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Elano was a gentle force while Manchester City became a powerhouse

Elano wasn’t the most important player to Manchester City, but he was perfect in his role.

Soccer - Manchester City Player Feature - Blumer Elano Photo by Stephen Pond/Manchester City FC via Getty Images

Do you remember Elano? He had a career that took him from Brazil in 2001 to the Indian Super League where he retired in 2015. The peak of his career, in terms of status, came when he played two seasons for Manchester City from 2007-09. Elano played for City during the period when the club was bought by former prime minister of Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra, in the summer of 2007, and then sold to the Abu Dhabi United Group in September 2008. He was there for the club’s transition from the quiet, middling, non-threatening sibling of Manchester United, to title-winning noisy neighbors.

I’m thinking of Elano because the first day of spring passed a few days ago. Spring is seen as the season of transitions, of rebirth. In Book 6 of the Iliad, Homer relates the cycle of the seasons to the lives of people, pointing to spring as the time of new beginnings:

“Like the generations of leaves, the lives of mortal men.

Now the wind scatters the old leaves across the earth,

now the living timber bursts with the new buds

and spring comes round again. And so with men:

as one generation comes to life, another dies away.”

Spring, the well-known season of change, would be perfectly suited for someone like Elano, who was there as City shed their old identity for a new, more powerful one. But I don’t equate spring with Elano. I was thinking of Elano in the spring because the light of the sun, the warmer weather, the sight of flowers, birds, and other small creatures, remind me that summer is near. And summer is the true time of change.

This idea of summer as a transitionary period for me is related to the cycle of school. Normally school runs from the start of fall to the middle of spring, and then students are released from its tyranny. Summer is the time of freedom, the few months as a child or young adult that one has to oneself. It’s the time between times, the period between one stage of life and the other, before one has to go on to the increased responsibilities of a new grade, or graduate and go to college.

The best summers for me are the ones when nothing matters. When it seems the days are endless and one does nothing of note beyond being alive, enjoying each day, being bored, and sometimes appreciating the simple transience of things. Elano, like the perfect summer romance, is a player who doesn’t really matter. He will not appear in the record books or be a main character in the story of the club’s transformation. His time at City was too brief. Nothing was achieved in those two years except the change from one ownership group to the next. And when City moved on to its new identity, there was no space in that new world for someone like Elano, who wasn’t a bad player, but wasn’t what the club wanted anymore.

He was the pause between one stage of life and the next. Someone who can suddenly be remembered as a sweet, fleeting memory, like one of those nostalgic days in summer spent with friends in laughter until late at night. It’s fitting that even finding Elano’s highlight videos is difficult, and the few that exist are less than three minutes long and usually show his goals.

I have a fondness for Elano because of the gentle and intelligent way he played. He was a goalscoring midfielder from his time at Santos, where he tallied 22 goals in one season, though those came in 61 matches. He scored a total of 18 goals in 84 games for City. He wasn’t physically dominant, nor was he an outstanding dribbler or passer. I think of him as David Silva for people who couldn’t afford David Silva, except with better scoring.

That’s not to denigrate Elano. What stood out most about him during his time with City was his superior technicality compared to those around him. He might not have been good enough for the era that was to come, but he was the hope that there was something better ahead. He was good enough for a team that aspired for the Champions League, but not for one that aspired to win titles consistently. Arseny Tarkovsky captured Elano’s essence perfectly in the poem “Now Summer is gone…”:

Now Summer is gone

And might never have been.

In the sunshine it’s warm,

But there has to be more.

Elano naturally lost his place at City to the forces of change. Shaun Wright-Phillips and Robinho were brought in and City began its evolution into the powerhouse it is today. The club grew up. The tender and inconsequential days of summer came to an end and so did Elano’s time.

It was almost as if Elano was aware of his nature as a short-time romance, as the pause of summer. He bounced through various clubs after, later in managerial roles, only spending a year or two at each before moving on to the next.

His time at City might have been brief, but it was as important as any caretaker’s, tending to a bed of flowers beneath the warm summer sun, toiling to bring the garden up from the seeds to the beauty of full bloom.