Up until a few short months ago Wendell Lira was an unknown even in his native Brazil and was looking for a club to play for. An avid viewer whenever Lionel Messi and Barcelona are on television, he had never been to Europe, until this month that is.
Making the journey to Zurich for Monday’s FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala, the 27-year-old forward made himself known to millions of fans the world over, polling more votes than his idol Messi to win the FIFA Puskás Award for the most outstanding goal of the year.
“It honestly feels like a dream,” said a disbelieving Lira, clutching the trophy in his hands. “I’ve been struggling to get my head around meeting so many stars, let alone being up for award with Messi and then having my goal beat his in the vote.”
Lira received 46.7 per cent of the more than 1.6 million votes cast since the ten-goal shortlist was announced in November, eclipsing the aforementioned Messi’s solo effort against Athletic Bilbao (33.3 per cent) and the Italian Alessandro Florenzi’s strike against Barcelona (7.1 per cent). Even the Argentinian ace, who landed the 2015 FIFA Ballon d’Or, was in agreement with the result. “The fact is it’s a great goal and he deserved it. The award is in good hands.”
“When I scored that goal, in a Goias regional championship match watched by a crowd of 297, I could never have guessed that it would change my life so much,” added an emotional Lira, recalling his wondrous spinning bicycle-kick, which helped give his then club Goianesia victory over Atletico Goianiense on 11 March 2015.
Wendell was then released by Goianesia and was still unattached when his goal was announced as one of the ten Puskás Awards finalists. The very next day, thanks no doubt to the media coverage generated by the announcement, the Brazilian received an offer from his current club Vila Nova, with his fairy tale receiving its happy ending in Zurich on Monday evening, where he and the rest of the football world got to know each other. “I still can’t believe it,” he exclaimed. “It’s like everything was already written.”