On 20th April, reports of retirement started to surface that Gao Late (read: La as in Latin, rather than the word meaning opposite of early), or Ricardo Goulart, as he was known porior to being naturalised Chinese citizen. The versatile attacking force who now plays for Esporte Clube Bahia in Brazil, has brought back painful memories of both Chinese football fans and officials alike, as the player has failed to play even a single minute for China. The money spent, in the form of transfer fee, signing bonus, and salary, been completely wasted.
Coming onto the scene
In 2015, Gaolat moved to Guangzhou Evergrande from Cruzeiro after scoring 29 goals in 79 league games for the Brazilian powerhouse. He shone in the competition, winning the title on the years of arrival and beyond. Individually, he was named player of the season in both 2015 and 2016. In 2016 he also won the golden boot. On the continent, he won MVP of the tournament on the way to help the club to win Asian Champions League in 2015. He scored 8 times in the tournament, more than any other player. Over 6 seasons at Guangzhou Evergrande, Gao Late became a league phenomenon, scoring 110 goals in nearly 180 games and adding nearly 60 assists across all competitions. Alongside with fellow Brazilian turned Chinese Elkeson, he becoming the core of Guangzhou Evergrande’s domination of the league and even Asia in those years.
Given the impressive haul, the striker was soon targeted by Chinese Football Association as a naturalization candidate to represent the national team in the push for qualification for the Qatar World Cup. China’s only appearance previously also happened with a same-continent host in 2002, when South Korea and Japan jointly presented the tournament.
If Fate Would Have It
However, in 2019, Gao Late returned to Brazil to join Palmeiras as part of his recovery from injury but it was also driven by Evergrande’s desire to slim down their payroll. Palmerias cancelled the contract after 12 games and returned him. This proved fateful for Goulart as the loan spell, and the consequent knee injury, cut off his continuous residence in China, precluding him represent the national team. For the 2020 season, Gao Late returned to China and joined Hebei China Fortune FC on loan, making 18 appearances and contributing four goals and four assists.
After his contract with Evergrande was up, Gao Late returned to Brazil in 2022, this time to join Santos, but his performances slide as injuries and age have taken their toll. He left the club after playing 30 games.
Gao Late went to Bahia in the Brazilian second division for the 2022 season. And scored an important goal in a win over Vasco. Though since completing a contract extension, Gao Late has not given the highlight performance that his Chinese supporters used to see. The agent of Gao Late told the press that the player himself reflected on his form over the years and decided that he no longer had a high level of playing ability and would only disappoint the fans who trusted and supported him and had no choice but to make the cruel decision to retire.
Though the outcome of his naturalisation was long settled when his return to Brazil disqualified him to represent Team China, the 31-year-old former Guangzhou Evergrande player’s decision to retire nevertheless marks a bitter end point that the 800 million RMB spent on his naturalisation went down the drain. It also became the symbol of the failures of the tenure of Chen Xuyuan, the former Chairman of Shanghai International Port Group, as CFA Chairman.
Having come back to the public eye for the last time in the foreseeable future, Gao Late also reminded people of his former Evergrande teammates. Paulinho put on the Corinthians’ kit, having made an extraordinary return trip to Barcelona. Talisca is playing alongside Christiano Ronaldo in the desert. While Elkeson has returned to the Chinese Super League, scoring for Chengdu on his home debut. Fei Nanduo also made his first appearance for Shandong Taishan. Both may don a China jersey. And it won’t be for the first time in Elkeson’s case. But one thing is for sure: those foreign faces that once emboldened Guangzhou Evergrande to kill will never appear in Guangzhou again, having earned the money and took away the joys and excitement of Guangzhou football.