Mario Jardel: The Greatest Rangers Signing That Didn’t Happen

I will never forget the day in January 1996 when it looked as though Rangers were about to sign a Brazilian superstar named Mario Jardel.

The player was paraded sporting Gers gear and he was seen at Ibrox taking in a Rangers game. Now I’m not going to lie, a lot was also made of Jardel’s glamours wife, who kind of upstaged him in the photoshoots.

At the time, I was twelve years old and I knew via World Soccer magazine that Mario had been scoring for fun in his homeland. He’d scored sixty-seven times in seventy-three appearances for Gremio. When the deal was being put together, we also saw grainy footage of the young striker scoring his goals during his successful Copa Libertadores campaign on our local news bulletin.

Too me, he was the world class signing that would taken Rangers to the next level in the Champions League. What prolific hitman wouldn’t score plenty of goals with creative stars like Brian Laudrup and Paul Gascoigne supplying the ammunition?

Yet as quickly as the move was announce, it was dead in the water.

The official line seemed to be that Jardel didn’t possess the Portuguese passport that he thought he had or thought he could easily obtain, thus meaning he wasn’t an EU national and didn’t have the Brazilian international caps needed to gain a work permit.

I also remember a few stories doing the rounds regarding why the deal broke down.

Speculation at the time suggested that Rangers hopes of signing Jardel were ruined because the SFA only handed out ten work permits at the time and Kilmarnock had requested to gain the last one for Ghanian defender Sammy Adei. This report from The Herald back in early 96 backs up that story, with a quote from Hamish Walker from the Scottish Football League who said:

“We have received this application for Adei from Kilmarnock and we will now advise the Home Office of the details. It will be up to them to decide if it will be granted or not but, by the terms of the Scottish League management committee decision, Rangers will not now be able to apply on behalf of their player until this situation regarding Adei is decided.”

Another line that went round the schoolyard was that during a trial for the Glasgow giants Jardel failed to impress, with then Gers assistant manager Archie Knox supposedly saying that the player couldn’t ‘trap a bag of cement’.

Others stated that the hitman had a toe infection during this time or had cut his foot on glass, so didn’t look too hot in training. I doubt these particular theories as the player was pictured in a Rangers training top and paraded in front of the home crowd before Rangers took on Raith Rovers in January 1996.

His wife supposedly didn’t like the Scottish climate (looking outside today, I wouldn’t blame her). I also doubt this story too.

A year on from the collapsed deal Mario was still hopeful of going to Rangers, even though he was a star in Europe by this stage with FC Porto. In a quote (sourced via Unibet) obtained before his Porto side took on Manchester United, Jardel stated he was still hoping to shine in Glasgow:

“I will be playing specially for Walter and for Rangers…Porto are a great young team, but they do not have world renowned players like Paul Gascoigne and Brian Laudrup. The dream of playing for Rangers has been kept alive in the past year and a half, and I haven’t missed one of their games on television….nothing would make me happier than to play and score goals for Rangers and Walter Smith.”

It’s believed that Walter Smith did indeed checkout Jardel during this encounter against Man United and was pondering about making another move for the Brazilian. The Herald reported at the time that the Brazilian striker, who scored thirty goals in thirty-one Portuguese league games during his debut season, had a £4m release clause in his deal.

In the end though, Smith and Rangers would instead sign Italian striker Marco Negri from Perugia in a deal worth about £500k less than the proposed move for Jardel.

Jardel proved his goalscoring pedigree in Portugal. He scored 130 Primeira Liga goals in 125 top flight games for FC Porto. He would then join Turkish champions Galatasaray for a €17m fee.

The free scoring attacker would bag himself thirty-four goals in his one and only season for The Yellow-Reds. One of those goals was in the Champions League against the side that he was constantly linked with… Rangers!

As you can see from the video below, it was a gem of strike as the Brazilian international scored with a first time volley from outside the penalty area.

After just a year in Turkey, Jardel was back in Portugal. This time he was banging in goals for Sporting Lisbon.

He was once again a goal machine in the Primeira Liga, scoring fifty-three times in forty-nine outings.

The twenty-nine year old forward was once again linked with a move to Ibrox, as reported by Sky Sports.

But by this time, Rangers weren’t the same spending force they once were and Jardel wasn’t the player he once was either. It was probably for the best that the move didn’t happen at this stage as it would have diluted the excitement and mystery that has always surrounded the player and his possible move to Ibrox.

In 2002, Jardel (who had just won his second golden boot award) was suffering from numerous injuries, had been left out of Brazil’s World Cup squad and had divorced from his wife.

He would later state (via Evening Standard) that drugs were also an issue during this time:

“It all started with bad friendships. Then came my divorce, depression and drugs.”

Mario would end up playing for a British club, but the once prolific marksmen drew a blank at Bolton Wanderers. His spell at the Reebok was remembered more for his massive weight gain rather than any goalscoring feats.

The player would then become a footballing nomad moving pretty constantly; spending time in Argentina, Bulgaria, Australia and Cyprus to name just a few of his destinations.

The forward eventually retired in 2011. He would then have a go in politics but lost his job in Brazil’s Chamber of Duties due to allegations regarding fraud and drugs.

Mario Jardel will be remembered for a few things. He’ll be remembered for those seven or so seasons where he was one of the most prolific strikers in Europe. He’ll be remembered by some for his terrific weight gain and for his falls from grace!

To me, I will always remember Mario Jardel for being the one that got away at Rangers. The striker that may have been the difference maker in Europe. His Champions League record is very healthy having scored twenty-five times in UEFA’s top club competition.

That being said he might have turned up at Ibrox and injured his knee like Sebastian Rozental or been a one season wonder like Marco Negri. It did seem like their was a bit of a jinx when it came to Rangers and strikers during that era.

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