Undoubtedly one of the finest finishers to tread Portuguese turf in recent years, Sporting striker Liedson, the club’s leading scorer this century, has come a long way since juggling football commitments with a job in a supermarket. Indeed, the Brazil-born Portugal international is on the verge of fulfilling a childhood dream: appearing at the FIFA World Cup™.
A natural-born goal-getter, the slightly built but fiercely competitive Levezinho (Light One) has earned iconic status at Sporting since arriving seven seasons ago, with banners proclaiming 'Liedson wins games' commonplace around the Estadio de Alvalade. And though the 32-year-old is now an established European performer, his route to the top has been anything but orthodox, with the events of 1999 particularly life-changing.
Then 22, the forward was playing amateur football in Valenca in the Brazilian state of Bahia, while he earned a living stocking shelves at a local supermarket. The turning point in his footballing career came at an inter-city tournament, with Liedson’s speed, persistence and composure in front of goal earning him a trial at Pocoes. Having just been sacked from his job at the supermarket, he did not need any persuasion, going on to sign his first professional contract and enjoy spells at homeland clubs Coritiba, Flamengo and Corinthians.
With a number of European sides interested in his services, it was Sporting who won the race for his signature, bringing him to Lisbon ahead of the 2003/04 campaign. Wearing the No31 jersey, a printing mishap meant the new boy first took to the field in the green and white stripes with the misspelling ‘Liedzon’ on his jersey - an error the player and the fans have since adopted as a lucky omen.
Now Sporting’s all-time top scorer in UEFA competitions, after six goal-packed years in Portugal, Liedson opted to take Portuguese nationality, thus becoming eligible for selection for the national team. His debut subsequently came in A Selecção das Quinas’ vital South Africa 2010 qualifier away to Denmark in September 2009. With his team a goal down and staring at a damaging defeat, Liedson came off the bench to grab a late equaliser with a typically opportunistic headed finish.
“I can barely wait for the World Cup to start,” Liedson told FIFA.com. “Any kid who likes football dreams of playing at a World Cup and I was no different. But to be honest I needed to work really hard and wait a long time to get that opportunity.”
And given that Portugal have helped him on the path to world football’s top table, O Levezinho is determined to repay that faith the way he knows best. “I’ve got a lot of love and respect for Portugal," he said. "I’ve always been treated with a great amount of affection by the fans and what better way to thank them than with loads of goals? And that’s what I try to do every time I take the field.”
Following the quirk of fate that has led Portugal to be drawn alongside Brazil in Group G of this year's showpiece, what are Liedson’s feelings about facing his nation of birth? “Of course it’s going to feel different," he explained.
"I was born in Brazil and I really love my country, but I’m going to give everything I’ve got to help Portugal win. That game is like a Final and I think it’s probably the most eagerly anticipated game of the entire group phase. It’s going to be spectacular.”
And how would it feel to score a goal against Dunga’s Seleção? “I’d get the same buzz I always get," Liedson said. "Of course I’d celebrate, the same way I always celebrate my goals. But of course I’d be very happy if both Brazil and Portugal manage to reach the Round of 16. I’d be even happier if the two countries met again in the Final. That would truly be a dream come true.”
Any thoughts of 11 July’s title decider in Johannesburg are somewhat premature, however, particularly given the demands of a hectic run-in to the season with Sporting and the sheer difficulty of Portugal’s FIFA World Cup group.
“I just want to keep my good form going and finish the season on a high," added Liedson, who grabbed all the goals in his side’s 4-0 league win over capital rivals Belenenses at the weekend. "One thing’s for sure: I’m not going to South Africa for the ride."