Jo leads Brazilian league in scoring, eyes World Cup spot

By: 
MAURICIO SAVARESE
Source: 
Associated Press

SAO PAULO:The player once known as “Lazy Jo” is no more.

Jo, who flopped at Manchester City as a youngster, became on Sunday the top goal-scorer of the Brazilian championship. The former beer-drinking and now church-going 30-year-old Jo is in such form that Brazil coach Tite believes he could make the team for the World Cup.

Jo has 18 goals this season, the same as Fluminense forward Henrique Dourado. Brazilian media picked him as the best player of the national championship as his Corinthians team won its seventh title perhaps because some his goals were decisive in derbies against Palmeiras, Sao Paulo, and Santos.

The reason why Tite is observing Jo closely is how different he is from other Brazilian strikers. At 1.88 meters (6-foot-2), Jo is taller than Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus (1.70, 5-foot-7) and Liverpool’s Roberto Firmino (1.75, 5-foot-9). He is an inch taller than Sport Recife’s Diego Souza (1.85, 6-foot-1) a midfielder improvised as a center forward by Tite.

The striker netted only two headers for Corinthians but his role as target man in front of the box created goals for the Sao Paulo-based team.

His experience is also attractive: Jo played in the 2014 World Cup and knows Russia from playing there for four years for CSKA Moscow.

“Tite is watching other alternatives (but) my characteristics can help me,” Jo told The Associated Press last week at Corinthians’ training ground.

“Besides, I am a different person now that I stopped drinking and going out. I became a leader. If I have an opportunity to be in the World Cup again I will not try to do all at once on the pitch like I did as a sub in 2014. I have grown.”

Tite said after the World Cup draw in Russia on Friday that Jo’s strong season made him a recall contender.

“I still have openings; we don’t have a final list. Jo had a great season, other players had great seasons, too. We have to keep watching everyone closely,” Tite said.

Few expected Jo to rediscover his best form.

Corinthians executives still had fresh memories from the day that Jo travelled to Brazil for Christmas despite having a match with Everton shortly after the festivities. Or the day he missed a trip with Internacional because he was drinking and partying until sunrise. Or the day he was suspended by Atletico Mineiro after security personnel accused him of hosting women at the team’s hotel.

“I only changed after my wife left me and Atletico fans that idolized me started forsaking me,” Jo said. “My personal and my professional lives were sinking. I decided to change everything.”

Corinthians signed him at no cost at the end of 2016 after the striker had a disappointing season in China. Corinthians’ lack of confidence in Jo’s future was evident by its attempts to sign 39-year-old striker Didier Drogba, who refused the offer.

“I’ve always been a fan of Drogba’s, but I was the one who did what needed to be done here,” Jo said.

Having earned the championship for his boyhood club, he doesn’t feel like leaving. But he doesn’t rule out a return to European leagues.

Jo offered an anecdote about his new persona. After Fluminense was beaten 3-1 to clinch the Brazilian title in November, a team sponsor offered him a pint of beer on the pitch, but the offer was declined.

“I knew there was no alcohol in it, but I would look like a hypocrite if I drank it,” Jo said. “God has given me a lot of wisdom to see the path in front of me. I regret that I didn’t enjoy my opportunities in Europe as much as I should. So I am not running any risk of making those mistakes again.”

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