Blast from the Past no.33: Bruno Ribeiro

Reviving the Premier League players you forgot existed…

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was absolutely smashing it in the Portuguese Primeira Divisão in 1997. Young, hungry and oozing goals at unfashionable Boavista, news soon reached Leeds United manager George Graham that the red-hot striker was tailor-made for the Premiership.

But when the Scot flew to Porto to see the big-bottomed Dutch sensation for himself, his eye was also caught by a smaller-hipped, silky-toed fellow called Bruno Ribeiro playing on the wing for Boavista’s opponents Vitoria Setubal.

Whether it was due to the sun, the Portuguese wine or eating an excessive amount of salted cod, Graham decided to go crazy and bring both players back to Yorkshire in an audacious double swoop.

Hasselbaink went on to become a Leeds goal machine, a Chelsea legend, a distinguished manager and a much-loved character in English football. Ribeiro, well, didn’t.

“I remember his debut against Arsenal at Elland Road on the opening day of the 1997/98 season - Hasselbaink, David Hopkin, David Robertson and Alfe-Inge Haaland also made their debuts that day,” recalled one misty-eyed fan on the Marching on Together forum. “Jimmy scored but I remember chatting with a few people after the game and the general consensus was that Ribeiro looked the most promising out of all of them.“

But first impressions can be deceptive, the fan concluding wistfully: "He didn’t do as much as I thought he might.”

The lack of pizazz to that list of Graham’s 1997 summer signings will not surprise anyone familiar with the former Arsenal manager’s work. Utility man Hopkin was actually the most expensive acquisition at a mind-boggling £3.25m, while Hasselbaink cost a bargain £2m and Ribeiro - at £500,000 - was the cheapest of the lot.

But although there will be very few romantic odes written to the team Graham crafted that year, they were effective.

“In Graham’s teams that generally had about five centre-halves and four full-backs, Bruno was supposed to be one of the more creative outlets,” explained a Whites supporter on the Dirty Leeds forum.

With his superior close control and educated left peg, the Portuguese was designed to add some Latin flair to Graham’s workmanlike side. And while he was no Jimmy Floyd, he did sometimes succeed.

“Decent enough”, “steady”, “not bad for the price” and “he was alright” are about the most excited responses you’ll get from Leeds fans get about Ribeiro. One supporter simply remembers him for “looking like the weatherman John Hammond”. Which he does a bit, actually.

But Ribeiro was more than a D-list celebrity lookalike; he was an important cog in a well-oiled George Graham machine that finished fifth in the league that season and qualified for Europe. Not bad for a team in which David Hopkin was supposed to be the star player.

Ribeiro scored four goals - including a couple of crackers - from the wing in his debut season, but the following year was disrupted by injury and Graham’s departure to Tottenham.

Whatever the manager had spotted in Ribeiro on that balmy summer’s day in Portugal was clearly lost on his replacement David O’Leary, who quickly moved to offload him to Sheffield United for £500,000.

Ribeiro’s technical ability should have allowed him to thrive in the second tier, but it didn’t work out that way. Blades fans can’t stand him.

“An absolutely awful player who is only remembered because he had a chantable name,” remarked one supporter on the S24SU forum, while another dismissed him as “technically sound but not athletic enough”.

“Was supposed to be the missing piece of the puzzle for us but he was toilet,” said another.

And the most damning, albeit concise, assessment of all: “Bruno was a useless fat git”. Charming.

“Bruuuuuuno” mustered just 16 starts in two seasons at Bramall Lane - scoring once - before returning to Portugal aged 25, never to return.

A Portuguese cup triumph with Vitoria Setubal in 2005 was the highlight of his playing career, although he is now carving out a solid reputation as a manager and was linked with the Cardiff City job last year.

With his old pal Hasselbaink now in charge of Championship side QPR, there may yet be another chance for Ribeiro to show that he really is better than Jimmy Floyd after all.

Follow @darlingkevin on Twitter


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