Alessandro Rosa Vieira may not be a household name in the world of futsal, but that is because the Brazilian player goes by another moniker, that of Falcao, one guaranteed to bring nods of recognition.
To some the 39-year-old Brazilian wing, who is about to appear at an unprecedented fifth FIFA Futsal World Cup, is the greatest player in the history of the game. He has the record to back up that lofty status too, having won two world titles, two adidas Golden Balls and an adidas Golden Boot.
What is the source of rather less debate is the role he has played in the last few years in popularising the sport, thanks in no small part to his magical skills and the impact his goals and trickery have had on social media.
“That’s something I could never have imagined,” the eternal No12 told FIFA.com. “My original aim was to make the national team and do so many things for my sport, but this has just got so big it’s ridiculous. There are lots of places in the world where they don’t know or don’t understand what futsal is, but they do know Falcao. For me, being the ambassador of a sport that is so popular around the world today is the best accolade you can get.”
Falcao has been going “viral” yet again in the last few hours. During an interview at the end of Brazil’s World Cup warm-up win over Solomon Islands, he was interrupted by the opposing players, who asked him for photos and shared a joke or two with him. Falcao was only too happy to attend to their requests, with the video of the interview proving another smash on social media.
“Futsal is my life, and I owe everything I have to the game,” explained the legendary Brazilian. “I’ve always played this game since I was a kid, despite having offers to go and play 11-a-side football. It’s been my school of life and I don’t regret it for a single minute.”
An entertainer on any stage
Explaining that his determination to stay faithful to his style of play has been the key to his career, Falcao said: “The way I do things now is the way I’ve always done them: in the street, at home, at school or with my friends. I didn’t change when I turned professional, and I don’t pick out any matches or opposition in particular. When the situation merits a bicycle-kick or I’m in a position to flick the ball over an opponent’s head, I just do it. To my mind there’s no difference between a World Cup final or an exhibition match.”
It is for that very reason that he believes the sport of futsal has grown so fast: “You have to show the fans who don’t know futsal what it’s all about. That’s where the skills, spectacular tricks and the joy of playing the game need to come in.”
Show-stopping aside, Falcao acknowledged that improved tactics and fitness have allowed the gap between the best and the rest to narrow, and pointed to a general development in the game that he believes will manifest itself at Colombia 2016.
“Back in the day you could win by ten goals or more, but now you have to work hard to win by two or three, and you’re going to have a scare or two along the way as well,” he said. “There won’t be any easy rivals at this World Cup. You’re thinking about Vietnam? You’ll have to work your socks off to beat Vietnam. Uzbekistan? You’ll need to work hard against them too. I like it that way though. Close games are more exciting.”
Colombia 2016 will mark the end of an era for Falcao, the final act of his international career: “I said 2008 would be my last World Cup. In 2012 I was sure it was my last too. And here we are in 2016, and in pretty good shape too, because this year I’m really focused on having fun.”
That determination to enjoy himself stems from the taxing time he had at Thailand 2012, as he explained: “I had a lot of physical problems. I suffered a loss of movement in my facial muscles and I had calf problems too. I only played 29 minutes in total. I chipped in with those goals against Argentina and Spain, but I didn’t enjoy it.”
It was during that quarter-final meeting with Argentina that Falcao pleaded with his coach to let him go on, with his side trailing 2-0. On duly entering the fray he scored the goal that took the tie into extra-time and then went on to hit the winner. “That was the most important moment of my career, because of everything I’d been through,” he recalled. “I even rank it above the goal I got against Spain in the final.”
Falcao has a number of objectives to fulfil as he heads into his final World Cup. As well as becoming the first player to grace the competition five times, he is also looking to set a new appearance record, become the all-time leading scorer and the first player to win the world title three times, all with the captain’s armband on. “I want to play well,” he said. “I want to be a champion, be the top scorer and be the best player. That’s what motivates me.”