When Atlético-MG announced the hiring of Hulk, in January this year, there were many doubts and widespread mistrust: would a 34-year-old player, coming from four seasons in China, be able to be competitive in Brazilian football? Seven months later, Hulk’s numbers leave no doubts: 19 goals and 11 assists in 43 games, helping to place Galo as one of the great forces on the three fronts he disputes. This reality may surprise a good part of sports critics, who doubted that Hulk could be so decisive in Brazil – but not physiotherapist Eduardo Santos, director of the medical department of the striker’s former club, Shanghai SIPG FC (CHI). Eduardo has been responsible for the Hulk’s physique for the past seven years, changing a trajectory that was once marked by injuries and seeing his own career leveraged by the success he had in treating the striker. He talked to the reporter and told how all this happened.
Eduardo is 42 years old and has a degree in physiotherapy from PUC/MG, with a postgraduate degree in sports medicine and a master’s degree in biomedical engineering. He started in football in 2011, at Chelsea’s satellite club Vitesse (HOL), coordinating the physiotherapy and rehabilitation sector. Tottenham, at the time led by coach André-Villas Boas, started sending some athletes to recover under the care of Eduardo – and that was when he caught the attention of Zenit (RUS), which invited him to head their medical department. Eduardo took office in 2014, the same year that Hulk arrived at the Russian club and physiotherapist and athlete began to tread a path that lasted until 2021.
“When I met the Hulk, he had a history of very serious injuries in the hamstrings, as he is a very explosive athlete and has the ability to speed and kick very hard. One of my missions was to make the Hulk get less injured – that is, preventive work”, says Eduardo. It was then that the “turning point” in the striker’s career occurred. “We identified that he had muscle power in the front of the thigh much greater than in the posterior ones. That’s when we started to balance these strength deficits he had, to generate a muscular balance between the quadriceps and the hamstrings. We did this job, and his injury rate dropped dramatically. The results were incredible, and he valued himself even more as an athlete”, says Eduardo.
From this success on Zenit, Hulk attracted the eyes of Shanghai, which bought him in 2016 for 55 million euros (R$ 340.7 million), the most expensive transaction in Asian football so far. However, in July of that same year, the attacker had an injury to a muscle tendon, and the Shanghai medical department was unable to resolve the issue. So, the club sent him to Zenit for treatment. “We were able to recover from this injury in record time. Shanghai was very interested in my work, and ended up making me a proposal. That’s when I came from Russia to China to work in Shanghai”, explains Eduardo, highlighting the link between his career path and the success in taking care of Hulk’s physique.
The work of muscle correction to reduce the risk of injuries was maintained by Eduardo together with Hulk in Shanghai, with the objective that the athlete would continue to play well even as he got older. “Contrary to what everyone thought, that he would age and get worse, it was the opposite: he kept getting better, more and more adapted. Like a good wine, it got older and got better”, summarizes the physiotherapist.
Eduardo has been working in China for five years and says that, contrary to what many people think in Brazil, Chinese football is indeed competitive – thus playing an important role in Hulk’s physical maturity, helping him to reach Atlético-MG in great conditions. “Game GPS data are extremely equivalent to games that are made in Brazil: maximum distance, sprint, speed, player performances. It’s very similar. Same. We have averages of 11 km traveled per player, at high speed, above 25 km/h, which are the same as in Brazil. Those who normally say ‘oh, the guy is playing in China, he comes from another competition, which is not competitive’ has no knowledge of Chinese football, of what is happening here. There are three competitions a year, we have games practically every three days, with intensity and long trips”, he comments.
Even though he is physically away from the Hulk, Eduardo closely followed the criticisms that were made to the athlete when he arrived in Brazil. “They said he wasn’t playing well, that he came from China and that, because of that, he didn’t have the ability to play. The Hulk shut everyone up, showing that he doesn’t have any of that. He is in one of his best phases”, he assesses.
For Eduardo, the “secret” for Hulk to be so well today goes beyond differentiated muscle mass, the muscle correction work done by his team over the years and the care that the attacker has with his food: it also and mainly passes through his mentality and emotional intelligence. “What strikes me about the Hulk, which I think is fantastic, is the head he has. He knows how to use the difficulties around him to strengthen himself. This is your great strength, your ‘superpower’. Criticism makes him even more motivated, to show on the field that people are wrong. He was always like that. The Hulk has the ability to overcome, a Brazilian himself, like many other Brazilians who are superheroes. The Hulk for me is a superhero that way”, he opines. Another detail that, in Eduardo’s view, has been making all the difference to Hulk’s good performance is the proximity he has to his family in Brazil. “He is very happy in his personal life. You are close to your children, father, mother. This is a very important factor for him”.
In Eduardo’s opinion, the evolution of medicine has been helping to prolong the careers of football players, keeping them at a high level at an age that, in the past, would mean the end of their careers. For him, Hulk is one of those differentiated athletes, with a lot of football time and a lot to show. “I don’t see a striker like him in Brazil. Without a doubt, he has a chance for the Brazilian team”, he projects.