There are approximately ½ million Ukrainians living in one of footballs real heartlands of Brazil. The majority of these live in a small region – around the size of the US state of Rhode Island – known as Brazilian Ukraine, in the southern state of Parana. These Ukrainians many of which are now 4th or 5th generation with little memory of their homeland still preserve the language and culture, and it is into this group that Brazilian international Rafael Sobis falls into. Anyway enough geography, back to football….
Rafael Augusto Sobis do Nascimento was born on the 17th June 1985, in Erechim to Ukrainian parents. He began his journey as a professional footballer in the youth academy of Internacional known simply as Rafael. The chairman of his club however encouraged Rafael to use the surname of his Ukrainian origins – Sobis to make the promising youngster more attractive to European sides. His Ukrainian heritage would make him eligible to dual citizenship and therefore bypassing strict work permit laws in Europe.
The young striker would quickly become a household name for Internacional fans making his debut for the first team in 2004. In the 2005 season, his first full season as a professional, the 19 year old striker would score 19 goals in 35 games. The 2006 season would see Sobis develop into one of Internacionals best players as they finished second in the Brazilian league. The Brazilian football league also named him in the end of season all star team. Although the start of the following year would be beset by injuries the striker returned to the first team in time to help the side lift the Copa Libertadores, scoring twice in the first leg of the final against fellow Brazilian side Sao Paulo.
His form for Internacional brought him to the attention of European scouts, notably from AC Milan, however it would be Spanish side Real Betis who stumped up around £7.5 million to sign the Brazilian Ukrainian in August 2006. He made his debut for the Spanish side in a 3-0 victory against Athletic Bilbao on September 10th 2006, scoring his first goal in the Seville derby a week later. Injuries would again blight his season affecting his form for the remainder of the season, although a dramatic late equaliser at the Nou Camp against Barcelona endeared him to the Betis fans. Sobis would start the 2007-08 season strongly scoring three times in his first six games, but his form would fade as the season progressed, leading to speculation about his future during the summer. Newcastle United were rumoured to have made a bid of around £9million for his services but the transfer never materialised. After 57 games and only 8 goals, it was announced in September 2008 that Sobis had signed for UAE side Al-Jazira.
After one season in UAE, Sobis was able to earn a loan move back to his first club Internacional as they again prepared to compete in the 2010-11 edition of the Copa Libertadores. Although he would get injured during his celebration following his opening goal in the final, Internacional would again win the trophy earning, Sobis a second winners medal in the competition. Although a largely successful spell injury problems and the large fee demanded by Al-Jazira meant his loan spell couldn’t be made permanent. Sobis would not return to Al-Jazira however as a second loan deal was agreed, meaning the player remained in Brazil this time with Fluminense. The loan proved successful and Fluminese made the deal permanent in July 2012. Sobis helped as Fluminese won the 2012 Campeonato Brasileiro Serie A. He remaind with Flumises until the end of 2014 when his contract was mutually terminated. He then signed for Mexican side Tigres as he continued his career.
Sobis has also made an impact on the international stage, though not in the blue and yellow of his ancestral country of Ukraine, but in the yellow of Brazil. Sobis made his debut against Argentina in September 2006, and to date has collected 8 caps scoring once. Sobis was also selected to represent Brazil at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, where he would score twice as Brazil earned a bronze medal.
Rafael Sobis, the Brazilian Ukrainian striker, we welcome you in to the Viktor Leonenko Hall of Fame.
Rafael Sobis’ Varenyky Rating;