When he left his native Brazil for Italy in 2002, aged only 21, Guilherme do Prado had only the experience he had acquired in the youth ranks at Portuguesa Santista to back him up. That said, he had come into brief contact there with Muricy Ramalho, one of the country’s finest coaches, and had, like all Brazilian players, a very specific objective in mind: to make it in Europe.
In the ten years that have elapsed since then, the attacking midfielder has managed to make his dream a reality, though not in calcio but in England’s second tier, having this season helped south coast outfit Southampton win promotion back to the Premier League. For the man known to his adoring Saints fans as “Guly”, the chance to play in one of the world’s top competitions is rich reward for his determination to overcome a serious injury that almost forced him to quit.
While his compatriots have traditionally found Italian football more to their liking, Guly has encountered the success in England that eluded him on his arrival in Serie B with Catania. After a season with the Sicilians, the imposing Brazilian joined Perugia, who were then in the top flight but were promptly relegated, with Guly moving in 2005 to Fiorentina. It was there that he endured the lowest point of his career, when a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament nearly caused him to hang up his boots for good.
“I was out of action for two years,” recalled the player, in conversation with FIFA.com. “I felt so low and I considered packing it all in. I was heading in that direction when my wife told me she was pregnant. I was 24 and it was a sign that there were brighter days ahead for me. I had two operations and recovered full fitness. I managed to turn things around.”
On the right track
A father to Alicia and Gabriel, aged five and four respectively, the Brazilian duly returned to action, making an impression with Cesena in 2009 by scoring nine goals in their successful bid for promotion to Serie A. Yet, despite finally finding his feet in Italy, he was sent out on loan to Southampton. With a family to look after, Guly was intent on learning the lessons of the previous eight years and making a go of things in England.
“When I arrived in Italy I couldn’t speak the language, which was a very big barrier for me and made it very hard for me to build up relationships with people,” he explained. “You can easily end up being excluded if you don’t make the effort to talk or you need a translator, but if you do manage to pick a little up then you can start getting on with people, which made things easier on the pitch too.”
Guly has adapted to life in Southampton without a hitch, even if he has yet to develop a taste for fish and chips: “We live a Brazilian life at home and eat Brazilian and Italian food. I do try to follow English customs, though. The city, which is famous for its port, is a very comfortable place to live in and it’s great if you’ve got a family. The kids love it and I get treated really well here.”
A crowd favourite at Southampton, Guly has earned the adulation of the St Mary’s faithful thanks to his total dedication. The scorer of 11 goals last season, the No10 is continually praised for his selfless play and commitment to the cause, happily fulfilling whatever role coach Nigel Adkins gives him. It was attributes such as those that persuaded the club to hand him a permanent contract on January 2011.
Impressed by the loyalty of the Saints supporters, who have stuck by the side through thick and thin, the Brazilian has been only too happy to stay: “The stadiums are always full in England. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the first, second or third division: you’ll never see an empty ground.
“And if the team gets relegated, the fans come back to support you the following season, which is great to see. It gives you even more motivation to play well. They’re there home and away, and when we got promoted to the first division (Premier League) the celebrations were amazing. We’ll never forget them.”
Though his value on the transfer market has increased and several European clubs have made inquiries, Guly is staying put, determined to repay the devotion of the Southampton fans and push the club to even greater heights when they make their return to the top tier next season.
“Southampton are a big side and there’s not much to choose between teams here,” he said. “We’re on the same level as a lot of sides in the Premier League. We’re going up to win things, not just to try and avoid relegation. We’re aiming for the top.”
Immediate goals aside, the exile harbours hopes of returning home one day: “There’s not a Brazilian player who doesn’t dream of playing for Sao Paulo, Corinthians or Flamengo. You never know what life’s got in store for you, though.”
Having racked up plenty of mileage, experience is one thing Guly will not be lacking if he does eventually make that journey home.