UTD Unscripted: The long road from Brazil
It wasn’t easy where I grew up in Brazil, but it was certainly not all bad. It was a mix of good and bad. I had happiness, a fantastic family and friends around me, but on the other hand I could see my mum and dad working so hard every single day of the week. It was tough for them. My dad couldn’t go to my football matches and watch me play when I was growing up because he was working for me and my brothers.
It was tough but in the end we had a lot to do: play with friends, play football. My dad is crazy about football, my older brother played as well and played in Italy, so the whole family loves it. Every kid in Brazil, when you’re born, everybody thinks: he’s going to play professional football. Everyone wants to be, but there are so many good talents that it’s hard for everyone to make it. It’s hard everywhere, but in Brazil I think it’s a little bit harder.
Of course, when people think of growing up, playing football in Brazil, there is this image of all the kids running around on the beach with a ball. That wasn’t the case for us. We grew up an hour outside of Rio city, away from the beaches.
Where we lived was basically up a mountain.
There were a lot of hills all around us, but what can you do? You want to play football all the time so you play wherever you can. For us, that meant playing a lot on the hill closest to our house. We had a ball, we had the kids in the local area, we had a fence at the bottom of the hill, so we would play there. It was always more fun to be on the team playing downhill, for sure!
You need talent to play football, but you have so many kids with talent in Brazil. I think the main difference for us was the desire we had. We really wanted to make it. We were really focused. That’s why it worked out for us. The other kids maybe wanted to go and party or maybe do other things, but we just thought about football. Being professional footballers was all that we wanted to do.
Of course, that meant we wanted to play for Brazil. When you decide that you want to go down the path of being a professional footballer, everything you do is pointing towards playing for the national team. Everyone talks about it all the time. This is your main dream. My brother and I always spoke about playing for Brazil.
We didn’t talk about playing for Manchester United because it didn’t seem possible, but we knew all about them, of course. In Brazil, United are massive. I knew the players and the history and over time I also got to know that John Calvert-Toulmin was United’s scout out in Brazil at that time.
“There were a lot of hills around us, but what can you do? You want to play, so you play. It was more fun to be playing downhill, for sure!”
To be honest, my brother and I were very popular at Fluminense, our first professional club, because we could play and because we were twins, so I think everyone knew about us in the Brazilian game. John heard about us, came to see us play and then spoke to us afterwards.
“I looked at you guys for 10 minutes and saw that you definitely have the talent to play for Man United.”
That’s what he said.
“It’s about the energy,” he said. “The way you play. It’s fast, enthusiastic, I think you fit perfectly for Man United.”
Fluminense weren’t happy when we agreed to join United. It was one of the first cases there has been in Brazil of players leaving to go abroad so, so early in their careers. Fluminense is a big club in Brazil and they felt like they could stop us. There were rules where players couldn’t leave the country to play abroad before turning 18, but it’s hard. Now the boys in Brazil leave at 14, 15. After us, everything is easier.
But for us it was hard. Things changed all the time. A director arrived at Fluminense after the deal had been done but he wasn’t happy when he found out that we were leaving. He said we were too young and asked why the club hadn’t received much more money for us, so he was very upset.
We were told that we couldn’t play or train at Fluminense anymore, and that we would have to wait until we were 18 to be able to play for United. We had only just turned 17, so that meant no games or training for a year. That was the first time we’d had no football matches to play. For a football player, you need that competition. Competing every week makes you better all the time, so that year was very, very tough for us.
Did we ever think about changing our minds and staying so that we could play again?
In the end, we were supposed to arrive in Manchester in July 2008, but because of our situation, we asked United to make the move happen sooner because we had gone too long without playing. Thankfully the club helped us and we came over in January instead. We still couldn’t play until we were 18, but we spent six months training and, after so long without playing, we weren’t quite at the top of our game when we first arrived, so that was really important for us.
In Rio in January, it’s normally around 39 or 40 degrees because it’s the summer. In Manchester in January… it’s pretty cold, no?
I won’t lie, it was a very tough period. But everything happens for a reason. Definitely. Because Fluminense wouldn’t let us play, we ended up going to Manchester six months early, and without that time we couldn’t have learned as much about the club and the culture as we did. Thankfully everyone was so organised at United and we got to know everybody around the club before we started. That was massive for us –almost as big as when we made our first appearance in a friendly at Peterborough.
That was an amazing night.
Before the game I was sat next to my brother on the bus and we were talking about what was going to happen, both saying: “It’s so long since we’ve played a proper game.” Even though it was a friendly, it was still so important for us. We knew it was going to be hard. We just decided that we would give 100 per cent and just do what came naturally and be ourselves. Play with your heart and everything would be fine. From playing for Fluminense to playing for United — even in a friendly — was amazing for us. This game changed everything for us.
I did ok. My brother was very good. We both just felt fantastic to play football again after so long. To play a friendly match for United at 18 years old? Amazing.
“We knew it was going to be hard. We just decided that we would give 100 per cent and do what came naturally, be ourselves. Play with your heart.”
It was the same in training every day, to be honest. I tell everyone, when you play with players like this with the quality and confidence they had, it makes you play better. Your level goes high, high, high up. The best? Cristiano was great, as everyone knows, but for me it had to be Paul Scholes. I loved him. He was incredible. Because he’s so quiet in the world of football, so shy with social media even now, people don’t realise just how incredible this guy was. The whole squad was unbelievable.
Our first season, we won the Premier League, the Club World Cup, the League Cup, reached the Champions League final and the FA Cup semi-finals. What a team we had joined. My career is getting quite long now and I can look back and say that the atmosphere, the confidence in that group of players is something I haven’t seen or been a part of since. Everyone thought they were the best player in the world; the confidence was that huge.
I loved my time at United. So much happened. Of course you remember the games and the victories, but there were other things that I got to share with my brother as well.
Like the time he fouled somebody at Barnsley and I got a booking for it!
I was talking to the referee.
“I did nothing!”
“No, no, no. You made the foul.”
He’s giving me this look and he never changed his mind, he still gave me a yellow card.
My brother didn’t say anything or try to help. He just didn’t want to get the booking himself! He said he didn’t think about it at the time, but I’m not so sure. It’s fine, though. It was funny too. Sir Alex was laughing about it afterwards and all the boys had a good laugh about it too. It’s a nice story to tell my daughters about.
“I can look back and say that the atmosphere, the confidence in that group of players is something I haven’t seen or been a part of since.”
Another one people might remember is the night we won at Blackpool and my brother had concussion after hitting his head. My brother and I have this relationship where, of course, we are twins, but we are also best friends. We stick together. We slept in the same bed until we were 10 years old! This is our relationship. For me to see him lying unconscious on the pitch, I didn’t think about football in that moment. I just thought about his health. It was hard to see. I couldn’t think about anything, only: is he okay? Is he okay?
I just wanted to stay with him in that moment.
So he was carried off the pitch and taken to hospital. I think Sir Alex asked me to go and warm up, but I didn’t listen and just went into the tunnel and went to the hospital with my brother. That was all I could think about.
At the end of that season we got to lift the Premier League trophy together, which is one of the best moments of my life. A few days later, I had another one of those moments when the manager picked me to start the Champions League final against Barcelona.
It’s something all the young boys in Brazil want to do. It’s not the same, but it’s close to playing for the national team. It was disappointing to lose, but Barcelona were so good. I always speak about how good they were; tiki-taka was new and all coaches struggled to deal with this type of football back then. They had the ball all the time, teams didn’t know what to do and Barcelona were so good in possession. I had Pedro most of the time, but he was regularly changing with Messi, with Villa… Messi was the most incredible player I have played against. That’s not just because he’s Messi, it’s because you get to see what he was doing up close. Every time you think the ball is there for you, one tiny touch from him makes you look like an idiot. In my opinion it was the best Barcelona team of all time, and that day they put on a perfect spectacle of football. They were perfection. I was so frustrated to lose a match of that size, even though it was against one of the best teams ever. I’m very competitive, so I was very upset.
Eventually me and my brother both moved on from United and went to France. He’s now in Turkey and I guess both of us have quite long careers to look back over.
I think back to growing up in the hills in Petropolis and I wonder if I ever thought I would have the career I’ve had; that I would play for Brazil, play for Manchester United, win the Premier League with my twin brother.
Never, never, never.
“Messi was the most incredible player I have played against. Every time you think the ball is there for you, one tiny touch makes you look like an idiot.”
I could never even have dreamed that those things would happen. If it happened to me now then I think I could have done much better than I did, but never could I have imagined what I would do. Just to play with my brother for one of the biggest clubs in the world… maybe you dream, but you never think you can achieve.
You know the best part, though, is what it has meant for my family.
To play for my country, to play for United, to see my dad’s face every time I did this… there aren’t the words to describe this.
My older brother knew how difficult it was to play professional football, so when we look back on our career together at United, he just says one thing: “Yeah, boys. You did it.”
Man, of everything we did, there is one thing that is the best part for me, the thing I’m most proud of in my entire career. When we got our first contract with United, we relieved my mum and dad of the need to work and made sure they could retire that day. They had been working for 40 years and when we signed that contract, we made sure that they never had to work again. All they had ever done was work from 7am until 9pm, nearly every day, so to give them the chance to rest and enjoy life while they still had the time… for me that was the most important thing of all.