It was right around this time last year that Oscar’s Chelsea career began it’s surprisingly quick final chapter.
While there had been stories earlier in summer about Conte wanting to break up Chelsea’s Brazilian “clique” (excepting Willian), the incoming Chelsea coach patched things up (quite temporarily) with Costa, Pato was never going to stay, Willian was never going to leave, and Oscar was given a starring role in the early season’s 4-3-3 setup as the third midfielder. It was a role for which many of us had been clamoring since Oscar’s arrival four years prior, and there was real hope that Conte could help the 24-year-old with nearly 50 caps for Brazil to his name take that all-important last step into consistent excellence.
Oscar started Chelsea’s first five games and was one of the team’s best performers on opening day against West Ham. As it turned out, it was all downhill from there. He was dropped after the Liverpool defeat and would make only one more start, another defeat, to West Ham in the League Cup. A few weeks and a club record transfer fee later, he was off to China, raising many an eyebrow by opting for the money over his career.
But as he reveals in this candid interview with Copa 90, he did so with the hope and expectation that he will one day return to Europe, still as a man in his footballing prime, and play for a big club. He freely admits taking the option to secure his family’s financial future and forgoing other offers from the likes of Atletico Madrid, Juventus, and Inter Milan.
“Every football player, or every person who works wants to earn money to help their families. I came from a social background in Brazil that is very poor, we didn’t have anything. This is the fruit of my work, and when I earn this, it is because I conquered it.”
“China has incredible financial power and sometimes makes offers that players can’t refuse. But as we’ve seen with Paulinho moving to Barcelona, the players on our team like myself, Hulk and Elkeson have enough quality to return to Europe. I hope that in two or three years time — or when my contract here ends and I’ve helped the team to win a championship and some titles — I could go back to a big team in Europe because what I like most is to play at a high level.”
“When I made the decision to come here, I was certainly thinking more of my family than of my career. Because in my career I had other very good offers from big teams in Europe, but I thought a little more of my family, and after that — I am still young — I can return...”
“I am very happy to have made this decision.”
Oscar just managed to squeeze in before the honeypot was shut down by new regulations aimed at creating a more sustainable Chinese Super League with an emphasis on growing organically and through the local talent. Once Oscar does leave, he (and his fellow big-name international stars) may not be replaced with talent of equal billing. In the summer for example, the league’s biggest signing was former Atletio and Watford midfielder Mario Suarez, while the biggest headlines were made by selling Paulinho back to Barcelona.
Oscar’s Shanghai SIPG, managed by Andre Villas-Boas, currently sit second in the CSL, four points behind Big Phil Scolari’s Guangzhou Evergrande, who are closing in on their seventh consecutive league title. SIPG are also going strong in the AFC Champions League, and are about to contest the second leg of the semifinal against Urawa Red after a 1-1 draw in the first leg. Oscar got the assist for SIPG’s goal (though that much more to do with Hulk’s power) and hit the post as well. Earlier in the year he of course made international headlines for his bit of five-second angry that sparked a mass brawl, copping an 8-match ban (Hulk, Wu Lei, and AVB each got two games as well after they dared criticize the lengthy punishment).
Having just turned 26 about a month ago, Oscar should be entering the prime of his career. While a Chelsea return may not be on the cards, at least not right now, my guess is we will see him back in Europe sooner rather than later. His talent certainly deserves more exposure at the top levels of the game.