Welcome back. A very brief one today because I’m as short on time as Jose Mourinho is in class, Chelsea are in history and Tottenham are in titles.
Gabriel, our feisty, no-nonsense, gem of a centre-back find from Brazil, has been speaking to Arsenal Player about his tough upbringing in south America, and a desire to improve his mother’s standard of living, as being the chief motivator behind his rise to stardom. He said:
She lived in a shack in a favela. I talk about it because I am not ashamed of saying it, and today I am proud of being able to help her, to give her a better life, and me as well because I always dreamed about it. Thanks to God, things are coming true. I have seen many things on the outdoor neighbourhood pitches. I have seen death, I have witnessed robberies, I’ve been robbed in Sao Paulo. I’ve seen many things. I practically grew up with this. But thanks to God I took a path in my life because, for all that I have seen, for the bad things I have witnessed, my life could have been very different. But I was strong. I thought about my mother’s story and told myself that my mother couldn’t go through this anymore. She can’t, she must have a better life. So thanks to God I took a different path and am here today. I am fulfilling a dream I had since I was little, and thanks to God things are moving in the right direction.
The former Villarreal defender also spoke of his hope he will be seen as a role model in his home country, where the pitfalls in society are plentiful, but a love of the beautiful game and the dream of becoming a professional offer youngsters a route to a better future:
Everybody knows about the corruption happening, and every day is a surprise. So I think Brazilians don’t like seeing that, but the kids have so many opportunities to play. Every neighbourhood has a football academy for the kids to follow this path, which is something I also want for the neighbourhood where I was born. I want to serve as a mirror to them, for them to see that I have gone through difficult times and managed to do it, and see that they can do it too. It’s not just me. If you work hard and respect the people above us, you can do it.
It’s often been said elsewhere that one of the reasons south America continues to churn out more quality footballers than any other area of the planet is because ‘street football’ is still thriving, unlike in Europe and particularly here in England.
I spoke to Tim Vickery, the Brazil-based football journalist for the BBC, about this subject almost ten years ago now and asked him why, in his opinion, other nations lagged behind Brazil in skill etc. He cited the demise of street football as being a major reason. The other factor of course is the one mentioned by Gabriel above – a burning desire to escape poverty which drives kids to give it all their all on a football pitch and in their dedication to the game.
That point was made about Alexis Sanchez recently and although this is a very interesting topic, it’s also one that deserves far greater time and research so I’ll leave it for another time, but I do still have that interview with Tim somewhere so will dig it up and perhaps post bits of it on here at some point.
I know there were internationals taking place tonight involving Arsenal players, as there were last, but I’m afraid I’ll have to leave discussing them until tomorrow or Sunday.
Whatever you’re doing, have a good one.