After just a short while, Hulk is back on the transfer rumour mill. Chelsea and Manchester City are both reported to be interested once again. Even though a move to another club is not likely to be on the cards for him (UEFA explicitly prohibits players from playing for more than two clubs in a single season), it doesn't mean fans the world over are not salivating over the possibility of seeing him play for their club in a few months.
Born Givanildo Vieira de Souza in Campina Grande, in the Brazilian state of Paraíba, Hulk was given his nickname by his father, a die-hard fan of the TV series The Incredible Hulk. The alias boded well for him and would eventually become a trademark introduction for anyone who didn't know him or had never seen him play.
Bouncing from club to club as a young footballer (including a stint in Portugal between 2001 and 2002), Hulk would eventually get his professional debut at Vitória da Bahia as a left-back, ending up loaned out and then sold to Japanese club Kawasaki Frontale, where he didn't have that many chances either. He was then loaned out to Consadole Sapporo, a club in the Japanese second tier, for the 2006/07 season, where he amassed 26 goals in 38 matches. The following season Hulk would again be loaned out to another second-tier club, this time Tokyo Verdy, scoring 37 goals in 44 matches, ending up as the competition's top scorer and providing a decisive contribution for the club's return to the Japanese top league. 11 matches into the 2008/09 season, FC Porto signed him for €5,5 million for half his rights.
A new start
When he first arrived at Porto, very few people had ever heard of Hulk. Like James Rodríguez, he was the result of a vast scouting networking probing the globe - and ultimately unknown. Usually demanding, club fans were quite suspicious of the large amount spent on a player no one had ever heard of. Like James Rodríguez and so many others before him, Hulk was welcomed without much pressure, usually starting matches on the bench. He scored his first goal in his second match (as a substitute) against Belenenses at the Dragão with an incredibly powerful shot, announcing feats to come. He wouldn't become a starter before November 2008.
During that season, the trio of Hulk, Lisandro López and Cristián Rodríguez harmed many a defence, with the Brazilian collecting 9 goals and 9 assists and winning the Portuguese League along the way. In 2009/10, his place as a starter was undisputed, but a four-month domestic ban (later reduced to four matches) following a brawl at Benfica's Estádio da Luz held him back. Nevertheless, he was still able score 10 goals and provide 11 assists in 31 matches.
Jesualdo Ferreira, the professor
FC Porto's then-coach Jesualdo Ferreira was a father figure to Hulk in more ways than one, and was crucial for Hulk's success. Ferreira taught the young Brazilian star the importance of knowing how to defend, what spaces to take on the field, the relevance of the first touch and improved dramatically his decision-making process. Gifted with unbelievable strength, stamina and speed, Hulk would often overdo it by hogging the ball and attempt numerous take-ons, often irritating team-mates and fans alike.
While his sharp edges were definitely smoothed by his coach, Ferreira's style of play was also key. By then, FC Porto had a different approach to opponents - much more reactive and based around quick transitions into attack, a style that fitted Hulk perfectly. With his particular skill set and physical prowess, FC Porto would often retreat and defend compactly, only to launch Hulk upfield to exploit the space behind their rivals' defensive line.
André Villas-Boas, the catalyst
After sacking Jesualdo Ferreira, FC Porto turned to a young coach named André Villas-Boas. Frustrated with Benfica's league title the season before and fuelled by a thirst for revenge, squad and fans alike had high hopes for the 2010/11 season. Oddly enough for most English readers, AVB was able to deliver (in style), winning 4 titles during that season - including the league, the cup and the Europa League.
Despite the massive change in style, with Villas-Boas favouring a more possession-based approach, Falcao and Hulk were particularly on fire, the Brazilian scoring 27 goals in the first 30 matches on the way to become the league's top scorer with 23 goals. Both forwards were on huge demand across Europe, but of the two only Falcao managed to live the dream of playing in a more competitive championship.
The sum of all fears
AVB's departure a week before the start of pre-season shook the team to its core. FC Porto's plan was to keep the squad mostly intact in order to surprise everyone with a serious challenge for the Champions League. As soon as the coach left, many of the players in demand started showing signs of unrest, trying to get out of what was now a headless project. Falcao got this way by moving to Atlético Madrid for €40 million plus bonuses, but Hulk stayed. Without the Colombian goal-scoring machine, the team turned to Hulk, who, to be honest, wasn't that unhappy for being allowed to run at opponents at will.
FC Porto would end up grabbing the Portuguese title, but many players - such as Álvaro Pereira or Freddy Guarín, both sold to Inter Milan - wanted out of what was perceived as a sinking ship, attracted by better offers abroad. Aiming at more competitive leagues such as La Liga or the Premier League, Hulk couldn't find any suitors to meet the his and the club's demands, and ended up moving to Russia for €40 million.
His arrival (together with Axel Witsel from Benfica) at Zenit was tainted by protests from his team-mates, particularly Denisov and Kerzhakov, who voiced their complaints about the money spent on a player that was "not Messi or Iniesta", according to Denisov. While the reaction was not expected, it can hardly be considered surprising, given the less than positive previous experiences of foreign players (including Portuguese ones) in Russia.
Hulk is different from many of the players out there. His strength, combined with his raw physicality and a devastating left foot, provide him with an almost unique potential that can destroy defences singlehandedly. His favourite position is as a right winger, not only because he can come on to centre with his stronger foot, but also because the wings are usually less packed than the centre and, most importantly, because he is not forced to get the ball with his back to goal. Even though he was intermittently used as an out-and-out striker, he is clearly less comfortable - and effective - there.
However, Hulk's greatest flaw is his decision-making, proving that football is about so much more than sheer physical skills. Even though he is much better than he used to, he doesn't always makes the best option for his team, which was one of the main reasons why none of the big European sharks bought him from Porto in the first place. At 26, there is still some margin for improvement, but clubs will be wary of spending so much money on a player with such clear shortcomings in that department.