By Les Crang
As Sevilla won an unprecedented 4th Europa Cup against Dnipro and watched the often maligned Jose Antonio Reyes captain the side I wishful remembered the former Sevilla player we swapped Reyes for, on his season long loan to Real Madrid. The Sevilla and Real Madrid man mountain Julio Baptista (or ‘The Beast’ as he was named, due to his hulking size). What a bad swap that was.
Julio Baptista had started his career at Sao Paulo and then moved to Seville in 2003. In his first season of 2003-4 (where he’d briefly play alongside Reyes), Baptista would score 25 goals:-
He’d repeat this form the following season. Form like this attracted interest from Real Madrid and Arsenal. On seeing a player like Baptista, he looked worth the £14,000,000 punt on him. Big and strong, with a powerful shot, what was not to like?
Unfortunately, in 2005 and the move was mooted, Baptista made his view clear where he wanted to play, when he said:-
I have always identified myself most with Madrid. I did not want to go to England because I am used to life in Spain….I like the way people live their life here and I will also have a Spanish passport by the end of next year.
Baptista also claimed that he had never considered signing for any other Spanish club.
Never, for one moment, did I see myself wearing the Barcelona shirt,I have moved to Madrid because I believe they are the side that can help me the most. It is not important to me where I play. I will always play where I am asked to.
Real Madrid paid £13.4million to Sevilla. Arsenal instead paid Stuttgart virtually the same sum instead for Aleksandr Hleb. Baptista would have a disappointing season at Real Madrid, scoring a mere 8 goals. Arsenal? Well, we’d be on the march to a ECL final. Beating a few big teams along the way, including Real Madrid:-
We would get to see Baptista come on as a substitute. Who did he replace on both occasions? Thomas Gravesen, a one dimensional player at best. On watching Baptista, he certainly didn’t look the great player we had seen at Sevilla. His touch was poor, he didn’t have the hunger and lethargic. How lucky had we been to escape signing him?
Unfortunately, Reyes had been caught on the Spanish radio saying:-
I wish I was playing for Real Madrid. If I’m not, I’m going to have to carry on playing with some bad people.
Jose Antonio Reyes had made his position untenable and Real Madrid made us an offer we couldn’t refuse. On the last day of transfer deadline day of 2006-7, on 31st August 2006, Arsenal swapped Reyes for Baptista. Baptista was predominantly used as a substitute on first joining, scoring his first goal as a substitute against Hamburg in the champions league with a header:-
This game, would be perhaps one of Baptista better games, as he rarely got minutes as Robin Van Persie, Emmanuel Adebayor and Thierry Henry would often play up front, whilst the recently signed Tomas Rosicky, Aleksandr Hleb or Theo Walcott would play the attacking midfielder or wide position (Henry would later get an injury in February, allowing Baptista more game time. Unfortunately). The Guardian said of his and others display:-
It was the introduction of Emmanuel Adebayor, Walcott and Baptista that brought the late surge of energy. In a rising atmosphere Hamburg were being hemmed in and thanks to Wächter’s elbow they eventually caved in. Disaster averted [Arsenal had been 1-0 down at half-time].
Baptista would mainly be remembered for his Carling Cup exploits, especially as Wenger often blooded the youngsters along with a few old heads. Baptista would certainly have his day at Anfield in the Quarter-final of the League Cup against Liverpool:-
Baptista also had a penalty saved. Ironically, although he scored four (his first, a free-kick and third a long ranger were real beauties), the real star was his unselfish striking foil and first goal scorer that night, Jérémie Aliadière. The Guardian wrote of Jérémie Aliadière:-
The rout began in the 27th minute when Jérémie Aliadière, outstanding all night, capitalised on some rank defending to defy a malfunctioning offside trap and poke the ball beneath Dudek.
The Guardian said of the Arsenal display:-
To their credit, the Liverpool fans applauded Arsenal’s players off the pitch. Earlier, though, the Kop had flirted with turning against their own team and when Baptista scored the final goal large numbers had seen enough. Wenger’s youthful, exuberant players showed everything that is good about the club’s one-touch, pass-them-to-death philosophy and, for the home supporters, it was painful to watch. For the rest of us, it was bewitching.
Having beaten Liverpool, Arsenal would play Spurs in the semi-final. Now, for all the greatness of getting a (surprising) four goals against Liverpool, for me (and I think most fans) it has to be the first leg at Spurs. For all the Chelsea fans mocking us recently, Arsenal’s real rivalry has to be Spurs. In football, you have a binary opposition. You have to something to dislike and for us its Spurs. Losing to Spurs rankles me more than any other defeat, for two reasons. First, it’s Spurs. Second, my nephew is a Spurs fan and since he was 9 years old I have loved ringing him and teasing him mercilessly. I been doing that for almost twenty years. Infantile? Almost certainly. Fun? Without a doubt.
Anyhow, the game started with the locals getting excited as Dimitar Berbatov actually looked interested in playing for a change. Having put them 1-0 up, we then saw what I felt was a usual Baptista, when he put through his own net. 2-0 to Spurs after 21 minutes. We retained the score till half time, with Spurs the better side. In the second half Arsenal came back with two goals with The Guardian wrote:-
On a galling night such as this it must feel to Spurs that great effort merely deepens the anguish against Arsenal. They have prevailed over Arsène Wenger’s side only once in 23 attempts, seven years ago, and now crave a win at the Emirates in the second leg of the Carling Cup semi-final. A 2-0 lead at the interval had promised so much here.
Better still was hearing the Arsenal fans chant ‘2-0 and you f**ked it up’. [Game below].
Having defeated Spurs in second leg, Arsenal went through to face Chelsea in the final. Although Arsenal played well and Baptista had a chance early on, they lost the final 2-1:-
His league record for Arsenal was abysmal. He got his first goal against Reading. In March.
He would score his against Manchester City in a 3-1 win:-
His final goal (and only third league goal) would be against Fulham, in a 3-1 win:-
Arsenal could have taken the lead on 41 minutes but David James superbly saved Julio Baptista’s well-struck penalty.
Baptista also missed a host of other chances, while Pompey will reflect on a controversial and costly decision.
We had the opportunity to sign him but passed on it for two reasons. Firstly, Reyes was not seen as good enough for Real Madrid and moved on to Atletico, meaning we would have to pay for Baptista. Secondly, and more importantly, he never really impressed and was actually pretty poor.
The reason for this? Well, I don’t think he wanted to come to us in the first place, but with Reyes going the other way, he had no choice. Also, with Adebayor scoring 8 goals in 21 starts, Baptista was mainly on the bench and not getting the opportunity to play in Adebayor’s position. He just never fitted in. It was a real shame, as Baptista looked like a player that would fit in. But at least he got 2 against Spurs.