Exclusive: The Boot Room meets 'The Boy in Brazil', Seth Burkett
Speaking to the site during our exclusive interview, here is what Seth had to say:
What interested you most about the Brazilian game before you received the opportunity to play out there?
I’d always been obsessed with Brazilian football. I guess most people are when they’re growing up. You’ve got such big personalities playing the game it’s supposed to be played – people like Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho – they play with a smile on their face, they try outrageous things and they get you off your seat. They were role models growing up, especially Roberto Carlos seeing as he was a left back. England may be the literal home of football, but Brazil is certainly the spiritual home as far as I’m concerned. It was something I had to do.
How big an upheaval was it moving to Brazil, and what did you find to be the biggest culture shocks?
Everything was different. So totally different. The accommodation was probably the biggest shock. To go from a comfortable middle class existence to sharing a three-bedroomed converted garage with barred windows and flooded toilets with 29 teammates was certainly a shock. It was filthy but it was home. The culture was easy to adapt to, though. Everyone is so happy and friendly – it’s infectious. That said, the Brazilian concept of time that is so prevalent within the culture was pretty infuriating…
English and Brazilian football are very obviously different, but was there anything which surprised you about the differences/similarities between the two?
I didn’t expect Brazilian football to be as physical as it was. I mean, it wasn’t exactly the same as Goole away on a Tuesday night in December but it was tough. I was expecting everyone to be really skilful but not necessarily physical. Then I came up against Brazilian centre backs. They’re the kind of guys who’d trip up their own mother to earn an extra inch in the penalty area.
The training schedules were also surprisingly different and similar. I started off playing in the youth team where everything was done with a ball. Even when we were sent on runs we’d have to do them whilst dribbling a ball. When I moved up to the professional side the ball rarely featured – it was really similar to the type of training I’d experienced in non-league football in England.
Maybe they thought that by that age the players didn’t need any technical work. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case because everyone was just so comfortable on the ball. Then there were the nutmegs. Even our water boy could have probably nutmegged a mermaid. It was something that I just couldn’t come to terms with. Even so, Brazilians actually believe that English players are pretty good technically. They think it’s our coaching that holds us back.
How familiar were your teammates in Brazil with the Premier League?
Most of them watched it, though I wouldn’t say religiously. The guys who came from favelas, they weren’t really aware of it. The people who did watch it enjoyed it but felt it was inferior to the Brazilian league, though they’d say that no matter how strong it was.
To them Brazilian is best. They were certain that Ronaldo was the best player in the world, even whilst playing for Corinthians – far better than Cristiano and Messi. Rooney seemed to be the best known player. The commentators called him ‘Shrek’, not ‘Rooney’.
My teammates reckoned he was ‘fraco’ (weak). Then there was Beckham. I remember him doing the World Cup draw whilst I was out in Brazil. When he came on the TV my teammates shouted loads of abuse but I think it was just to take the mick out of me, because the next day three of them turned up sporting Beckham’s haircut. Even out in the sticks in Brazil Beckham’s influence was high.
How much contact do you have with your former teammates?
I still speak to a few of them regularly. Some I have lost contact with which is a shame, but it was always going to be tough to speak with the people who didn’t have internet access. Only one of my teammates spoke English so he’s probably the one I speak with most. The coaches message me quite regularly.
They ask me to sign for their teams yet when it comes to producing a contract they go quiet. It’s a similar story with the chairman of the club. He presided over Sorriso as they became the most corrupt club in the state, ruined them, lost all of his money, then got back into football. He asks me to sign for his team and also uses me as a motivational speaker. He rings me maybe every month and puts me on loudspeaker to his new team. My motivational speeches only ever amount to him abusing me and me responding in my limited Portuguese.
Do you plan to return to Brazil at some stage in the future?
I’d love to. Logistically it’s hard because all of the Brazilians I’ve come into contact with seem to be so lax toward bureaucracy. I talk about the hardships and the struggles with the accommodation – and that’s not even mentioning the incredible corruption in Sorriso – but even so, it was the time of my life. Brazil is an amazing country with amazing people. It’d be a dream to return to play football out there.
Would you recommend anyone reading to follow your lead and attempt a career with foreign teams?
Without doubt. You learn so much in a different culture and not just on the pitch. Off the pitch you mature, you grow as a person. You get to understand different people, a different culture and a different language. On the pitch you’re exposed to different ways of thinking and different styles of play. Maybe it’ll be hard at first but it’ll be worth it. Playing in Brazil was football as I’d never experienced it before. It truly was the beautiful game.