Forced to leave his home city of Rio de Janeiro at the age of 20 to play for unfashionable Comercial in Sao Paulo state, forward Gilberto Macena could have been forgiven for thinking he might never make a career out of goalscoring.
“For most players it’s really tough to get a start in Brazil,” he told FIFA.com, recalling his early days in the game. “You have to leave home without any real prospects and without a decent pay packet either. It’s not easy at all, but you just have to give it everything you’ve got.”
If relocating to the Sao Paulo hinterland, with its sticky heat and slower pace of life, was one thing, then the kid from Rio was in even for an even bigger change in making his next career move in 2005, which took him all the way across the Atlantic to Denmark, where he has stayed ever since.
Stopping off first at Holbaek, on the island of Zealand, Macena then joined Superliga outfit Horsens, based in a town with a population of just over 80,000, which is decidedly small in comparison to his sprawling home city of six million people, and a good deal chillier too.
Adapting to his surroundings, however, and getting to grips with an unfamiliar language and culture, Macena has made the switch a successful one: “I always had this belief I could overcome any obstacle and get to where to where I’ve got.”
While there can be no questioning the Brazilian exile’s determination to succeed, it is doubtful he ever imagined getting to Denmark, where he has spent six seasons already and has earned the admiration of the Horsens fans, who have affectionately dubbed him 'Gil.'
Now 27, the intrepid striker explained that he had no qualms leaving his homeland behind for northern Europe. “Right from the start I thought it was a great idea,” he said. “I was very relaxed when the chance arose. I moved from a small club in Brazil to a country that’s given me a big opportunity.”
In leaving Comercial for Holbaek, Macena swapped one small club for another, the Danish minnows having spent just four seasons in the top flight in their history before taking the decision to go semi-professional in 2008 and rename themselves Nordvest FC.
I’m the form of my life and getting all these goals makes me feel as if I’m a more rounded striker now.
Spending just the one season with them, the Brazilian had already gone by then, signing for Horsens in 2006 and enjoying his fair share of ups and downs. Relegated three seasons later, they went back straight back up and survived another relegation dogfight by the skin of their teeth last season. “It was very tough,” said Macena. “It’s not the kind of experience you want to go through but it did bring my game on a lot.”
Making a mark
To the surprise of many and the delight of their fans, the men in yellow are occupying the other end of the table this term, lying fifth with 23 points from 14 games, only 14 less than they managed in the whole of last season.
One of the major reasons for the reversal in fortunes is Macena himself. The scorer of 11 goals to date, including a match-winning brace against the mighty Copenhagen, he is currently the Superliga’s leading marksman. Just behind him in the scoring charts are the Copenhagen strike tandem of Dame N’Doye and fellow Brazilian Cesar Santin, who, along with his midfield team-mate Claudemir, has become good friends with Macena.
“I’m the form of my life and getting all these goals makes me feel as if I’m a more rounded striker now,” said the Danish league’s top sharpshooter. “There’s still a long way to go but we’re aiming to finish in a respectable position, among the leaders. The team’s got the potential to do that.”
Though he occasionally returns to his native Rio to catch up with family and friends, Gilberto has put down some deep roots in Denmark. Even so, and despite feeling he has matured greatly during his time there, he refused to rule out another change of scene. “I’ve never closed the door to any opportunities that might come up, and I’m always willing to weigh up ideas, as long as they’re good ones.”
Having swapped the warm winds of Brazil’s Atlantic coast for the Baltic’s brisk breezes without a moment’s hesitation, it is anyone’s guess where the fearless Macena might end up next.