The FIFA World Cup 2014™ was a momentous event for Brazil’s national football team. Their disappointing end to the competition not only brought about a change of coach but also gave many new players a chance to prove themselves for A Seleção. Roberto Firmino is one of them.
The 23-year-old attacking midfielder has delivered a string of impressive performances since moving from Tombense to German side Hoffenheim in 2011. With six goals and seven assists to his name in the present league campaign, he is one of his team’s top scorers and has played a major role in helping the club from the Kraichgau region to reach their current position of seventh in the Bundesliga.
His talents, and particularly his gift for making crucial passes, have not gone unnoticed by Dunga, the man now tasked with turning around the fortunes of the most successful team in World Cup history. Firmino celebrated his long-awaited debut in green and yellow in a friendly against Turkey last November – and immediately showed what he can do. And while playing Austria a few days later, he sent a finish into the top corner from the edge of the box to secure a 2-1 victory for Brazil.
Firmino earned another call-up to the Verdeamarela squad for this month’s international games and contributed an assist in his side’s win against France and scored against Chile. In an exclusive interview, FIFA.com asked him how it feels to take to the pitch for his country, how he views his role within the team and how his move to Germany helped him to realise his dreams of playing for the five-time world champions.
FIFA.com: What does 12 November 2014 mean to you? It was the day you made your Brazil debut against Turkey…
Roberto Firmino: It was the realisation of a lifelong dream. Every boy in Brazil wants to play for their country, from when they start kicking a ball about in the streets as a youngster.
Brazilians often reiterate just what an honour it is to play for the national team. What is it that makes A Seleção so special?
The team is a symbol for the entire country. Brazil are record world champions and some of the greatest players in footballing history have played for this country: Pele, Zico, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo. They are legends recognised all over the world, just like the nickname A Seleção. To run out onto the pitch in that shirt is simply unbelievable. It was a little surreal for me at first, but I think I did a good job.
You scored your first international goal in only your second game – and a stunning goal at that. How did that feel?
I really can’t describe it. It was phenomenal. I could feel that it was a good shot the moment it left my foot, but for it to end up in the top corner was wonderful.
How do you rate your chances of continuing to be named in the squad?
I’ve got to keep performing week in, week out for Hoffenheim; if I can do that then I think I’ve got a pretty good chance. It all starts at TSG and goes from there.
What personal targets do you want to achieve with the national team?
I haven’t thought about that at all. I just want to be called up and play as often as possible.
The 2014 World Cup in Brazil was not long ago. Do the national team still discuss it at all? What is the overall mood like within the squad?
By the time I joined the side it was no longer an issue and the atmosphere within the camp was good. Of course that exit to Germany was a bitter setback. I watched the match in the team room at our running training camp in Westerburg and couldn’t really believe what I was seeing. I think every Brazilian had imagined that World Cup ending differently.
A Seleção experienced significant upheaval after the tournament. What do Brazil need to change to get closer to being among the best in the world again?
As in every side, the coach naturally plays an important role. He gives very clear instructions and determines the team’s playing style. I don’t think Brazil are far from the top, and I think they’ll show that again in future.
How important is coach Dunga for you?
He’s the one who called me up into the national side for the first time, so he’s an important figure for me. He and the other members of the squad made my first stint with Brazil easy – it really was a great experience.
How do you view your role within the national team?
Have I got a role yet? I’ve only been called up three times and I’ve played four games so far. I’m a young player who still needs to find his place, and I hope I’ll get an opportunity to do that. Neymar has his role within the side, so does Oscar, so does David Luiz – they’re players who are much further along in their careers than me.
You are enjoying a good season with Hoffenheim. What sets the 2014 team apart?
The different characters within the squad work really well together. There’s a good atmosphere within the dressing room, and that’s important for a start. What’s more, we’ve had a clear philosophy ever since Markus Gisdol became coach in April 2013. We want to play TSG football and constantly continue improving. This continuity and the painstaking work that goes with it are extremely important factors in the team’s performances.
What’s possible for TSG this season?
We’ll see. We go into every match with the same objective – to win – but every week we come up against another opponent with a similar aim. We can only make the absolute best of our opportunities in every game. If we can do that, we’ve done our job.
You’ve been in Germany since 2011. Has German football made you a more complete player?
I think so. When I arrived at Hoffenheim I could already play football, but I’ve developed physically, technically and tactically since then. The Bundesliga is one of the world’s best leagues. I had to adapt and improve to get by here, and although I’ve now reached a good level, there’s still more left to do. My own dissatisfaction is my biggest motivation.
Your contract with Hoffenheim runs until 2017. Do you want to stay in Germany and TSG or do you feel drawn to another club or even another league?
2017 is still a long way off. We’ll see what happens.