HÉLDER MARINO RODRÍGUES CRISTOVÃO

Date of Birth: 21 March, 1971
Nationality: Portugal (international)
Period at Deportivo: 1996 - 2002
Transfer: 640 million pesetas (ca. €4,1 million) (1996, Benfica)
Clubs: Benfica (2002), Newcastle (1999-2000, on loan), Deportivo (1996-2002), Benfica (1992-1996), Estoril (1991-1992), Monte Real
Sold: Free Transfer (2002, to Benfica)
Height: 181 cm
Weight: 83 kg
Position: Defender (central/right)

HÉLDER CRISTOVÃO was an expensive addition to the defence when he was acquired by Deportivo in December, 1996. But quality has its price, and that’s why Deportivo paid more than €4 million for this 25-year old Portuguese international defender. Although the Galician club had been doing marvellously in the defensive aspect in the past few seasons, the squad needed to be rejuvenated. Spanish veteran Voro left the club those weeks, and that’s where Hélder Cristovão stepped in (despite interest of Real Madrid).

He had started his professional career in 1991 at little Portuguese club Estoril, and soon his qualities were recognized by Benfica. He became one of their most important defenders between the years 1992 and 1996, finished as champions with them in 1994, and was sold to Deportivo.

The moment of his signature in 1996 at the Galician club resembles much the one when Jorge Andrade did so six years later. Both are strong Portuguese defenders, with their family origin in Africa (in fact, Hélder Cristovão was born in Angola). Besides, both players were in their mid-twenties when arriving in La Coruña, had played at a big Portuguese club and already had become an international player for Portugal (Hélder Cristovão even at the age of twenty-one). But the big difference between Jorge Andrade and Hélder Cristovão is that first mentioned player got injured quickly, but after it became a fundamental piece in the team. For his part, Hélder Cristovão started well, but soon lost his position in the team and was loaned out.

The good times still had to come when he made his debut in the Liga on 22 December, 1996 when he replaced Armando. The Portuguese defender, who had played the Euro 1996 tournament (he formed the defensive pair with Fernando Couto), soon became an important defensive figure next to Djukic and Naybet, and won the fight with Paco for a position. He played a total of twenty-two matches that season, missing just four Liga appearances. One of these misses was caused by his sending-off on 24 May, 1997 in the match at Barcelona. Because he received his second yellow card, he had to leave the pitch and saw Ronaldo giving the home side a very late 1-0 win.

The position of Hélder in the squad hadn’t been influenced by the replacement of Toshack at the start of 1997. The fast defender, strong in the air, had quickly conquered a starting position and nothing indicated that this would change. But it did, caused but suspensions, bad form and injuries. In December, 1997 he had been present in eleven of the fifteen matches Deportivo had played until then. But on 7 December, 1997 he saw his opponent Pauleta scoring three times for Salamanca in a heavy defeat (4-1), and Hélder Cristovão was sent off near the end.

He would play just three more Liga matches that campaign, the last one being a 2-2 home draw against Real Madrid in February, 1998. After an hour he suffered a serious injury in that match, and was replaced by youngster Pinillos. Naybet, Donato, Paco and Ramis performed the defensive duties in the remaining part of the season, until Javier Irureta arrived at Deportivo in the summer of 1998.

During the first weeks of Jabo at the club, Hélder Cristovão sustained a serious knee injury although it was expected that his return would be at the start of 1999. But Hélder Cristovão already had lost his place in the hierarchy that campaign, as Irureta put his confidence in Donato and Naybet as his central pair. Schürrer was their first replacement, while Ramis occupied the fourth position in the ranking. It had a lot to do with the fitness of Hélder Cristovão, as the player couldn’t convince Irureta of a good physical state.

For his part, the player became disappointed and mentioned several times not being happy anymore at the club. In 1999 the club already was looking for his replacement, and talked with Mauricio Pellegrino and César Martín. The signing of the young Asturian defender indicated more difficulties for Hélder Cristovão, because he now was ranked fifth in the defensive order. He wasn’t subscribed for the Liga, and a solution had to found. It came when he was loaned out to Newcastle United for the 1999/2000 campaign. In the Premiership he did reasonably well, reaching a total of fifteen league matches and scoring a goal against regional rivals Sunderland in February, 2000. Hélder Cristovão competed with players like Barton, Marcelinho and Dabizas, but wasn’t bought when his loan spell ended in 2000.

His fortune then turned around a bit, as Schürrer was sold and this time Irureta had lost confidence in César Martín and Ramis. Suddenly, at the age of 29, Hélder Cristovão became an important player for Deportivo again. He was the first substitute of Donato and Naybet in the season 2000/2001, won a Supercopa with the club that summer, played Champions League football and reached a number of twenty-one Liga matches. Unfortunately he scored an own goal against Real Madrid on 24 February, 2001.

But his departure from La Coruña was near when the season 2001/2002 started. Hélder Cristovão was thirty years of age at the time, and only had one year of contract to go at Deportivo. For their part, the club had signed Goran Djorovic on a free transfer while Irureta put his faith again in César Martín. For Hélder Cristovão it would be another disappointing season, as he only played in nine Liga matches that campaign. His last one was on 9 March, 2002 when the first choice of Irureta was rested against Rayo Vallecano, after having conquered the Copa del Rey days before.

In June 2002 neither Deportivo nor Hélder Cristovão wanted to extend the contract of the player, and he went on a free transfer to his former club Benfica. In 2004 he won the Portuguese Cup with his club, against FC Porto, and started the season 2004/2005 with them.
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