Julio Baptista only spent one season with Arsenal and he didn’t exactly light up the Premier League during his short spell with the Gunners. However, his time at the club is still an interesting story and one of my followers on Twitter requested that I should do an article about his time at the club, so here it goes.
It all began in the summer of 2005. Baptista had been a star for Sevilla in his two seasons in La Liga and his impressive form as well as his goalscoring record attracted the interest of many top clubs around Europe. The two main clubs to pursue him though were Arsenal and Real Madrid. In July 2005, Baptista signed for Real Madrid in a deal worth £13.8m that could potentially rise to £16.9m. The Brazilian said he wanted to stay in Spain for at least 1 more year, as he would then be able to gain dual citizenship (Spain and Brazil), which would make moving across Europe a lot easier in the future if he was to move away from Madrid.
Baptista was one of a few big name signings that summer, with fellow Brazilian Robinho also signing for the club from Santos and Sevilla team-mate Sergio Ramos also joining the club. However, the switch to Madrid didn’t really work out for him as he was often played out of position due to the fact Real had so many superstars in their team and as a result of this, Baptista couldn’t replicate the form that had seen him become one of the hottest talents in La Liga when he was at Sevilla. He managed just 9 goals in all competitions in his first year at Real and came on as a substitute in both legs of the Champions League tie against Arsenal in the 2005/06 season. Arsenal won the tie 1-0 on aggregate, thanks to Thierry Henry’s winner in the Bernabeu.
Arsenal remained interested in Baptista in the summer of 2006. This time round there was a way that both parties would get a good deal. Arsenal wanted Baptista and Madrid were keen to either sell him for the right price or loan him out. Real were also interested in one of Arsenal’s players. Jose Antonio Reyes. Reyes was homesick and wanted to return to Spain. Real had been chasing him for over a year and Arsenal were finally prepared to let Reyes go. Arsene Wenger gave a strong indication that Reyes wasn’t going to be an Arsenal player in the 2006/07 season when he granted his wish not to play in the Champions League qualifiers against Dinamo Zagreb. He was an unused sub in the 3-0 win in Zagreb and wasn’t even named on the bench for the home leg.
On transfer deadline day in the summer of 2006, speculation mounted that Arsenal had told Real Madrid that Reyes could join them if Arsenal got Baptista in return. The deal did go through and Wenger had his man, a year later than intended. Reyes sealed his dream move back to Spain and both teams appeared happy with the deal. Both players moved on a season-long loan deal with the possibility of a permanent deal the following summer.
Baptista received the number 9 shirt at Arsenal, previously worn by the man who went in the opposite direction, Reyes. He had been give the nickname ‘The Beast’ throughout his career due to his muscled physique. Just a few days after signing for Arsenal, Baptista made his first appearance at the Emirates Stadium. It wasn’t in an Arsenal shirt though. He came on as a substitute for Brazil in a friendly played at the Emirates against Argentina and with a lot of the crowd being Arsenal fans due to where the game was being played, Baptista was given a very warm reception when he came on.
My first memory of Baptista was away to Manchester United in September 2006. It could well have been his Arsenal debut. He came on as a sub with the scores at 0-0 and I thought his nickname suited him perfectly. Just looking at him coming on you thought he could be a player to cause teams problems. Very well built and powerful. He came on and ran at the United defence and had a shot go narrowly wide and I thought “we’ve got some player here”. Arsenal won the game 1-0 thanks to a late winner from Emmanuel Adebayor.
With Thierry Henry and Robin Van Persie at the club as well as Emmanuel Adebayor, Baptista found it hard to get starts at the club. He scored his first goal for the club in November 2006 in a Champions League group stage match against Hamburg. He came on as a late substitute and with a couple of minutes left he headed home to make the game safe, handing Arsenal a 3-1 win over the German side.
Baptista struggled for goals in the Premier League, but he did find the back of the net in the League Cup. On a famous night at Anfield, Baptista incredibly found the net 4 times in a League Cup quarter-final at Anfield. As well as scoring 4 goals, he missed a penalty too, so he could have had even more!. Arsenal won 6-3 and progressed to the semi-finals against North London neighbours Tottenham. Baptista went from zero to hero in the first leg of the semi-final at White Hart Lane. He scored an own goal which put Spurs 2-0 ahead in the tie before he hit back to score 2 goals in the second half and give Arsenal two vital away goals. Arsenal won the second leg at the Emirates, but Baptista’s contribution in the first leg played a huge part in Arsenal reaching the Final. Unfortunately the Gunners lost 2-1 in the Final to Chelsea and there were no Baptista heroics that day.
In February 2007, Baptista missed a penalty in an FA Cup tie at Bolton. Arsenal missed two penalties that night, with fellow Brazilian Gilberto Silva also missing from the spot, but Arsenal progressed in the cup still, winning the tie 3-1 in extra-time.
The following month saw Baptista score his first Premier League goal for the club in a 2-1 home win against Reading. He would go on to score 2 more goals in the league that season, one against Man City in April 2007 and another against Fulham the following month.
With his loan spell coming to an end in the summer of 2007, Baptista had the chance to end a mostly disappointing loan spell on a high in the final game of the season away to Portsmouth and perhaps even help convince Arsene Wenger to consider a permanent switch in the summer. Arsenal were awarded a penalty in what was a dull game. Baptista’s penalty was saved by David James and Arsenal finished 4th that season. Had Baptista scored that penalty, Arsenal would have finished 3rd for what it is worth. Arsenal were still well clear of 5th placed Tottenham so they comfortably qualified for Champions League football in 2007/08.
Baptista would return to Madrid that summer and despite helping Real Madrid claim the title on the final day of the 2006/07 season with 2 goals against Mallorca, Reyes wouldn’t move to Real Madrid on a permanent basis either. Reyes did stay in Madrid however, but joined Real’s cross-city rivals Atletico, despite interest from Real.
Baptista stayed at Real for the 2007/08 season and to his credit, played his part for them, but he was on the move again in the summer of 2008, joining Italian giants Roma. Roma would meet Arsenal in the Champions League in the 2008/09 season and Baptista started the first leg at the Emirates which ended 1-0 to Arsenal. He came on as a first half substitute in the return leg and missed a couple of sitters that could have knocked his former team out of the competition. The game went to extra-time and penalties and despite Baptista scoring in the shootout, Arsenal would go through to the quarter-finals.
The Beast’s next move would be back to Spain in January 2011 when he joined Malaga. His goals helped keep them up in the 2010/11 campaign but injuries have been a problem for Baptista since his return to Spain and he has only just returned from a long-term injury.
Baptista’s time in the English capital can be remembered for the good and the bad. He certainly made Arsenal fans happy with his goals against Liverpool and Tottenham in the League Cup that season, but his goal return of 10 was fairly poor considering 6 of those came in 2 games. Typing this all up, it’s somewhat ironic that he scored against Arsenal in that penalty shootout in 2009, considering he missed all three of the penalties he took in an Arsenal shirt.