"... I went to sign Cabral at 2am in a restaurant and I was not leaving until I got his signature. Then 48 hours later he had offers from two clubs in the Bundesliga. If we had waited longer we would probably not have Cabral now ..."
That was Roberto De Fanti in June 2013, intricately applauding his persuasive full-moon powers that brought Tavares Varela ‘Cabral’ Adilson to Sunderland. He explained further the performance-based earnings structure that Cabral was sold on and how Sunderland AFC was not an easy money club, but a project to believe in.
Since that day 19 months ago, Cabral has trained under three Sunderland Head Coaches and all have declared him unwanted. He has no place in the ‘project’ that lured him to Wearside and cannot justify any wage increase. It has been an uneventfully difficult time for Cabral, but it sure wasn’t always like this . . .
The Cabo Verdean’s senior career began in 2005 when the midfielder was ascended from Team Lausanne-Vaud U16 to FC Lausanne-Sport in the Swiss Challenge League. Despite unsuccessful promotion attempts, Cabral’s performances as a competent man-marker were often scouted by Switzerland’s distinguished clubs.
In July 2007, the eighteen year old free agent signed for FC Basel 1893, a club entrenched in youth development under long-term coach, Christian Gross. He would be regularly rotated at St. Jakob-Park in his inaugural season, between the first team and FC Basel II in the Promotion League, the third tier of Swiss football.
Gross opted to loan Cabral to the Segunda División in August 2008 to develop under Fermín Galeote Martín at Sevilla Atlético Club. Cabral again demonstrated good form for a nineteen year old; however the Sevilla FC reserve team were brutally relegated to Segunda División B.
In the 2009/10 season, FC Basel won the double; both the Axpo Super League and Swiss Cup. Cabral, then utilised abundantly under new coach Thorsten Fink, was an authoritative midfield presence for the Rot-Blau, and earned himself regular starts for the remainder of his career in Switzerland. He would later contribute to memorable victories against Manchester United and FC Bayern Munich in the 2011/12 UEFA Champions League, and produce a neat solo run and goal against AS Roma in 2010/11.
Cabral then Bosman-signed for the Black Cats in June 2013; already having amassed 5 Axpo/Raiffeisen Super League trophies, 3 Swiss Cups, 1 Uhrencup; playing 141 matches for FC Basel, with 38 in European competitions. He was twenty-four and nearly the finished article.
His first pre-season fixture was in July at the 2013 Premier League Asia Trophy in Hong Kong. Cabral scored his only goal for Sunderland in Kon Po, in a 3-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur. That, and his pre-season work rate, justified a starting place.
The opening Premier League fixture on 17 August was Cabral’s only game in the division. Against Fulham, Cabral played centrally in a five-man midfield. It was a so-so debut from the Santiago Island native; who attempted more shots than any other player (none were on target); was the only midfielder not dispossessed, made the most passes (61) with the best accuracy (87%); and made the most successful tackles of all Sunderland midfielders. The Stadium of Light has seen worse.
Worse came in the Capital One Cup ten days later when Cabral was humiliated against Milton Keynes Dons. With Sunderland 0:2 down, he was hauled off on 61 minutes. Cabral would remain an unused substitute in the Premier League and play only twice for the Sunderland U21 squad. He was subbed off both times.
Less than two hundred days since De Fanti celebrated the midfielders arrival, Cabral was loaned to Genoa CFC in Serie A. He played only 380 minutes for the Griffins, providing one assist with mostly competent displays for Gian Gasperini’s side. Genoa would win 4 of the 7 games Cabral played, but only 1 of 13 without him.
In this 2014/15 campaign Cabral is again the non-functioning spare part of Sunderland, with 3 starts in the U21 Premier League and 3 squad appearances as an unused sub for the senior team. As an experienced European midfielder, theories have been raised for why Cabral has struggled on Wearside.
Paolo Di Canio gave his reasons in September 2013, detailing how the individual strengths of David Vaughan, Ki Sung-Yeung and Craig Gardner restricted Cabral to being the fourth choice midfielder. Di Canio also referred to the League Cup performance as a reason for Cabral being dropped.
There have been many rumours that Cabral has since shown a poor work ethic. Yet, in June 2014, Gus Poyet offered squad places to all players who trained professionally, referencing Cabral specifically for his dignified conduct, and has since kept his promise with the unused squad appearances.
There is no apparent animosity between Cabral and the club either. Despite a futile transfer to the Russian Football Premier League and ineffective emergency loan offers to the Championship, Cabral still regularly requests to play with the club reserves, according to his head coach. Poyet even confirmed, "... he’s a great professional ... I’m making the decision that he’s not playing; it’s not his fault, it’s me ..."
By all accounts; Sunderland, Poyet and Cabral are amicably working for their shared desire to see the player leave. One possible transfer hindrance however is the player’s salary. For a 23-week loan, Genoa reportedly paid Sunderland £132,000, equating to an assumed weekly wage of roughly £6000. That’s above the average wage for minor football leagues across Europe and South America.
Whether it is for financial reasons or just that no club requires his talent, Cabral is an unwanted man in football. Poyet explained recently how he once thought Cabral was the easiest deadwood to shift based on his good qualities. This January window, all parties will once again try to salvage Cabral from Sunderland permanently, before this player of once great potential becomes lost in football purgatory for ever.