The last 14 months have provided a steep learning curve for Victor Leandro Bagy. As part of Brazil's triumphant FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009 squad, the man voted the best goalkeeper in his country in each of the last two years fully expected to realise the dream of a lifetime and represent the five-time world champions at the recent FIFA World Cup™. However, the Gremio No1 was left bitterly dissapointed when coach Dunga omitted him from the squad, a decision that provoked an angry reaction from the 27-year-old in the press.
Yet barely a month and a half later, Victor was back in the international fold as part of new coach Mano Menezes’s revamped Seleção. Time, it seems, has healed the wounds caused by missing out on a trip to South Africa, and the man from Santo Anastacio is focused on the future, as he told FIFA.com: “Yes, of course I was annoyed and disappointed, but that only made me work even harder. And now I think justice has been done. I don’t think I’ve been called up by accident.”
He wants to put a smile back on the fans’ faces and get back that sense of joy that Brazilian football has always had.
However, that note of irritation is the only evidence of Victor’s disappointment. A new era in Brazilian football has brought about a more relaxed attitude on the part of the goalkeeper. Despair, it seems, has given way to patience and maturity.
“When the last squad was announced, I got my hopes up again, but when I saw that Jefferson and Renan had been called up, I took it badly as I thought that the coach was only going to name two keepers. And then I remembered.”
Victor’s more circumspect approach bore fruit, as he started the game against USA, becoming the first keeper of the Menezes era. It was a symbolic achievement perhaps, but no less significant for that as Brazil begins the countdown to staging the next FIFA World Cup.
The experienced shot-stopper, however, is well aware that the Europe-based players were not considered for selection. Both Julio Cesar, Brazil’s undisputed first-choice between the sticks over the last four years, and Gomes, who was initially called up for their training camp in Spain only to withdraw due to injury, will provide stiff competition for the coveted goalkeeper’s jersey. It is no surprise, then, that Victor is refusing to get carried away.
“To be the first starting keeper is important and that gives me confidence. But there is a long way to go,” he said. “I know what Julio Cesar means to Brazilian football. He’s a world-class goalkeeper and you only have to look at how many caps he has won to see that. But I want to earn my place in the squad alongside him and the other keepers.”
As much as Brazilian fans were surprised by Victor’s exclusion from Dunga’s squad, his return has raised few eyebrows. After all, it was Menezes who signed him for Gremio in 2008, just before the coach left to take up the reins at Corinthians.
So, despite never having worked directly with the 48-year-old, Victor had good reason to be optimistic. The mutual respect between the pair was evidenced further by the extra responsibility the latter was given, in spite of being almost as new to international football as novices like Ganso, Neymar and David Luiz.
“It’s a young team and I was probably one of the most experienced players there,” he said with a smile. “I know I haven’t been in the team for a long time, but I've been around a bit more than most! Because of that, it was my job to talk a lot, to help the defenders with their positioning and to make sure that everyone stayed calm. I could also pass on to the others the things I'd learned with the national team before in terms of group atmosphere, training and dealing with expectations, which is what Mano asked me to do."
I know what Julio Cesar means to Brazilian football. He’s a world-class goalkeeper. But I want to earn my place in the squad alongside him.
Victor was less forthcoming when asked to compare the old and the new Brazil, but he seems perfectly in tune with the philosophy of the former Corinthians coach. “He has a different way of going about things," the Gremio keeper said.
"With Dunga, it was all about discipline and keeping our shape. With Mano, it’s about changing things, giving young players a chance. He wants to put a smile back on the fans’ faces and get back that sense of joy that Brazilian football has always had, and he made it clear to us that that’s what he wants us to do.”
For now, Victor is happy to look back at his display against USA, and to have made an immediate impression on the new coach. As regards his future with the A Seleção, however, he is taking nothing for granted. “In football, you always need to keep a high profile and be consistent - and that means at your club as well," he remarked. "Whether or not you get picked for the national team depends on what you do with your club side."
Time will tell whether or not Victor’s disappointment back in May will be the springboard for a glittering international career, but he is certainly that little bit wiser for it.