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Seth Burkett: The Boy in Brazil

The Boot Room

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I get the ball at left back. The central midfielder shows for it. He’s demanding the ball. Best give it to him. He’s not long out of prison for manslaughter. A ‘football argument’ that got out of hand, apparently. He turns out, nutmegs his opponent, and then switches the play to Capone at right back – a UEFA Super Cup winner who’s getting on a bit. His 20-a-day smoking habit doesn’t help him either. Over the buzz of the crowd the screams of Tharik, our kit man, ring out. He’s not one to hold back during a game. His passion often gets the better of him. He deals drugs on the side. Next to him is our team co-ordinator, Elias. He’ll be dead in a few months. Stabbed fifteen times in the back by his boyfriend. Welcome to Brazilian football, Sefi.

I was 18 years old when I moved out to Brazil to play for Sorriso Esporte Clube. I’d like to say that the move was purely down to my ability, but in reality it was a huge chunk of good fortune. By this point English football had chewed me up and spat me out. Ultimately rejected by the cut-throat academy system I’d ended up in non-league with Stamford AFC. It wasn’t too bad. I was captaining the youth team and sitting on the bench for the first team, even picking up a bit of money for my troubles. It was in my final season playing for the youth team when it happened. A Brazilian agent moved to Stamford and began to watch our youth team games. Soon he was befriending the coaching staff and before long he’d arranged for us to go on an end-of-season tour to Brazil.

I was too old to be eligible to play in the tournament we were involved in: the Copa II de Julho. Still, the agent had arranged for me and the four other over-aged others to train with the local U19 team in the area – top-level Vitoria EC. I didn’t do too badly in training, and when their left back was called up to the Brazil U20 squad I was invited to play in a game for Vitoria. It was in this game that I was spotted by Sorriso EC and invited to return to Brazil to play for their youth team in the Copa Sao Paulo. Overwhelmed I jumped at the opportunity.

It turns out that being a professional footballer is nothing like what you grow up to believe. At least not in Brazil, anyway. I set off on the 36 hour journey to Sorriso expecting luxury. I arrived to find a three-bedroomed converted garage on the edge of a favela. I would be living here, it turned out, with 29 of my team mates. The windows were barred. The whole place filthy. And now it was home.

We trained 13 times a week. Sunday afternoons were our only point of rest. Occasionally we got a morning off training. Each session was two-and-a-half hours long. Everything was done with the ball. Nutmegs were valued more than anything. Football was an art form. We had to refer to our coaches as ‘professors’.

The distance between wealth and poverty was astounding. Even within our team there was a huge gap. One player lived in a gated mansion with a swimming pool in the south. Another brought all of his belongings to our new home in a backpack: a vest, a pair of shorts, flip-flops, a toothbrush and a pair of football boots. He was the happiest person I’ve ever met.

We spent three months training relentlessly for the Copa Sao Paulo. It wasn’t worth it in the end. After two games we had been eliminated. Maybe we’d have fared better if our players hadn’t placed such value on the good life. Every night at least three players would jump through the barred windows and head out into the town. They just loved partying. They’d come back through the window at 5am and then wake up again at 7.30 for training. In reality, however, we just weren’t good enough.

On a personal level the tournament had been a real anti-climax. So much preparation, dedication, sacrifice, and I didn’t even make it on to the pitch. The media followed my every move. All because of my Englishness. The English – the inventors of the game. That’s how they are known, and an Englishman coming over to play in Brazilian football? It was the ultimate compliment. In the end it was what saved me too. The Chairman of the club wasn’t really bothered about my ability. He was more fussed about the media coverage which would then lead to exposure and potential sponsorship. I got him media coverage and because of that I was saved.

I was promoted to the professional team, despite the prospect of game time appearing thin. We had a squad of 36. There were 11 places on the pitch and no reserve team. Our captain was a UEFA Super Cup winner. We had players who had represented Brazil at youth level. The left back played in the same team as Kaka at Sao Paulo. I was making up the numbers but I was fine with that. For now I could finally call myself a professional footballer.

Ten minutes. That’s all I ended up playing for the professional side. It was in a cup game against an amateur side and we were already 5-0 up so there was no risk in giving me a run out. It never got any better than that. The media coverage began to die away and the coach pushed his youth team graduates to one side.

In the end I had to go back home to England. I loved Brazil – the people over there are truly special – but it was a necessity. It turned out to be for the best. There was corruption everywhere – especially in the football club. Things weren’t right. Sorriso was the last place before the rainforest. It was isolated and hard to police. Money was going missing. There was open racism. There were allegations that the players who were so poor they had nothing to lose were being exploited sexually for money. And then there was the murder of Elias. To some it was a lovers tiff, to others it was a paid killing. I guess we’ll never know. Elias was a homosexual local governor and there were people high up who were uncomfortable with his growing level of power.

I’ll always cherish what happened to me in Brazil. It taught me so much about the beautiful game and life in general. Recently I wrote my experiences up into a book. The Boy in Brazil came out in April and was shortlisted for Football Book of the Year at the British Sports Book Awards. It is available in digital and paperback format from Amazon, Foyles and Waterstones.

Written by Seth Burkett
@burkett86

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Tottenham Hotspur

Salomon Rondon would be ideal back-up for Harry Kane and Tottenham

Josh Kerr

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Salomon Rondon
Photo: Getty Images

According to reports from the Daily Mirror, Tottenham Hotspur are interested in adding West Bromwich Albion‘s Salomon Rondon to their attacking ranks.

The recently relegated striker will be hoping to stay in the Premier League and Mauricio Pochettino can ensure that happens for the Venezuela international.

Harry Kane has been a revelation once again for the Lilywhites firing 30 league goals this season and was also nominated for the PFA Player of the Year award.

However, Pochettino has still not found a suitable back-up for the Englishman and is already looking for another replacement.

Fernando Llorente was signed from Swansea last season after Vincent Janssen failed to make an impact in north London.

However, the 33-year-old striker could not improve on his 15 goal tally for the Swans that kept them in the top flight a year ago.

The Spanish forward has one goal in 16 Premier League appearances for Spurs and it’s understandable that Pochettino already wants a replacement.

Rondon would not be a signing that should get fans excited by any means.

After all, he does not represent a world-class striker in the slightest and, similarly to Llorente, he has spent the majority of his Premier League career scrapping at the bottom end of the table.

Despite finishing rock bottom in the league this campaign, Rondon was one of those who emerged from the season with some credibility, scoring 10 goals in all competitions for the Baggies.

The Baggies forward is a striker who has often looked isolated and lacking options in a West Brom side that has struggled to get the best out of him.

In a flourishing Spurs team, his Premier League goal tally, of 24, could steadily improve.

According to the Daily Telegraph, Rondon has a relegation release clause in his contract that can see him leave the Midlands side for a reported fee of £16.5 million.

This may be off-putting for Spurs fans as the fee is not cheap considering the Venezuelan’s lack of firepower.

However, at 28, he is five years younger than Llorente and would only cost £2 million more than the fee they paid for the Spaniard, so it’s not the worst transfer when wanting more attacking options.

There’s no doubt that Llorente has struggled at Wembley this season and at 33, Levy may be tempted to move the former Juventus striker on and refresh his forward line.

A club of Spurs’ stature will always be linked with bigger names, but Rondon could still be a smart appointment for the Londoners.

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Joe Hart should seek Birmingham return in a bid to make England comeback

The 31-year-old needs to find a route back into the England fold.

Max Cohen

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Joe Hart
Photo: Getty Images

Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart suffered the biggest disappointment of his career this week when he was left out of the 23-man England squad for this summer’s World Cup.

After a disappointing loan spell at West Ham United and with no future at his parent club, the former England number one should return to Birmingham City in order to rescue his career.

Hart spent the 2009/10 campaign at loan at St Andrews, resulting in a hugely successful season for both club and player.

The goalkeeper made 36 league appearances for Birmingham, only missing the matches against City which he was ineligible for. Hart was named the club’s Player of the Year and was nominated for the PFA Young Player of the Year, due to his excellent form in 2009/10.

In addition, the Blues finished an impressive ninth in the Premier League, enjoying a club-record 12-match unbeaten run and exceeding all expectations for the newly-promoted side.

(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Now would be the ideal time for Hart and Birmingham City to be reunited, as manager Garry Monk is on the lookout for a new goalkeeper after telling David Stockdale he is free to leave the club this summer.

For Hart, it is clear he has no path forward at the Etihad after Ederson’s brilliant debut season in England.

Additionally, few, if any, Premier League clubs will be chasing Hart’s signature after an unconvincing season at the London Stadium which was characterised by his high-profile mistakes.

A return to St Andrew’s, where Hart gained his first taste of Premier League football almost a decade ago, would be a prudent career choice for the Englishman.

If Hart can establish himself as Birmingham’s starting goalkeeper and lead Garry Monk’s men to promotion, then a return to the England fray might not be out of the question for the 31-year-old.

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Crystal Palace

Tottenham’s Fernando Llorente would be the perfect addition for Crystal Palace

The Spaniard still has plenty to offer in the Premier League.

Josh Kerr

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Fernando Llorente
Photo: Getty Images

Tottenham Hotspur striker Fernando Llorente is among five players expected to leave the Lilywhites this summer as manager Mauricio Pochettino prepares for a summer clear out.

According to The Mirror, Pochettino is ready to listen to offers for the likes of Toby Alderweireld, Moussa Dembele, Danny Rose and Moussa Sissoko.

The 33-year-old has undoubtedly struggled in his time since joining Spurs from Swansea City in 2017. The former Spain international has scored just one Premier League goal and five in 31 appearances, in all competitions, following the move.

Elsewhere in London, the incredible resurgence of Crystal Palace has been orchestrated by the outstanding Roy Hodgson, who has earned plaudits from all corners as his Eagles side finished the season sitting pretty in 11th in the Premier League table.

The former England manager was able to guide the London outfit to safety, despite the team sitting bottom of the league without a win and even a goal after seven games. Avoiding the drop was also achieved without the support of misfiring striker Christian Benteke.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

The Belgian’s miserable form could leave Hodgson searching for further attacking options in the summer and Llorente would prove the perfect addition at Selhurst Park.

The Spaniard was monumental in his first season in England for Welsh outfit Swansea, firing 15 league goals during his short spell in South Wales.

It could be a real coup for Palace if they play to Llorente’s strengths, and he could be the signing that gets the best out of Benteke, knowing there’s a direct replacement for him if he isn’t meeting the required standards.

The former Sevilla striker was limited to few opportunities under Pochettino, starting just one league game for Spurs. His next move must prioritise finding a manager who believes in his ability and suits the striker’s style of play.

Llorente’s prowess in the air is difficult to match and with Wilfred Zaha and Andros Townsend supplying the Spanish forward he could be a real goal threat next season.

At the age of 33, Palace would not have to break the bank to add an established attacking option. For a potential small fee, Hodgson should undoubtedly swoop.

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