You’ve seen them on the pitch playing for Ottawa. We’ve cheered them on together in the stands. We want you to know what they’re about. Where they’re from, where they’ve been. What shapes them as a player. As a person. Everyone has a story and we want to tell theirs. I’ve had the opportunity to sit down with the players throughout the season and ask them about how they got here and it’s been great sharing their stories with you. This will be the last instalment of the series until the next season. I hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know the players! –Kendra Lee
Describe the city where you grew up.
I was born and raised in Campinas, Sao Paulo. It’s one of the big cities of the interior of Sao Paulo the state in Brazil. It has two professional soccer teams who were in first division, and now one of them in the second division and one is in the third division. It’s a big city with about 2 million people and very soccer mental with many soccer schools and kids play soccer in the streets.
I started playing soccer at the age of seven in a club academy that today is in the third division, at the time it was in the first division. And from there, I stayed there for seven years from the age of 7 to 13, before I entered another youth academy.
When you moved to that academy, did you have to move cities?
No, it was in the city right beside mine. So it was an elite academy where they basically took the best players from Guarani and Ponte Preta, which are the two professional clubs, because they were having problems at the time, so we transferred to this club. It was a very good project. It was in Paulinia. It’s a city that has a lot of oil so the government has a lot of money there so they could invest in a good soccer academy. So there, I stayed 5 more years before I actually had to leave my house and I went to Holland.
How did you end up in Holland?
I was playing in the Brazilian Sao Paulo State Under 17 Championship, which is one of the best in Brazil, and Sao Paulo is a good state. Kids all around the world come to Sao Paulo to play in that zone because it’s where the quality is better for the youth. So there is 4 big clubs, Sao Paulo, Corinthians, Palmeiras and Santos, which are the most famous ones and you play against them all the time so it gives the smaller clubs a good opportunity to show their players. And in one of those games an agent came and saw me play and took me for a trial in PSV in Holland. So I went as a trialist and stayed there for one month and then they called me back!
How did you find the change from Brazil to the Netherlands?
It was very difficult in the beginning especially because the cultural difference was very big. So when I got there the weather was still not that cold but as time passed the rain and the cold…and they put me to live with a Dutch family. They were very nice but very different from what I was used to so in the beginning, I didn’t want to come back. But as time passes you start getting used to it. But since I was younger it was very difficult. And today I’m much better prepared to be living away from home and that’s why I think I’m doing well now.
Were there other younger players on that team?
Yeah, cuz when I went there I went to under 19. I had just turned 17 so there were many young talents in their academy. I was the only Brazilian. Well, there were two other Brazilians but they were in the first team already, they were older. So they helped me a lot. Without them it would have been impossible to stay there. With their help I was able to stay there for at least 7 months. Then my agent and I spoke, and it wasn’t working out how we expected so we resolved to go to Portugal.
Did you learn the language when you were in Holland?
Yeah, I took Dutch classes every day when I was there so I still remember how to speak something. But it was also easier for me because I speak German, because my grandfather and grandmother are German. So when I was small always my mom spoke to me. In the house they wanted me and my sister to learn so we always spoke German when they were there, my grandparents, and my mother because she still speaks. So I was able to understand some things. So it was easier for me than it would have been if I didn’t know how to speak German.
What differences in soccer culture did you see in Europe vs Brazil?
Yeah, in Brazil, because of the passion that Brazilians have, everyone plays soccer. Even if you don’t know how to play soccer, even if you’re bad, you play soccer. And you play with your friends so it’s something a little more like…in Europe people see it more as a disciplined sport and I think that reflects in the youth program and everything. You know sometimes the players just go, even in the youth, they go and they play a little more free. And there [in Europe], it’s the opposite. It’s very serious. Since you’re 6 / 7 years old you would see the small kids training in the academy and they were already passing them tactical and technical programs that were very similar to the older players, to the first team. And in Brazil, they believe more in the talent. Once you get older, then ok, they start putting in the tactical and technical abilities but in the beginning until you’re 14 it’s free. So the players are able to evolve different characteristics that maybe if they were in the system already, they wouldn’t. As I said you see kids play soccer everywhere, in the street the whole day. So in Europe it’s a little different because it’s more difficult. Because kids go to school and do other things and then they play soccer. So it’s not the same.
So after you were at PSV you went to Nacional in Portugal. How did you find that adjustment?
It was like this: when I was in PSV, I couldn’t find the professional contract because I wasn’t 18 yet and at the time I still didn’t have the European passport. So in Portugal, Brazilians don’t count as foreigners and it’s easier for us. So my agent had a friend that was a coach of Nacional and they invited me to come. So I went to the under 19 at Nacional and signed a contract for one year with the option of 5 more. So this was in the end of the 2009-2010 season so I stayed there for 2 months training with them to get adapted into the club and everything. Then in the next season I became part of the team. So I played there for one year in the under 19 team and then they picked up the option and renewed my contract for 5 more years and was then promoted to the first team. So it was a very good experience. They have a good youth program there. It’s the first club of Christiano Ronaldo’s career because he is from that island. And they have a nice set-up for the players. I lived in a hotel from the club that’s inside the stadium so it’s very good compared to some others. After the big club in Portugal, I would say it is the best youth. And that prepared me really well for when I went to the first team. I had a good season in the youth so when I signed my professional contract, I left the hotel and had my own apartment and that’s how I spent the rest of my career there.
How did you find the adjustment from playing on the youth team to playing on the first team?
Everything happened very fast. I was 18 years old and the coach called me up and said, “You’re playing”. My first game in the professional team was a Europa League game qualifier against a team from Iceland. The year before, I was training with them already so I knew all the players well and there were many Brazilians, which would help me a lot. So everything was fast and there wasn’t even time to think! Once you’re thinking, you’re already there, so it was good. They helped me a lot. The club gave me all the support that I needed also. Once you are given the bigger step, I believe things come naturally and that was what happened.
What was the biggest thing that you learned from that experience?
Well, I think in soccer you have to become mature earlier because I was at the time, 18 and I was living alone and you’re in that environment that you have to be every day 100%. So that makes you more aware of everything and it prepares you for life because you have to be ready for things and you have to deal with the pressure. Even though you’re young, you’re expected to preform well. So you have to learn how to deal with the pressure and deal with people trying to take your spot, with things that happen outside of the field that may not be always correct but you have to deal with it. So I think that helped me to become as a person more mature. And now I’m 22 but I feel prepared, you know. And I think soccer in the general manner prepares people for life very well because of the competitive spirit. It’s exactly the thing that you’re gonna find later in life.
From Portugal you went back to Brazil, how did you end up back there?
So in 2013 when I decided that I wanted to go back to Brazil I had some contacts that in the end did not work out very well. So the thing was that I had to start all over again. So I was playing in the first division in Portugal and suddenly I was again in a small club knowing that it would be difficult. I was 20 years old so I still didn’t have a strong name enough to go to a big club again so I had to work all over again. Then in the end of the year when I spoke to Marc [Dos Santos] for the opportunity to come here I was very excited with the project. So I was already thinking to come here. So I didn’t want to go back to Europe anymore.
What influenced your decision to come to Canada and play for the Fury?
Well I think the main thing was the talk that I had with Marc, still in Brazil because he was working there at the time, and he showed me the project of the club, the ideas that they have. And I think it was a perfect fit because in the moment of my career I needed a place that would help me and where I could help myself and play. And here they gave me everything that I needed. So it was a place that would be perfect for me to come back and open the market in North America, which is growing a lot and was also one of the big factors that I wanted to come here because I believe that in the close future soccer here will grow a lot.
How do you feel about the state of soccer in Canada compared to the other places you’ve played like Europe and Brazil?
Well, I would say that Canada is beginning now to understand what professional soccer is. I think we have now 5 clubs that have a strong professional club and the kids here love soccer so I believe that that’s the most important because maybe in 10 years, it will take long but things will start happening here in Ottawa. I know that the Fury are beginning the academy, starting to implement their ideas, so with time the most important thing is the passion and here the kids have it. But now you have to give time and later on you can have a strong soccer team.
So looking back over the season how has your experience been, and what have you learned and how would you describe your experience in Ottawa?
Well it’s not easy to come to a place where it’s the first year of the club. And all the players that came here knew about it. So in the beginning we had some little complications with the stadium that wasn’t ready, but I think the mentality was good to overcome everything. And now at the end of the season we started to set the tone of how the season will be next year and for the future years of the team. So I think the main thing that we have to learn was to be patient, to believe in the project and later on get the benefits that are already starting to come for everyone. And it’s a big responsibility to begin something because we’re the mirror for soccer in the city. We have to have the correct attitude so that we bring people to the stadium, so we are seen as professional athletes. It’s not easy but we have to start from zero and later on grow together with the club.
To end, I would just like to thank the fans and everyone that helped us throughout the year and say that we’re doing everything that we can. It wasn’t, result wise, a good year for us. We know that. We know that we have to improve, but I think things are going in the right track and we will be much stronger next year. The fans and everyone is very important to keep together and believe that in the close future that things will be very good here.