The early stages of Afonso’s career were very tough. At the age of eight, the player lost his father, which made life difficult for the Alves family. His mother, Dona Eliade was forced to raise Alfonso, and his brother and sister, Alexsander and Alexandra, on her own.
Afonso’s talent was quickly noticed at the Tupinambás academy, where he took his first steps in the game. Taller than most of the kids his age, and already able to hit the ball very hard (something which remains one of his key attributes to this day), the youngster caught the attention of Irineu Fernandes, then coach of the academy at Atlético Mineiro. Impressed with Afonso’s ability, Fernandes visited the player’s home, and asked for permission to take take him to Mineiro. The family agreed.
Impressive debut season
Afonso made the move to Atlético when he was just 10 and remained with them until 2001. However, with scant opportunity to make his mark at the club, he was eventually loaned out to Örgryte in Sweden. Though unknown to most football fans back home, the Swedish club helped open the door to European football. An impressive debut season meant that he was soon attracting interest from a number of other European clubs, and the following year he was transferred to Malmö FF, one of Sweden’s biggest sides.
He went on to win the league title and his reputation increased still further. After finishing as the second top scorer in Sweden two years running (2004 and 2005), the forward caught the eye of Dutch club Heerenveen, who paid € 4.5 million for his signature.
Smashing various records
It was in Holland that Afonso enjoyed the best period of his career so far, smashing various records. In his first season, the Brazilian scored 34 goals – a new Heerenveen record. It also meant that he was following in the footsteps of two illustrious compatriots, Romário and Ronaldo, both of whom took their first steps in European football in Holland’s Eredivisie, and both of whom scored over 30 goals in their first season.
Voted the Erevidisie player of the season in 2006/07, Afonso was then selected for the Brazilian squad that went on to lift the 2007 Copa America in Venezuela. On 7 October 2007, in only his second appearance of the new season, Afonso scored an incredible seven goals in his side’s 9-0 win over Heracles Almelo in the Eredivisie. Having had a taste of success with the national team, the player has stated his ambition to continue performing well at club level, and establish himself as a regular for Brazil in the future.
Transfer to Premier League
On 31 January 2008 – the last day of the winter transfer window – Afonso Alves finally completed his big-money transfer to Premier League club Middlesbrough. He signed a four and a half year contract, with the transfer fee thought to be around £12.7m.
He made his debut at home against Fulham on 9 February 2008 where 27,000 fans welcomed him to the Riverside Stadium. However, he had to wait until his sixth Premiership match for his first goal. It was well worth the wait. He scored both goals, as Middlesbrough played out an entertaining 2-2 home draw against champions Manchester United. And he rounded off the campaign in even greater style. On the final day of the season, May 11, 2008, Afonso grabbed a hat-trick as Middlesbrough annihilated Manchester City 8-1.