Kerlon: Once dubbed the new Ronaldinho, what happened to the crazy seal dribbler?

Kerlon the seal dribbler

The archetypal YouTube footballer has become synonymous with the game we know and love.

Think Paul Pogba and Neymar for example, two players that gained notoriety on social media for outrageous trickery and goals.

As a cacophony of drum & bass rings out over the top of some muffled commentary, a 40-yard thunderbolt or step-over becomes the backdrop for a video that you always feel is far more complicated than it needs to be.

But nonetheless, it seems that a silky piece of play has become the perfect excuse to piece together a video of such editorial genius. 

If someone walked into your room, they’d be forgiven for thinking you were having a rave. In fact, you were merely watching the 100 best moments of Ronaldinho.

But where did the YouTube player start? Well, there is no perfect example than Brazilian sensation Kerlon.

The attacking midfielder, who stands at a diminutive height of 5 foot 6, burst onto the scene from 2005 to 2007 when playing for Brazil’s youth sides. 

Kerlon playing for Brazil

Had he scored a breathtaking goal? Had he won a piece of silverware or said something funny? No, he’d dribbled the ball while bouncing it on his head. 

This piece of skill was outrageous, flicking the ball up before embarking on a mazy run that suddenly became his trademark. Kerlon went on to be known as the seal dribbler (drible da foquinha) for the way he used the ball. 

It was as bemusing as it was disrespectful. We’ve seen the likes of Ronaldo and Neymar embarrass defenders with their trickery but this was on a different level. 

Kerlon would antagonise those who were marking him, so much so that former right-back Dyego Rocha Coelho was suspended for five matches after elbowing him in the face. 

Kerlon was dubbed the ‘new Ronaldinho’ as a result but his career, rather surprisingly, didn’t amount to much. 

His skills for the Brazilian youth teams did earn him a move to Europe, though. Playing alongside Marcelo, Anderson and Denilson for Brazil U17s in 2005, he scored eight in seven matches and three years later, found himself at Chievo after being linked with the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United and even Middlesbrough

Like the deal that brought Julio Cesar to Inter Milan, they borrowed the non-EU registration quota from Chievo which meant he was also owned by the Milanese club. At the same time, his agent rights also changed hands.

After departing Cruzeiro, third-party owner EMS Sigma Pharma sold 80% of Kerlon’s rights to none other than Mino Raiola, a man who has now become the very definition of a super agent. 

“I saw him as some kind of god,” Kerlon told VICE two years ago.

Unfortunately, their relationship wasn’t exactly a profitable one. He played just four times for Chievo and didn’t manage a single Serie A appearance for Inter, predominantly because of a host of knee issues.

Kerlon at Chievo

At the time, Jose Mourinho was the club’s manager but never found room for the tricky Brazilian in his plans.

“I remember arriving one day and seeing Mourinho calling about eight to 10 players inside a room,” Kerlon told FourFourTwo in 2019:

“Among them were the likes of Crespo, Vieira, Dacourt, [Luis Antonio] Jimenez and others. He sat in front of all of them and was very honest and straight to the point about what he had to say. He basically told them that he didn’t count on them and wouldn’t need their work,” he continued.

Kerlon stated: “He then told me I wasn’t part of his plans either. He said I could stay training apart from the others if I wanted, since I was still under contract.” 

For someone who gave so much joy back in Brazil, his career was already beginning to stagnate. 

Before leaving Inter in 2012, he spent loan spells with Ajax – again he failed to play – and also with Brazilian outfits Parana and Nacional-NS. 

Kerlon at Ajax

After leaving Inter for good, Kerlon moved to Japan, a spell that became the most consistent of his club career. The midfielder scored nine goals in 22 outings for Fujieda MYFC but after another injury, he left in 2014 – just two years later.

Then came his move to the USA, a part of the world he has fallen in love with. Kerlon first trained with Atlanta Silverbacks before putting pen to paper on a deal with Miami Dade FC, but his first spell in America was short but sweet, scoring three times in five outings.

Subsequent moves to Malta and Slovakia followed, before at the age of 29, he hung up his professional playing boots and retired from the game in 2017.

It was a sad demise for the nomadic journeyman, someone that has gone from being mentioned in the same breath as Ronaldinho to becoming a gentle family man.

Kerlon is now back in the USA and is living with his wife and children while teaching kids how to play the beautiful game.

Kerlon coaching at Ole soccer school

Former Cruzeiro player and fellow Brazilian Rodrigo Nunes initially invited him to coach at Olé Soccer in Connecticut, near New York. Since then, the 32-year-old had an aptly named school named Seal Soccer Academy and is now about to coach kids at his own FK Brazilian Soccer Academy in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

When he first broke through with his sensational dribbling ability, it looked like he was set for greatness. Kerlon was the perfect definition of a wonderkid but after a failed playing career, he’s now helping teenagers and young adults to reach their own potential – something he failed to do.

If you can’t do it yourself, helping someone else is the next best thing. 

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