UTD Unscripted: Dreams do come true... trust me
Dreams do come true.
For any Brazilian kid growing up when I was growing up, Ronaldinho was your idol. Not just kids, actually. He was an idol for all Brazilians. Always will be. For me, he’s the best player in the history of the game.
I know there are players who have had better careers. Look at Zinedine Zidane, for example. His career was better, but in terms of purely footballing talent, Ronaldinho was better. He was more skilful. He was a top player who loved to party, and that made him an idol to all Brazilians.
I don’t think just Brazilians think this, I think a lot of people in football do, and I think as a player he had one of the biggest impacts on the sport. I can’t overstate how big a hero he was – and still is – for so many people.
So, imagine how big a deal it was for me, as a young lad, when his brother Assis became my advisor. That meant that I was always at Assis’s office, so I bumped into Ronaldinho many times. Just me and everybody’s hero, sat in the same office.
Dreams, man. Damn.
They all start somewhere – mine began in Belo Horizonte.
I had a great childhood. I love the neighbourhood I’m from. When I was young I spent the majority of my time there. I was close to the stadium, the Mineirão, and when I was a kid I really wanted to play there when I grew up. I made the most of my childhood, which meant I played a lot of street football and messed around a lot with my mates. I’d go to my friends’ houses, shout up at their windows, summon them down and we’d all just go down to the street and play football. It was great.
Whenever I go home with my family, I go back to my neighbourhood and we spend time in some of the cool squares there, or go to the lake close by and have a nice walk. It’s great. So I only have good memories from my childhood, in a humble family in a big city.
So, you all know Brazilians really love football, right? We’re crazy for it.
My dad put me into a football school when I was four.
From that point I just kept improving. I’d play organised football, both eleven a side and futsal.
(You know what futsal is, right? It’s football played on a court.)
During one futsal game, there was a fitness coach at the school who also worked for Atlético Mineiro. He asked me if I wanted to go to Atlético for a trial. Back then I was a huge Atlético fan, so obviously I went.
At 10 years old I was having a trial for my boyhood club, one of Brazil’s biggest clubs. Despite that, I was chilled. I knew the potential I had, I knew I had what it took to play for the club, so I gave my all there and managed to pass my trial. They took me on.
After that, things started moving.
I started moving.
I spent a few years at Atlético before I moved to Porto Alegre when I was 15. I’d never left my hometown and it was a tough experience, while also being a good one. It was difficult at first, so I asked my mum to come with me, which she agreed to. She changed her job so that she was able to be with me in Porto Alegre, and that really helped a lot. She gave me a grounding which I really needed at that time in my life. Mum really helped me a lot. The next year, I moved to Internacional and everything started to go well, I’d come to a big club and I started playing as a professional and I managed to make a good impression.
Then, destiny chose something special for me.
I was still playing for Internacional’s reserve team most of the time. I hadn’t properly got myself into the first team, but I was named in the squad for our trip to face Atlético. My former club. The club I supported.
Guess who was playing for Atlético…
I rented a minibus to take all my family to the game, and they all went crazy when I came onto the pitch as a sub. We were losing 2-0 when I came on.
Then, I scored.
Against my former club, the club I supported, at the stadium in the neighbourhood where I grew up, and playing against my idol.
The cross comes in and I just head it in the back of the net.
I get the ball, run back to the centre circle, and put the ball at Ronaldinho’s feet.
Ah, man… it was just amazing. The irony of my destiny. Amazing. We ended up losing the game, but for me it was just so special to have happened like it did.
I was still working with his brother at the time. Assis is someone who is important to me; a guy I have a lot of time for. He was the one who took me to Internacional in the first place. He helped me out with a lot of things during the course of my career. He was really important for me. Not just Ronaldinho’s brother; he’s my brother too.
That was another tough decision I made. Leaving Atlético for Internacional was hard, but it was within my country, it wasn’t stressful. Yet leaving Internacional for Shakhtar Donetsk… wow. Man, that was a really big shock to the senses.
There were a lot of Brazilians at the club already. I knew some of them and before I signed, I spoke to them about what it was like to play in Ukraine and for Shakhtar. They had very good things to say, so that’s why I took the decision to make such a big move.
Of course, whenever you move, there’s always a bedding-in period at the start of your time at a club. The first year was really tough. I didn’t play a lot during my first year at Shakhtar. Leaving Brazil for Europe and the change in how football is played meant I had to adapt, and to be far from family and home for the first time – and really far from home at that – was really tough. It’s a horrible feeling to be that far from home and your family, but it’s part and parcel of the profession. You have to get on with it, there’s no other way. Of course I got down but I was also happy because I was doing what I loved most, and my family were happy for me as well. Plus I fitted in well. Having Brazilians there helped a lot and this eased my settling in.
And, in my first season at Shakhtar, another dream came true.
It was my first season of playing in the Champions League, and I got to come here to play against Manchester United. For all us Brazilians in the squad, we all wanted to play here at Old Trafford. We knew all about United, knew the history behind the club and its stadium, and we all wanted to play in the game. Everyone wanted to play against such a legendary club.
Back home, when I was growing up, when we played football on games consoles, I always used to play as United on Winning Eleven – that’s what the game is called in Brazil – so I was used to being in control of Ferdinand, van der Sar, Berbatov, Giggs, Rooney, Scholes… top, top players.
So for me, going out on that Old Trafford pitch to play against Giggs, Rooney, Ferdinand... man. I didn’t have the pleasure to play with them but at least I played against them, which made me really happy.
I was up defending directly against Giggs in midfield. I blocked one of his free kicks when I was in the wall. Even that was a great experience – it was five years ago and I still remember it!
Now, of course, I get to spend a lot of time at Old Trafford. It has been easier than when I first moved to Ukraine, because the culture change isn’t as different as it was when I first left Brazil. I really enjoyed living in Kiev. I’m used to living in big cities, of course, and I was told that Manchester was quite a small, quiet city in comparison – but it’s not at all. It’s totally different to what I was expecting.
I’m an inquisitive guy. I like to check things out, go to parks, restaurants, travel around by car and check out places I haven’t been to before, and I’ve already discovered many things in Manchester and around the UK that I really like. When I had time I went by car to Wales as it’s nearby, and I also drove to London. I think Manchester is a great city, the UK is a great place and I’m settling in well here and really enjoying myself.
All fathers want to give their children the best life possible, and that’s what I’m going to try to do. You also have to educate them a lot and pass on wisdom, so that’s what I’ll be doing. As he matures, in the future I want him to become a great person and a humble person too. In passing these lessons on to our children, we parents improve as people.
Of course, being a father is difficult and you learn along the way, but it’s satisfying, and I’m really happy.
(I don’t get much time to play FIFA now – though when I do, I’m still United!)
It helps that so many of the lads in the dressing room have had kids recently. We’re always talking about them among ourselves, discussing what it’s like at home with our families, how all our kids are getting on, and it’s nice for us all to be doing it at the same time.
Benjamin hasn’t been to a game yet, he has to watch from home instead! When it’s a bit warmer he’ll get to see his dad play and I can’t wait for that. For me, family is everything and it is completely linked to football. Through football I’ve been able to help out my family, so it has all come together and it all fits together. I’m always talking to my family back in Brazil. They’re always happy and cheering me on, they’re so proud of me, so proud that I’ve been lucky enough to play for the best club in the world.
So proud that my dreams keep coming true.