You'd have to have been hiding under a rock for the last several year if you haven't heard of Givanildo Vieira de Souza. You may not recognize that name though, as everyone knows him simply as Hulk. This isn't a particularly hard nickname to figure out either, as Hulk looks more like a rugby player than one of the world's more exciting footballers. We've heard rumore of interest for a few years now, but word out of Portugal lately is that there may already be a deal in place to bring the Hulk to the Bridge. With that in mind, it's probably a good idea to take a closer look at the player in question and see what all the buzz is about.
First and foremost, Hulk will turn 26 in July of this year. He began his career in Brazil, but after that he had a very odd route to Europe. After bouncing around several Brazilian academies as a teenager, Hulk eventually made his debut for Vitoria in Brazil. That sole appearance would be his lone career game in Brazil, as he was shipped to Japan for the start of the 2005 season. Hulk would spend the 2005 season making 9 appearances in the J-League and scoring his first career goal in the process. Being very physically gifted but very raw, his club would look to loan him out to the Japanese second division to hone his skills.
Hulk would spend the next 2 1/2 seasons in the second tier of Japanese football, and my lord did he have a nose for the goal. He'd make 91 appearances in Japan over that span which resulted in a fairly ridiculous 69 goals. That form would put some of the smarter clubs in Europe on alert, and Porto were quick to jump and sign Hulk away from the J-League. It was an odd path to Europe which probably would have been much smoother without the involvement of third party ownership.
Hulk wouldn't take long to make an impact in Portugal. He'd play just over 1600 minutes as a 22 year old, scoring 9 goals and pitching in with 9 assists. The potential he displayed was fairly impressive, and that summer he'd sign a contract extension with the now famous 100 million Euro buyout clause. He'd see his playing time reduced the following season, as several nagging injuries and a lengthy suspension resulting from a tunnel brawl with Benfica resulted in Hulk's minutes being reduced to just under 1600. He'd still up his production, netting 10 times and assisting 11. That season would lead to his first Brazilian call up, and he's since been named to 9 Brazilian squads (and is looking like a possibility for this summer's Olympics).
In the summer of 2010, young manager Andres Villas Boas was appointed at Porto. He'd shift Hulk from more of a central player to the right wing in his 4-3-3 system. Hulk was incredible, notching 36 goals and 21 assists in 53 appearances. AVB was recruited to Chelsea, and the Hulk rumors would begin to come full force. He'd stay at Porto, and without Falcao he'd become the main focus of every defense he'd face. He played all over the front line this past season, notching 21 goals and 14 assists in his 37 appearances. While the raw numbers are down, he was actually probably even better than his prolific 2010/11 season this year.
So what does Hulk bring to the table exactly? He stands 5'10" tall, so he's a bit short for a center forward but slightly taller than a traditional winger. He's built like a house, and all that muscle translates directly to his game. Good luck bullying Hulk off the ball, it's just not going to happen. In this regard, his low center of gravity is actually probably a good thing. For a big guy, Hulk can really move. He's got well above average speed and is surprisingly agile. While he's not a leaper, he's still tough to beat in the air just due to his raw strength. All in all, he's just a ridiculous physical specimen. His tools also seem to suggest he'll age well, as bigger stronger forwards tend to have later peaks and longer careers than more finesse oriented players.
While very raw early in his career, he's become a very polished offensive player recently. His left foot is just ridiculous, and he's very good with the ball at his feet. He routinely takes set pieces for Porto, and he's unique in the aspect that he can both finesse a great curler into the top corner and also Hulk smash the ball hard enough to bring back memories of a certain Brazilian center back who used to ply his trade here. He also regularly takes corners and penalties for Porto, he's just a very technically gifted player.
When playing the wings, Hulk can certainly deliver a cross. He plays a solid through ball, and has generally established a very solid offensive understanding with whomever he's been partnered with in the attack. That said, Hulk loves to take a shot whenever he can. He's far more dangerous with the ball on his left foot, so defenders are smart to keep that in mind. It's really hard to find much in Hulk's attacking game to dislike, as he's just a ridiculously complete offensive player.
Nitpickers would point to Hulk as being a bit too "shoot first" at times, but it's hard to find younger attackers of whom you'd not be able to say that about. This is one of the downsides to being consistantly better than everyone else in your league, and part of the reason Hulk has struggled at times against the really big clubs in Europe. While a bit concerning, I'd not put too much into that as I'd assume that would improve as he joins a bigger club.
If you don't want to nitpick, you'd still have a hard time praising his defense. He's a big boy, so expecting a Ramires-like workrate out of Hulk is just unreasonable. That said, Hulk doesn't often defend to a point that I'd even call adequate. The physical tools ans skills are there to be exceptional, the effort generally has not been. Hopefully that will be corrected as he joins a more competitive league, as he's shown definite flashes in bigger games during his Porto career.
Tired of reading yet? I can't really blame you at this point, so I'll give you a few videos. The first is a collection of highlights from his four years at Porto. You can see him moving around the attack, and it clearly highlights his ridiculous left foot:
Next we'll have a quickie from this past season. It was in that last video, but here's the "Hulk Smash":
Impressive...How about watching "Hulk Smash 2.0" again?:
Again, wow. With Hulk, there is little doubt that he's got the offensive talent and physical skills to be an absolutely dominant player in the Premier League. With that though, there is some question of how he'll fare against top competition regularly for the first time in his career. I don't think there's anyone out there that feels he wouldn't be an asset at Chelsea, the only question seems to be about how much we should be spending on him due to his age and top level experience. Feel free to leave your own thoughts on that below.