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Cult hero Camilo taking Botafogo to new heights in Brazil

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Cult hero Camilo taking Botafogo to new heights in Brazil

 

He doesn't look like a hero. He's short, stumpy, has a scrunched-up face and the kind of haircut that should have been left in the last millennium.  

 

He doesn't sound like a star. He's 30 and has never played for his country. His CV is that of a ten-a-penny Brazilian journeyman, elevated above the mundane only by spells in China and Saudi Arabia. They didn't go very well. He has all the global cachet of the saltshaker in your cupboard. 

 

Appearances can be deceiving, though, for this is the best player in Brazil at the moment. Meet Fernando Camilo Farias - or Camilo to his friends - full-time cult figure and the creative force behind Botafogo's unlikely ascent to the upper echelons of the Campeonato Brasileiro. 

 

Once upon a time, the world - or at least a section of Rio de Janeiro - was cloaked in darkness. The Lone Star had started the Série A season in miserable fashion, winning just two of their first 10 matches. The squad looked bereft of confidence and, frankly, top-flight talent. A swift return to the second division looked likely. 

 

That was BC - Before Camilo. Signed in May, the playmaker was biding his time, working on his fitness after a messy exit from Al-Shabab. When he finally took to the pitch in gameweek 11, the impact was immediate and profound.  

 

Cult hero Camilo taking Botafogo to new heights in Brazil

 

Internacional were Botafogo's opponents that day and could not live with him. Camilo teed up Neilton's opener on the break and netted one of his own in the second half, sealing a 3-2 win. Further assists followed against Atlético-MG, Santa Cruz and Flamengo. Goals, too: Chapecoense, Palmeiras and Sport felt the full force of the pocket rocket. 

 

It was against Grêmio, however, that things really got out of hand. There were 20 minutes on the clock when Luís Ricardo - Botafogo's other key man this season before a horror injury in September - dinked a cross to the far post. Camilo had no right to get anywhere near it, yet sprung backwards to connect with a jaw-dropping overhead kick that almost ripped the roof of the net. Think Wayne Rooney's goal against Manchester City, only better. Much better. 

 

At that moment, Camilo became 'Camito', smitten fans lovingly mashing the Portuguese word for 'myth' into his name. They don't do that for any old player. 

 

With Camilo pulling the strings, the collective is thriving. O Glorioso have won 10 of their last 13 league games, effortlessly swapping the relegation dogfight for the top five despite the relative modesty of their squad and the inconvenient defection of Ricardo Gomes to São Paulo (he probably wishes he could turn back time on that one). The surprise expansion of the Copa Libertadores has provided them with a target: win against Santa Cruz on Wednesday night and they will be in the driving seat to seal a spot in South America's biggest competition next term. 

 

This is not just a one-man show. Neophyte coach Jair Ventura - the son of Brazil legend Jairzinho - deserves huge praise for his part in Botafogo's form, as do the other players. Sassá (top scorer with 11 goals), Neilton (who has committed opponents to the tune of 40 successful dribbles this term) and busy midfielder Bruno Silva (the top tackler in Série A with 100) have done especially well. 

 

But really, Camilo has been the catalyst. He leads the squad in terms of assists (6), key passes (49) and shots per game (1.9), making him one of the most potent attacking threats in the division. Most telling, though, is the improvement in Botafogo's results: before his debut, they had won just 35% of points available; since then, that figure has jumped to 65%. Indeed, Botafogo have won 61.9% of the 21 league games Camilo has started compared to just 20% of the 10 he hasn't.

 

Cult hero Camilo taking Botafogo to new heights in Brazil

 

It's no surprise that he's enjoying his moment in the sun. After a couple of years as a sleeper hit for Série A overachievers Chapecoense, he is clearly thriving in a bigger pond. "It's an opportunity I had always hoped for," he admitted recently. "I'm from Rio and I always dreamed of representing one of the big teams from here. I've never had a moment like this in my career." That father Geraldo is a lifelong Botafogo supporter only reinforces the feeling that this is a match made in heaven.  

 

Ironically, there is a chance that his stunning form may end up working against his team: already, clubs with bigger bank balances - or, this being Brazil, more modest debts - are sniffing around, hoping to pinch him. Flamengo and Atlético Mineiro have both been credited with interest and it would be no great surprise if he received another offer from the Middle East. 

 

Botafogo can comfort themselves with the fact that the player has a sizeable buyout clause (US$7million for foreign sides, R$15million for domestic clubs, although the latter figure falls to RS$12.5million in January). They will probably offer him a new contract and he has hinted that he would be open to extending his stay. But he's probably due a sizeable pay hike; those in the know say he's not even among the top five top earners at the club. 

 

Such questions will be resolved at the end of the season. For now, there is business to attend to: Botafogo have seven games in which to secure a Libertadores place and give their remarkable turnaround the finale it deserves.  

 

With Camilo lighting the way, that shouldn't be beyond them. He doesn't look like a hero, but appearances can be deceiving.

 

Can Botafogo secure a Copa Libertadores place with Camilo performing above expectations? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below


Cult hero Camilo taking Botafogo to new heights in Brazil

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