Pay a visit to the Memorial to Ceara Football at the Arena Castelao in Fortaleza, Ceara state – one of the star attractions at the first 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ stadium to be opened – and among the trophies, photos and videos featuring the messages and stories of local ex-players, you will come across the shirt of an English football club.
The jersey is a gift from one of the employees at the Castelao, who works from an office on the same floor and who broke off from preparations for this Sunday’s Clássico-rei derby meeting between local giants Ceara and Fortaleza to chat to FIFA.com.
The man in question is none other than Mirandinha, who starred for A Seleção on a tour of the UK and subsequently became the first Brazilian to play in English football when he signed for Newcastle United from Palmeiras in 1987.
Though the striker returned to his native country two years later, he maintains strong ties with the Magpies. Now a manager at the Arena Castelao, which will stage three games at the upcoming FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013, Mirandinha keeps a close eye on his beloved Newcastle and still goes to watch them whenever he can.
Discussing his time in England and more, including the recent influx to the Premier League of Brazilians, whom he believes have an easier time of it than he did, the he gave an exclusive and enlightening interview.
FIFA.com: How did your move to England come about?
Mirandinha: Newcastle had been watching me for some time. It all started thanks to a Palmeiras fan who was studying in the city on an exchange and staying at the house of a businessman with links to the club. I played for Palmeiras at the time and this Brazilian guy started to speak about me. He showed them magazine and newspaper articles about me and they started to take an interest. I was called up for the national team for the Stanley Rous Cup against England and Scotland, which gave Newcastle the chance to watch me. I played well in both games, scoring in the draw against England and setting up one of the goals in the 2-0 victory over the Scots. When I got back to Brazil, Newcastle made an offer to Palmeiras. I’d been close to joining America of Mexico, and that deal was more or less done. Newcastle insisted though, and they signed me.
The style of play there was a little different to what you had been used to in Brazil, wasn’t it?
It wasn’t the same. Back then most English clubs played a long-ball game. Luckily for me, Newcastle weren’t so ‘English’. They didn’t hit so many high balls, which helped me. They played a kind of game similar to mine, with a lot of pace to it. Though the style of play was totally different to Brazil, I think the biggest problem I had when I arrived was the language, because I couldn’t speak English.
Was it hard to learn and did you have any help from the club?
The club had an English player who’d lived in Portugal and he interpreted for me when I got there. They did away with the translator in my second season though, and I managed to fend for myself. One person who helped me a lot was Paul Gascoigne – he taught me all the swear words! Unfortunately I’ve lost contact with him and we haven’t spoken for three years, since his health started to worsen. I always try to see him when I go to England though.
Do you go back to Newcastle a lot?
I go to England whenever I can. I love the club and the city of Newcastle, and I left behind a lot of friends there. They’ve always treated me really well and the fans always give me a very warm welcome. They still call me Mira, just like they did when I was playing. That’s special. When I’m not there I’ll watch the games on TV. I really suffered when Newcastle were relegated, but I was delighted when they went back up to the Premier League and followed it up by having a very good season. I think they can do even better, especially with such loyal supporters, who’ve never turned their back on the team, even when things weren’t going well.
There are many more Brazilians playing in England today. Who is the pick of them as far as you are concerned?
I like David Luiz of Chelsea a lot. He’s got a lot of quality and he’s one of the best central defenders in the world. Oscar, his team-mate at Chelsea, is doing a great job too despite the fact he doesn’t always start games. He’s definitely got a big future ahead of him. They’re fortunate in that they’re playing a very different and much easier game than the one I came across in my day. There are high-class players from all over the world everywhere you look now and they’re playing on perfect pitches. When I was there I even had to play on artificial pitches, like the one at Luton Town. The culture of English football is completely different today.
What does your work at the Arena Castelao involve?
I work as a manager for the teams that come and play here, taking care of everything to do with the pitch, the dressing rooms and the delegations. On matchdays I arrive at the stadium at nine in the morning and stay right till the end of the day. I’ve got the master key for the stadium (laughs). I really enjoy the job and being able to play a part in the Castelao project, which is a source of pride for all of us. We know how happy people are with the stadium. I never had the opportunity to participate in the World Cup as a player but I’m going to be taking part in one right here. We’re also looking forward to the FIFA Confederations Cup.
Your office is right next to the memorial to Ceara football, a project you were directly involved in. Tell us about your role in it...
I took a lot of inspiration from the experience I had at Newcastle, from the way that English clubs treat footballing idols. I think that’s something we can improve on in Brazil, and I hope that grounds like this and the other new stadiums that are being built can change the culture here. I contacted some former players who are big names on the Ceara football scene and recorded their stories for the memorial. It’s very important to protect this heritage. I’ve never been a vain kind of person, but I can honestly say that ex-footballers love being remembered and treated well after their careers are over.
The Arena Castelao will stage a test event for the FIFA Confederations Cup this Sunday when Ceara take on local rivals Fortaleza in a derby known here as the Clássico-rei. How would you go about explaining the importance of the fixture to your friends from Newcastle or to visitors to the stadium?
I’d say it’s a derby that doesn’t pale in comparison to Corinthians-Palmeiras, Newcastle-Sunderland or Liverpool-Manchester United. It’s the only topic of conversation here in the build-up to the game. People eat, sleep and drink this derby. I had the opportunity to take part in it as a player and a coach, which is far worse I can tell you. When I was playing I knew I could win the game, but when you’re a coach you always have to rely on others. I was lucky enough to be a champion with Fortaleza in both roles, and I strongly identify with the club as a result. Even so, my heart is coral pink, the colour of Ferroviario, the other big team here.