The past decade has been quite the turnaround for Liedson, full name Liedson da Silva Muniz. His case is one of those football fairy tales of a player who didn’t make an impression in his youth and bloomed late on. In his early twenties, football was only a part time job for Liedson, he made most of his money as a shelf stacker in his father’s grocery store. 11 years later he’d be scoring for a different country to his birth in the World Cup. Not bad for a lightweight footballer – which earned him the nickname Levezinho (the light one) by the Sporting faithful.
Liedson’s first break in football was when he signed for Curitiba from Prudentópolis. His goals there got the attention of the scouts at bigger clubs in Brazil, he moved from Curitiba to Flamengo. He impressed for the Mengo with 14 goals in 24 games bringing him to one of the biggest clubs in Brazil, Corinthians. Liedson then managed an even more impressive 22 goals in 33 games, lifting his first career trophy too, the Campeonato Paulista.
Sporting paid only €2,000,000 to bring Liedson to Lisbon in the summer of 2003, where he took the squad number 31 on the back of his shirt. This was the same summer in which Sporting sold possibly their greatest ever prospect, Cristiano Ronaldo to Manchester United for €15,000,000.
His first season at in Lisbon was a disappointing one for Sporting fans, finishing 3rd in the Liga once again behind champions FC Porto, and runners up behind city-rivals Benfica. They were dumped out of the UEFA Cup by unfancied Turkish team Gençlerbirliği, and knocked out in the Taça de Portugal in the first round. Liedson finished his first season with 19 goals in 36 appearances. 2004-2005 was to be a better season for sporting, although their league result was the same (in fact they finished with fewer points) they had managed to get to the UEFA Cup Final. Sporting knocked out Feyenoord, Middlesbrough, Newcastle United and AZ Alkmaar before their final against cash-rich CKSA Moscow. The added incentive for Liedson and his team was that the final was being played at their home ground, the Estádio José Alvalade, but it would not be a happy time for Sporting as Liedson played the full 90 minutes in their 3-1 defeat. For Liedson though, it was his most prolific campaign of his career, finishing the league’s top scorer with 25 goals in 31 games, scoring once in his 2 cup games, and 9 times in his 14 European appearances. With that sort of goal scoring and promising youngsters such as João Moutinho, Miguel Veloso, and Nani coming through the ranks it looked like Sporting could start challenging Benfica and Porto once again.
It was not though until two seasons later when Liedson managed his first trophy – with the help of what looked like a great generation of home-grown youngsters for Sporting. In the final of the Taça de Portugal 2007, Nani, Moutinho, Veloso all played, and Yannick Djalo came on from the bench – all young, all talented. Liedson scored the dramatic winner against Belenenses in the 87th minute to seal the cup for Sporting, having finished only 1 point behind Liga winners Porto. The closest Liedson would get to winning the Liga with Sporting.
They went onto defend the Taça de Portugal the next season, beating Benfica in the semi-finals and (once more) Liga winners FC Porto in the final thanks to two late Tiui goals. They managed the Supertaça in 2007 and 2008 too. That though was the be the only glory Sporting would see. Many of their young starlets soon moved on, Nani to Manchester United, Miguel Veloso to Genoa and most surprisingly their young captain João Moutinho to rivals FC Porto. In spite of many of his colleagues securing moves away from Portugal – to bigger leagues, with greater pay Liedson stayed with Sporting. Despite interest from bigger clubs including, Valencia, Marseille, Everton and Sevilla. Liedson remained with Sporting through his peak years.
Perhaps the most significant moment of Liedson’s career was his call up to the Portugal squad in August 2009. There was divided opinion on whether another adopted Brazilian was what Portugal needed, with the likes of Deco and Pepe already in the squad. Some argued these places taken up where impeding the development of Portuguese-born players route into the national team. Liedson was eligible for citizenship having been in the country for over 6 years. Indeed, the striker position has always been a problem for the Portuguese national team, and after the World Cup 2006, Pauleta declared his international retirement. Hugo Almeida was Portugal’s other option, but with his injury, Portugal coach, Carlos Queiroz desperately needed attacking reinforcements.
His call up proved to be a good one, as he scored on his debut against Denmark in the World Cup 2010 Qualifiers. An 87th minute equaliser proved a vital point as Portugal scraped in to the World Cup finals. Liedson was called up the squad and scored the 5th goal in the 7-0 thrashing of North Korea.
Whether or not Liedson will continue to be called up after his move to Brazil is another question. Portugal have had a shortage in strikers for many years, and could still do with the 33-year-old’s brilliant scoring record. Indeed, in (former Sporting CP manager from 2005-2009) Paulo Bento’s latest Portugal squad, he has excluded Liedson altogether. Leaving only Helder Postiga and Hugo Almeida as the out and out strikers, with Cristiano Ronaldo possibly playing in a position he does not prefer up front. Even if Liedson fails to be recalled by Portugal again, he can look back on his international career and think he didn’t do too badly for a skinny shelf-stacker.
Liedson will bid goodbye to Sporting this weekend as they play Naval. “I’m going leave behind lots of saudades [a Portuguese word, that roughly translates to a nostalgic longing] and lots of friends. Sporting and the fans will always be in my heart.” It seems almost certain, Liedson will score once more for Sporting before he bows out before returning home – leaving Lisbon as a legend amongst Leões fans.