Not for nothing known as o país do futebol (the football nation), countless kids across Brazil dream of one day becoming professional players. But there is a huge difference between kicking the ball around the garden, imagining playing in a front of huge crowds, and actually deciding to leave home to pursue your dreams - especially if you are only nine years of age.
Yet that is exactly what Kenedy, one of the young hopefuls in the Brazil squad at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in UAE, did: “I was very young, but I left home on my own to follow my dreams,” the striker told FIFA.com.
He describes the experience in a matter-of-fact way, avoiding romanticising an experience which, for most, would be impossible to conceive. He simply packed a bag one day and left the small town of Santa Rita do Sapucai (which has a population of just over 40,000) in the Minas Gerais countryside, and hit the road. He carried that same bag with him throughout a journey which had more than its fair share of stops. His first port of call was Friburgense. “I went to trials with my friends. There were lots of people from Santa Rita at the club, so I stayed with them,” he said.
After that, he can tick off the clubs on his fingers: “I had a spell with Vasco, and played at Sao Paulo and Atletico Mineiro.” He arrived at Fluminense in 2009, and has stayed there ever since.
Four years later, after tearing up the junior levels with his all-action playing style, he has jumped through the ranks and is considered by many to be, for his age, a very complete player. Now playing with the club's senior professionals, he has appeared in a number of games in this year’s Brazilian national championship.
“We have high hopes for him. He has all the fundamentals that a good player needs, like heading, finishing and passing ability, as well as size and strength. We hope that the pressure doesn’t get to him and that he fulfills our expectations,” said Fluminense director of football, Rodrigo Caetano, when the club promoted the Minas Gerais youngster to the first team.
At Flu Kenedy has shared a dressing room with players such as FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013 winners Fred and Diego Cavalieri, as well as the now-retired Deco. As a result, he is an unusually experienced player in U-17 World Cup terms, and not just because of the extensive mileage under his belt. “When you’re developing as a player you can learn so much from people like that. They give us lots of advice. It’s great because when we go back to playing at our own age level we can pass on what we’ve learnt,” said a player who scored six goals at the South American U-17 Championship.
He was also part of the victorious Fluminense team at the Al Kass International Cup this year. There they overcame such tough opposition as Real Madrid, Internazionale, Liverpool, Paris Saint-Germain, Boca Juniors, and others.
In the UAE, meanwhile, he is still adjusting to the pace of the game - after a spell out injured with a groin problem - and has been coming on as a substitute. But with midfielder and top scorer Boschilia suspended for the quarter-final tie against Mexico, there is a starting spot up for grabs.
Still searching for his first goal in the competition, something that would trouble any forward, Kenedy has nevertheless been able to help his team-mates, making an impact off the bench with his physical power and explosive shooting. Both qualities were in evidence against Honduras in the final game of the group stage, and versus Russia in the Round of 16. In the latter clash he came on after 66 minutes with the game goalless and, six minutes later, Brazil were in front.
“It felt great to come on and help the team. When you get the nod, you have to know how to help. You have to be ready,” he said. “We’re confident. We’ve had a lot of players out, but we have the strength in depth to make up for it.”
Becoming a professional footballer. Wearing the Brazil shirt. Playing in a World Cup. It might seem like a distant dream for a young Brazilian lad. Kenedy has managed it, however, and now has other objectives: “If everything works out, I want to score a goal, win the next game, and from there go on to lift the title."