Mention the name Madjer to any beach soccer fan and you are sure to bring a smile to their face. If there is one player who encapsulates everything the sport holds dear, it is the prolific Portugal striker, who has amassed goals and trophies aplenty in a glittering nine-year career.
Following a 4-2 reverse to Spain in the final of the European Beach Soccer League 2006, the left-footed magician put the pain of defeat to one side to give an exclusive interview to FIFA.com. One of the most likeable characters in the sport, Madjer gave us his typically modest views on the game and spoke of the high and low points of a career that will next see him venture with his ambitious Portugal side to the sands of Copacabana in November .
Madjer, what is your overriding feeling: disappointment at losing the final or satisfaction at having qualified for Rio de Janeiro 2006?
Our main objective this season was to qualify for the second World Cup and we achieved that, which was great. That said, we also knew it was just one part of the season. It's true we didn't get off to a brilliant start this year, but everything went perfectly after that - except for the final of course.
Following on from the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2005 and the Mundialitos in 2005 and 2006, you have now lost three finals in little over a year. Do those defeats still prey on your mind?
Last year is water under the bridge as far as we're concerned. We now know what we mustn't do if we want to reach the top. Even though we've just lost the European final, we know that if we'd played like this last year, we wouldn't have lost all those finals.
The competition seems to be getting tougher and tougher all the time. What is your view on that?
That needed to happen for the standards of beach soccer to rise worldwide. When I started playing only Brazil were up there, and it was boring at times, even for us. Then we realised we could make life difficult for them and even started beating them from time to time. I wouldn't say it's got to the stage where anyone can beat anyone, but you don't see that many big wins these days. That makes it more interesting for us and for the spectators too.
Would you say then that the Brazilians no longer have the best beach soccer players in the world?
I wouldn't go so far as to say that. I still think Brazil are the best team around. They've got a much bigger pool of talent than anywhere else in the world. No other country lives and breathes football, or beach soccer for that matter, like Brazil. They've also got the ideal climate for it. But as many teams have shown, they're not unbeatable.
Out of all the newcomers to the world of beach soccer which team have impressed you most?
Lots of them have made a really big impression on me, but I have to say that Ukraine have surprised me most of all. I've spoken with a few of their players and I can tell you that the conditions they train in are far from perfect. The fact they've gone so far with such limited resources is amazing. Their style is similar to futsal and they've already beaten us twice.
As you say, Ukraine have developed a particular style of beach soccer that is not unlike futsal. Does that make it hard for a team like Portugal to play their own game against them?
Yes and no. Their physical style can make it difficult to begin with, but after a while you start to find your rhythm. That's when you have to make your technique count. You can stop teams like Ukraine from playing provided you've got that talent.
Is Pylypenko the pick of the Ukraine team in your opinion?
Quite a few players have made an impression on me this year, but yes, he's their outstanding performer. The way he controls the ball and keeps it on the ground reminds me a little of Brazil's Juninho. He's a great player without a doubt.
Let's turn now to your career. How did you find your way into beach soccer?
I was playing football at junior level when I had very serious biking accident (he shows two huge scars on his legs). I had to give up all sport for two years, but when I recovered I was invited to play in an amateur tournament. That was in 1997 and Joao Benarbe, who was Portugal's beach soccer coach at the time, was in the stands. He liked what he saw and said I should give the game a try. I have to admit though, at the time I didn't even know beach soccer was a proper sport.
Ten years on you have become one of if not the greatest player on the planet. What's the secret of your success?
To be perfectly honest, I've just been lucky to have the right skills for beach soccer. I honestly believe I was born with a gift for the game. I've also had to work very hard at it, that's for sure. The most important thing, though, is that even today I still feel like a little kid when I watch a match. All the players around today are my heroes in some way or other, and I'm continually improving my game by playing with them.
So who are your past and present heroes?
When I started playing it was Junior, the ex-Brazil player. Then I met up with my friend Alan in the Portugal team. He had already won the world footvolley championship twice, and I learnt so much playing with him. Over the years, I've continued to work on my game with him and by watching guys like Amarelle of Spain and Brazil's Jorginho.
Becoming a better player is obviously important to you. Do you really believe you can improve even more?
Sport's like life. You never stop learning. I'm never entirely satisfied with my game and I keep trying to aim higher. I want to maintain my current standards at the very least.
Why do you enjoy beach soccer so much?
It's such a spectacular game - that's what I love about it. All the volleys, the acrobatic kicks and one-touch football…I'm like a little boy when I play the game. Then there's watching the whole thing from the stands, where you can learn so much. That's another great thing about beach soccer.
You have had nearly ten years in the game. What is your favourite memory?
Our world championship win in 2001, no question. Winning something like that is the pinnacle of anyone's career, and I'll never forget it.
And your least favourite ?
I've had my fair share of defeats with Portugal of course, including some big finals, but the one that will stick with me for a long time was the defeat to France in the 2005 World Cup Final. It was the first ever World Cup organised by FIFA, and that was a really clear sign the sport had come of age. It was so tough to accept. We really wanted to win that trophy.
You said earlier that you had forgotten about that game. Don't you think you will only be able to forget it if you actually win the trophy one day?
Let me say it again: our main objective this season was to qualify for Rio de Janeiro. But we've showed that have the ability to win the world title. We just have to go out there and do it now.