This article also featured in the GFFN 100 2018
In 2013, Avai finished tenth in Brazil’s Serie B. Few stood out in a difficult season, least of all the bench warming Pablo. “I did not play, I did not get along with the coach and we were paid five months late,” the defender explained to L’equipe in November. The ‘worst moment’ of his career. Now 27, Pablo is unrecognisable - a slick, intelligent defender, indispensable to Eric Bedouet’s Bordeaux and a Brazil international, could Manchester United be next?
Having forced his way in the Avai eleven, aiding in promotion the following season, a move to fellow Serie A newcomers Ponte-Preta, who sat comfortably in mid table by summer 2015, brought interest from France. Initially the move proved disastrous, language an issue, Pablo’s young children and wife - whom he credits with rejuvenating his confidence at Avai - struggled to settle while irksome injuries equalled surgery and little game time.
Unable to establish himself under the incoming Jocelyn Gourvennec, Pablo returned to Brazil on loan with Corinthians. In a pivotal campaign for the Brazilian the Sao Paolo club won Serie A with their Bordeaux loanee voted the year’s best centre back. However, despite his wife against a return to France, a permanent deal proved elusive and Pablo walked into a slow-motion trainwreck at the Matmut last January.
Injuries, indiscipline and a relegation battle resulted in Gourvannec’s sacking. However, newly assured, Pablo was paired with teenager Jules Kounde under Gus Poyet and then Eric Bedouet, the partnership providing rare consistency in a tumultuous year. “There is no anti-Cavani plan,” said Bedouet before December’s draw with PSG, instead choosing to rely on the “very, very strong level” of his Brazilian defender.
In 2018, Pablo has evolved from the slightly cumbersome and often nervous looking defender of his first Bordeaux spell, “not the real Pablo” he insists, to a powerful and astute leader. This new Pablo is broad and combative, seemingly enjoying the physicality of Ligue 1. A newfound intelligence in one-on-ones, even when outpaced, and in reading play more generally often rescues his team and the less experienced Kounde. Despite occasionally needlessly rash in the box, an underrated use of the ball and calmness in possession has also become pivotal for Bordeaux.
There is a sense that not only is Pablo leading by example but that he has become the heart of the dressing room. As he admits, although captain Benoit Costil, Younes Sankhare and veteran Jaroslav Plasil may be more vocal, the proud, humble family man Pablo has overtly taken on some responsibility for guiding a youthful team. The joyous celebrations after his late winner against St Etienne in December underline his popularity.
This autumn, particularly imperious form lead to the realisation of a dream, a moment his “children will tell their children” about - a Brazil cap. “For me, there is nothing bigger.” Pablo told L’equipe, nevertheless a desire to play in England remains and rumours of interest from Manchester United endure. Whatever happens, the £1.8m Bordeaux paid Ponte-Preta for a promising but raw defender in 2015 has become their most astute signing for some years. Eventually, at least.
by Adam White