After three seasons in Chinese football, Gilberto Macena headed for pastures new this off-season, joining Thai Premier League giants Buriram United. Yet, just four games into his new career, he returns to China as his side take on Guangzhou R&F in the AFC Champions League on Tuesday.
(*Article first published in Chinese language on Hupu.com)
Now 30, Macena’s first season with Shandong was impressive, scoring 10 goals having arrived from Denmark with a fine reputation. Yet, with the arrival of star names, his time in Jinan quickly ended and a move to Hangzhou only briefly threatened to sparkle as the team fought against relegation.
With three goals and a Super Cup title already to his name in Thailand, though, the Brazilian has enjoyed a fine start to his new life in Bangkok.
The best of his early performances, though, came just a few days ago when he picked up the Man of the Match for his goalscoring performance in victory over Seongnam in the opening game of the ACL Group stage.
“It’s been amazing to start so well, especially in the ACL,” Macena told Hupu Sports.
“I’m delighted with how I played and how the team as a whole performed. The Champions League is a high level and it’s important for me to show in Asia that I have more to offer than my last two years in China.
“I’m playing as a striker again and our team is all fighting for each other, making us stronger. I am enjoying playing football again.”
An away fixture at the Yuexiushan will be a bigger test for Buriram, though, with Cosmin Contra’s side full of confidence at this early stage of the campaign after victories against Central Coast Mariners and Gamba Osaka.
Having arrived in China in 2012, Macena has seen the Cantonese side rise from having been newly-promoted to the Super League to earn ACL qualification last season and he is impressed with what he has seen from the club so far.
“They are a club that have come a long way very quickly to now become a very strong CSL side,” he says of Tuesday’s opponents.
“I have mixed memories of games against them, having both won and lost, but they were always good games. Under Eriksson, they always worked very hard and had good attacking options. It will be a difficult game for us against a good team, but we will still try to play our football.
“I have seen most of their game with Gamba and they will take a lot of confidence from that. They will be at home now and I expect them to play with more freedom. With their fast attack and goalscorers, we will have to work hard to keep them quiet.”
Despite failing to perform as he had hoped in his time at Hangzhou, the Brazilian is positive about both his time in China and the future of football in the country.
“I had a great time in China and enjoyed the three years I was there,” he added. “I have only good feelings about it.
“I think they are now on the right path to becoming a real football country. They have a lot of teams in the ACL each year and the league is becoming better and better. But it will take some time.
“If they keep investing in the facilities and the academies, they will be fine. But the players also need to accept that they can learn from the coaches.”
And, what of Buriram’s chances in the Champions League this year?
The Thai club have a history of good performances in the competition and strengthened over the winter with the signing of Brazilian Diogo, once a highly-rated striking prospect in his time at Olympiakos.
However, they still come into most ties against East Asian rivals as underdogs in the eyes of most observers.
“We will take each game as the most important of our lives,” Macena says. “That’s how we must think here, game by game.
“The CSL has stronger sides than in Thailand, but there’s not a great difference in technical level. The facilities and football are good, I’ve been impressed. There are some good Thai players.
“Our first target is simply to reach the next stage. If we can do that, we can then maybe start to think a little further!”
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