It’s the back end of March, Boro striker Joao Morelli is preparing for his first game over in Estonia. A minute left on the clock, the substitute marks his debut with a goal. Since then, it’s fair to say things have taken off for the Brazilian.
Reflecting on his start in the Premium Liiga, Morelli admits it was difficult to acclimatise: “When I arrived I played with a lot of snow and it was complicated,” he told UOL.
“Some players, I think, were already accustomed but nobody told me what to expect. At the beginning it was difficult to face the lack of visibility, the frozen ball.”
The one thing Morelli hasn’t found difficult is putting the ball into the back of the net.
So far this season he’s scored 16 goals in 20 appearances – scoring a goal every 98 minutes.
To add to the growing number of impressive stats, he’s also currently the highest scoring Brazilian in Europe and sits in 22nd place in the race for the Golden Boot.
And to put into perspective just how impressive this is, PSG’s Neymar – the most expensive footballer of all time – is ranked 49th.
Over the moon to be the highest Brazilian top scorer in all european leagues at the moment!! 🙏🙌🏼 https://t.co/dOU4IuHpqO
— Joao Morelli (@Jmorelli_96) October 4, 2017
There seems to be no stopping the 21-year-old from enhancing his reputation further, with his goalscoring exploits even hitting headlines back home in Brazil.
And in September, Morelli was named the best player of rounds 19-27 in the Premium Liiga following an excellent return of eight games, eight goals and four assists.
Of course, the Estonian league is certainly not renowned for its quality. Indeed, it’s a rather unorthodox division for Boro to send their academy youngsters.
We’ve seen Connor Ripley join Swedish side Ostersunds a few seasons ago, but players usually learn their trade at Football League clubs. So that raises the question – why Levadia?
“Middlesbrough have the tendancy to loan players to teams in the third or fourth division,” Morelli told ESPN Brazil shortly after his debut in March.
“But the game is very different there, because teams in those divisions run a lot, even more than the Premier League, so they [Boro] thought of a place where it is more about playing with the ball and less running.”
“I found that the football is nice to play here – you can enjoy it because there’s a great touch of the ball. It’s more technical than physical, like it was in Brazil, it’s my style of play,” he admitted.
The technical side of the Premium Liiga has helped Morelli find his feet, and his goalscoring boots. He’s certainly enjoying playing his first season in Europe, in a side at the top of their respective league and vying for the ultimate objective: Europa League qualification.
Whilst it remains to be seen what the future holds for the forward, there’s no doubt his stock has risen since his move.
His contract with Boro expires next summer, but until then he’ll be looking to add more experience, more goals and more accolades to his repertoire.
Will he break into the Middlesbrough side? Who knows. But after an impressive season, he definitely warrants a chance to stake his claim on home soil.