judged from the club’s fans and their moaning and bellyaching on social media.
‘Last season’s Brazilian title was won unconvincingly,’ they wailed. ‘The team wasn’t scoring four goals a game,’ they cried. ‘Why couldn’t we have the Libertadores and Brazilian cup too?’ they asked. Sign new players! Sack the coach!
After the glorious Jorge Jesus era, the supporters had become spoiled – used not just to winning but to doing so in spectacular style. And though the managerial reigns of former Guardiola assistant Domenec Torrent and former goalscoring goalkeeper Rogerio Ceni brought occasional good performances and more silverware, they were not enough to satiate fans.
On Sunday, though, the joy returned – thanks to the man who had been responsible for much of it under Portuguese manager Jesus in 2019. With Flamengo 1-0 down at home and in need of some inspiration, Bruno Henrique turned up, showing the full breadth of his talent with three goals in seven minutes, the second of which was enough to make even the most demanding of Flamengo fans grin with delight.
After putting Flamengo level with a near-post poacher’s effort that was a little lucky, Bruno Henrique was far less equivocal with the goal that gave Flamengo the lead two minutes later, rolling his man and sending a curling, dipping shot from the edge of the area crashing into the top corner of Tiago Volpi’s goal.
BRUNO HENRIQUE, TAKE A BOW 💥 pic.twitter.com/tmyi5rmakD
— CBS Sports Golazo (@CBSSportsGolazo) July 25, 2021
It was a goal typical of the man.
Bruno Henrique is seemingly made out of pipe cleaners, discarded bus tickets and blu tack, all gangly, wispy and out of control. But on a football pitch he transforms into a one-man attacking whirlwind, capable of pretty much everything you’d hope for from a forward.
He has a ferocious shot, as his second goal proves; he can score from inside the six-yard box, as he showed with his first. He can leap and head too, and that is how he secured his hat-trick, rising above the Sao Paulo defence to guide a corner into the far side of the goal on 77 minutes.
With the ball at his feet, he can take the piss with the best of them, twisting and turning defenders inside out.
Bruno Henrique jogo muito! Que drible! pic.twitter.com/Ji1iBMDK8C
— Mengo News (@news_mengo) September 14, 2019
Most importantly, though, Bruno Henrique is pure greased lightning. Pick up a Brazilian Portuguese to English dictionary, look up the entry for ‘speed’ and instead of translation, there is a blurred picture of him at full tilt – 38 km/h to be exact, which according to FIFA makes him the quickest player in the world.
Fortunately for Flamengo, their supersonic forward seems to be re-finding the form that saw him voted the best player in the Brazilian league and the Copa Libertadores in 2019. This was his first hat-trick since one over Ceara in November that year.
With Torrent and Ceni in charge, his form had dropped off and he had spent time out with injury.
Now, though, Flamengo have sacked Ceni – despite him winning a national and a state title in just eight months in charge. Ceni has been replaced with Renato Gaucho – a legend as a player in red and black – and in the new boss’ four games at the helm, Flamengo have scored 15 goals and got the feelgood factor flowing once more.
Bruno Henrique has been at the forefront of the stylish resurgence and if he can maintain this form, then Flamengo will be able to make another run at a Libertadores-Brasileirao Double, just like they managed under Jesus.
Normally, this is the part when we say, ‘And if Bruno Henrique maintains this form he could earn himself a move to [insert name of European superclub here].’
Gloriously though, we don’t have to. Bruno Henrique has been to Europe once – with Wolfsburg for a year in 2016, where he ran riot against Real Madrid in the Champions League. Yet he decided he didn’t like it much, returned to Brazil and has been running defences ragged over there ever since.
He is one of the very best players currently plying his trade outside a top European league. He has everything he needs to slot into almost any team, anywhere. But he’s happy where he is, he’s loved and he doesn’t want to go chasing the money.
For that, Bruno Henrique, we salute you.
By Joshua Law