Renato Augusto knows a thing or two about the pressure of expectation. Hailed as the jewel of Flamengo’s youth ranks back in 2004, when he was still only 16, the attacking midfielder was handed the club's much-coveted No10 jersey not long afterwards.
However, the conversion from promising youngster to fully-fledged star is never an easy one, and it was not until he Brazilian left the Rio de Janeiro giants for Germany’s Bayer Leverkusen in 2008 that he finally completed the process, fulfilling his rich potential in one of Europe’s elite leagues.
Tipped for a Brazil career since his formative years, Renato has just achieved that objective, earning coach Mano Menezes’s approval and a place in the starting line-up for the 1-0 friendly defeat by France earlier this month. And with several years of top-level domestic experience already behind him, not to mention a string of youth internationals, the versatile 23-year-old was more than ready to respond to the challenge.
I am very aware that the work I do at my club can help me stay in the Brazil squad.
“I’m an easy-going kind of guy, and when I found I was going to start the game I just thought about doing the best I could,” Renato Augusto told FIFA.com. “And that’s what I tried to do against France. It wasn’t the result I wanted. Obviously I would have preferred to start my international career with a win but, even so, I hope I created a good impression. All I want to do now is get on with my work and stay in the team, because I won’t be happy with just the one cap. I want to make a career of it in the national side.”
To achieve that goal and stay in Menezes’s thoughts, Renato’s intention is to stick to the same formula that took him into the Seleção reckoning in the first place, namely keeping up his form in the black and red of his club: “My aim is to keep on showing what I can do, help Bayer stay in the German title race and have a good campaign in the Europa League. I am very aware that the work I do at my club can help me stay in the Brazil squad.”
After receiving a warm welcome at the BayArena, the Brazilian wasted little time in winning over fans in Leverkusen. Voted the third-best attacking midfielder in Germany, he has also aroused interest from a host of major European clubs, his instant success partly attributable to the speed with which he has adjusted to life in his adopted homeland.
“This is a wonderful club and the fans are great," he explained. "They’ve been really nice to me. “I didn’t have any problems in adapting to the German game, and fortunately for me Bayer have a system in place for welcoming and supporting South American players. I’m really happy here and I feel totally integrated. I’ve got over the language barrier too. I started learning German after I signed, and I’m pretty fluent now and can get by when I need to.”
A troublesome right knee tested his patience last year, but Renato claims the experience helped him grow as a person. Now restored to full fitness and the Bayer starting XI, he has been outstanding in their continuing pursuit of Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund, who lie ten points clear. Should Renato and Co maintain their current momentum, however, the championship run-in could yet prove to be an exciting one.
“I’m really enjoying myself at the moment and I’m playing well again,” he said. “I had a few injuries to contend with last season, but that all helped me mature and reach the level I’m at now. You never can tell what’s going to happen in football and I feel we’re still in with a chance. It won’t be easy to overtake Borussia Dortmund, but we’re not going to lose hope. We can’t afford to relax.”
With the whole of Brazil anxious to see Santos superstar Paulo Henrique Ganso return to action after his injury lay-off, Renato is all too aware that holding down a place in the national side will be no easy proposition. Nevertheless, given his ability to perform a number of roles, he believes his versatility and diligence can secure him an extended run in the team.
“I’ve played in several positions in midfield and up front, and I can slot wherever I’m needed,” he said. “I’m not thinking about all the competition there is in A Seleção, because I am very aware that there are a lot of people pushing for places in the midfield. I just want to concentrate on what I’m doing so I can earn another call-up.”