For every child eagerly kicking a ball around the streets, gardens or squares of the city of Picos, in the Brazilian state of Piaui, the dream is surely the same: to become a professional footballer. And it is a dream that has come true for midfielder Romulo, who is currently vying for a place in the Brazilian Olympic squad coached by senior team supremo Mano Menezes.
And though the 21-year-old Vasco da Gama starlet is still in the early stages of his pro career, getting to a place where he can legitimately aspire to play at an Olympic Football Tournament and chase silverware with A Gigante da Colina has been anything but easy.
“I’ve been battling away for a long time,” he told FIFA.com. “I’ve spent seven years working towards where I am today. I feel very fortunate to be in this situation,” added the tough-tackling central midfielder, whose ambition to succeed led him to move away from his home state, his family and his friends at the tender age of 14.
Fast forward to Brazil’s recent match with Argentina, played in East Rutherford, in the United States, and striker Neymar warned his team-mates he was taking a quick free-kick from out on the right flank. “When I heard that, I dashed towards the area,” Romulo recalled. “I managed to get ahead of my marker and score. I was so pleased, especially because scoring is not my main job.”
Even though La Albiceleste ended up winning a thrilling encounter 4-3, the Vasco man has only positive memories of his fifth friendly match with A Seleção and his somewhat unexpected goal. “When you’re celebrating a goal everything happens really fast, it feels like you’re in a film,” he continued, thus explaining his exuberant celebrations that day. “A moment like that is really emotional, because you know you went through a lot of difficulties and tough times to get there.”
East Rutherford, in the state of New Jersey, is certainly a long way from Picos, as is Caruaru in Pernambuco state, where Romulo went back in 2004 to try his luck in Clube Atletico do Porto’s youth ranks. “I went to a trial and managed to get through,” he said. “It wasn’t easy as I was still only a child and I was very homesick, but over time I had to get used to it.”
Romulo would go on to spend five years in club accommodation, forging a strong bond with the other youngsters who had also moved far away from their families. “We were all going through the same thing, so we used to help each other out,” he recalled. However, the vast majority of those budding performers are no longer at the club, with Romulo only mentioning the names of slightly older players, such as midfielder Elicarlos, now at Nautico.
It was while on the books of Porto in 2007 that Romulo came to prominence at national youth level, with Gremio showing an interest in signing him at the time. And though that transfer fell through, Vasco made their move just two years later. “Once I got there everything was different again: it was the first time I’d been at a big club in a big city,” he said. “At first my progress was slowed by picking up a thigh-muscle injury, but I believed in my own ability and went on to win some important titles.”
Growing in stature
On the back of his first-team debut at Vasco in June 2010, Romulo has gradually grown into a undisputed first-choice member of Os Vascaínos’ midfield and now shares the centre of the park with ex-Lyon set-piece maestro Juninho Pernambucano. Defensively reliable, strong in the tackle and boasting a powerful shot, this tall, physically imposing performer has moved directly on to the shortlist for the Olympic Seleção.
Though keen not to get carried away before the official squad list is announced, Romulo must be quietly confident. He has started the last four of Brazil’s friendly games, including the wins over USA and Denmark, and, along with fellow midfield holder Sandro, was publicly praised by coach Menezes.
“For me it would be the culmination of a journey: playing for a big team, reaching the national squad,” said Romulo. “I don’t intend to stop here, I want to keep striving for more, as a player and a man. I hope all this lasts a long time.
"Taking part in the Olympics would be a good experience," he went on. "If the team does well then the players have a great chance of forming the core of the side for the World Cup [in 2014]. But that’ll depend on results, as a lot can happen in two years.”
What's more, come the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, Romulo would have another two years’ experience of training, traveling and competing at the highest level under his belt. And although his footballing commitments can prevent him spending as much time as he would like with his wife and three-year-old daughter, who live with him in Rio de Janeiro, the rising star always manages to take his family back to Picos when he has time off.
“I’m a very family-oriented person, so I try to get back to my home city whenever I can to keep any homesickness at bay,” he said as the conversation drew to a close. “I’ve got so many happy memories of places I played. We’d play anywhere: in front of our house, in the fields, on nearby tracks. Whenever I go back I visit my friends there, to see them again and talk about old times. The difference is now that when they play in the street I’m not allowed to join in, I can only watch!”