Monday, 30 March 2020

Meet the man helping Real Madrid sign Brazil's most exciting talents – and forget their Neymar frustrations

In 2017, Real Madrid signed the most exciting young forward in Brazil. A year later they did it again. Eighteen months later, they did it again.

It remains to be seen whether one of Vinicius, Rodrygo and Reinier can reach the level of Neymar – a player Real were close to signing on three occasions, but who eventually joined Barcelona.

But whatever happens next, credit must go to the club’s man in Brazil, who has put them in a position to find out.

You probably haven't heard of Juni Calafat, but those who know him say "he makes the difference" in the Brazilian market. Read about him in my latest for The Athletic. 

Monday, 23 March 2020

Ronaldinho in prison: this is a tragedy, not a comedy

As he celebrates his 40th birthday behind bars, Ronaldinho has time to do some thinking.

His playing career was a study in shimmering, off-the-cuff virtuosity, but his existence since his retirement — he officially called it a day in 2018, over two years after playing his final match for Fluminense — has been defined by amateurism and cringing ignominy.

The photos of football’s last great libertine wearing handcuffs in a Paraguayan jail have gone around the world. While they may jar at first glance, this feels like the logical endpoint of a slow journey towards the abyss.

Read my piece on the mortal behind the Ronaldinho myth on The Athletic. 

Thursday, 19 March 2020

Glauber Berti played just six minutes' football for Man City. How exactly did he become such a cult hero?

Vincent Kompany, David Silva, Sergio Aguero: these are Manchester City’s modern icons. You could make a decent case for a Yaya Toure wing or a Pablo Zabaleta sun lounge.

Glauber Berti, the Brazilian defender who arrived in Manchester in summer 2008 and left a year later after playing just six minutes of first-team football, shouldn’t really be in the same conversation.

Yet in his own way, Glauber is the ultimate City cult hero. While the reasons for that might elude the casual observer, they are both legitimate and instructive, revealing plenty about the complex tides of fandom.

Read my interview with the one-game wonder on The Athletic. 

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Seven games, 24 goals conceded and a reputation ruined: the inside story of Roque Junior's doomed spell at Leeds

"I couldn’t see it in him," says Eddie Gray.

"I’m not saying he couldn’t play, because he was a World Cup winner; he must have had plenty of talent. But when I watched him train, I never saw it. The positioning, the defending… none of it was good enough."

He was not the only one to come to that conclusion during Roque Junior's torrid, error-strewn spell at Leeds United in 2003. The Brazilian arrived on a season-long loan in September but was sent packing four months later after a string of inept displays under Peter Reid.

For The Athletic, I tell the inside story of Roque Junior's ill-fated dalliance with English football, with input from former coaches, team-mates, and the man himself.

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Brasília’s underused, unloved World Cup stadium: a 7-1 triumph of vested interests over the common good

The first thing that strikes you is just how barren the surroundings are.

Brasilia is a weirdly disconnected place at the best of times but the Mane Garrincha is entirely dislocated from anything approaching civilisation, sitting in the middle of a dust bowl next to a main road. There is nothing but undulating gravel around it. To call it under-developed would be to give it too much credit.

There are metal railings everywhere, to no obvious end. The colossal car park is empty but for a cluster of turquoise city buses; the local government has re-purposed the space to create a temporary depot. An underground tunnel that once took journalists through to the media centre is now padlocked shut and filled with scrap metal. The concrete on the concourse is turning to rubble.

I went to visit the Estádio Mané Garrincha in Brasília – the second most expensive football stadium ever at the time of its completion – to see what it looks like now. Read about it on The Athletic. 

Saturday, 21 December 2019

How "beautiful madman" Jorge Jesus brought the good times back to Flamengo – and shook up Brazilian football

Flamengo have spent the majority of 2019 being rightly celebrated as their continent’s most entertaining side — a pulse-quickening concoction of slick collectivism and individual talent.

“An historic team,” former Brazil striker Tostao has called them, and a glance at the final Brazilian league table only rams home the point. Palmeiras have, objectively, one of the best squads assembled by a South American club in the modern era. Santos, led by Jorge Sampaoli, had a heartening campaign. Flamengo finished 16 points ahead of them both.

To say that Jorge Jesus has had a transformative effect on the club would be to undersell his impact by an order of magnitude. While the foundations were in place before his arrival in June, the Portuguese has crafted a daring, cohesive side, and imbued it with belief.

Read my piece on Brazil's best team on The Athletic. 

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Meet Matheus Pereira, the sparky young Brazilian lighting up the Championship with West Brom

West Bromwich Albion had been told that Matheus Pereira could be high-maintenance, but they signed him anyway.

But their calculated gamble has paid off handsomely, the 23-year-old Brazilian emerging as the key creative force in Albion’s rise to the top of the Championship as the season approaches the halfway point.

And at some stage in the next few months, possibly as early as January, the Sporting Lisbon loanee will become a permanent Albion player in a deal worth just £9 million. Given his thrilling performances in 18 games so far for the club, the cost of the pending transfer is puzzlingly low, to the extent that fans, pundits and even some inside the club are wondering whether there must be a catch.

Read my piece on West Brom's promising young Brazilian on The Athletic.