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Why Hulk's potential road to Chelsea has been far from smooth

Only Brazilian football can answer why Hulk's journey to becoming the game's most sought after player has been such a slog.

You can't blame his agents, who pushed and pushed for clubs to take notice of him as a junior. Or Japanese football, which rescued him from a career of obscurity.

Rejected by Corinthians, shunned by Sao Paulo, Hulk couldn't catch a break until Vitoria gave him a chance of first team football at 18 years of age. Even then, the Bahia club weren't overly excited by his prospects and virtually snapped the hand off Kawasaki Frontale's president when he came knocking with a £700,000 offer.

The man who discovered Hulk as a 13 year-old, José do Egipto, recalled: "I took him to Sao Paulo and he was impressing there. I told them they could sign him for €18,000, but they refused. They wanted him to stay another six months for free, so I instead took him to Vitoria.

"From there he went to Japan, with his current agent Teodoro Fonseca."

At Kawasaki Frontale, Hulk was viewed as a 'project player' and spent time away on-loan at Consadole Sapporo and Tokyo Verdy to learn his craft in J2. Back-to-back campaigns in Japan's second tier produced over 50 goals for the Brazilian, but he was still unproven in the country's top-flight and it took Fonseca's relationship with famed Uruguayan dealmaker Juan Figer to get him his chance at Porto.

In 2008, Figer agreed to cover a large percentage of Hulk's transfer fee alongside Uruguayan club Rentistas, with Porto paying €5.5 million for the remaining 50 per cent of the striker's registration. With a deal done, Hulk didn't let his backers down.

From his first days in Portugal, he plundered goals for Porto, breaking numerous records along the way.

A year into his Porto stay, Hulk had done enough to convince powerbrokers to upgrade his contract and include the now famous €100 million buyout clause. The goals continued to flow and in 2011 Porto decided to shell out €13.5 million to buy 40 per cent of his registration from Rentistas.

Now the Porto star is on the brink of joining reigning European champions Chelsea with the brief to match the heights of club legend Didier Drogba.

But his tough road to the top will keep Hulk grounded. If he comes to England, the Brazilian will demand the shirt No12, which is now part of his commercial brand. H12 is on his fleet of cars, his clothing label and the soccer schools he's opened at home in Brazil.

Hulk chose the number 12 because of the close relationship he's formed with fans from Brazil to Japan and now in Portugal. It's his tribute to the support they've shown while those with the power to make or break his career never fully believed in his ability.

As Chelsea and Porto haggled over Hulk's fee, Fonseca warned last week the striker would be happy to remain in Portugal next season. At home, he is a devoted family man, raising his two sons Ian and Tiago with wife Iran, who he met in Japan. In the luxury complex where he lives, Hulk's apartment is always busy. His nephew has spent the past year with him, while his parents and Fonseca's children are also regular visitors.

Hulk's personality has made him a star in Japan and while Chelsea contemplate the loss of Drogba and the profile he helped build across Africa, a deal for the Brazilian will open the door to increasing the club's recognition in the Far East.

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Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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