Innumerable preteens fantasise over becoming a musician or a footballer. A faint fraction have the ability to realistically contemplate a career in either. An atomic portion have the capacity to pragmatically consider both.
But one 14-year-old had that seldom ‘dilemma’ as he grew up in the serene north-Italian countryside in 1950. Luciano possessed a unique, uproarious voice and the reflexes that inflamed his dream of becoming a professional goalkeeper. As those around the Modanesi urged him to dedicate himself to either musica or calcio, his mind see-sawed one way then the other.
Ultimately, following abundant deliberation, he chose to pursue a career in front of the microphone. “I probably loved football a little more than I loved music at the time, but my voice was probably a little better than my hands,” he later recalled.
It was a decision that would be categorically vindicated. For while there’s no telling how good a goalkeeper Luciano would have become, it’s inconceivable that he would have realised more on the pitch than he did in concert. His surname was Pavarotti. He is arguably the greatest operatic tenor in history.
Twenty-eight years after the legendary Italian paused at that career junction, a 14-year-old Brazilian found himself in a parallel predicament: music or football?
Rodrigo could play the guitar masterfully. He could sing. He was a practised violinist. He was even a dab hand at writing rock tunes. But he was also making seductive, sonorous waves on football fields around Rio de Janeiro. Infatuated, America handed him a trial. A pass was a potential gateway to greatness - former Seleção representatives Danilo, Djalma Dias, Edu Coimbra and Jorginho can verify that. However, despite achieving that elusive pass, the gifted left-footer declined to join the club's youth ranks.
Legions of his compatriots are indebted to that judgment. For Rodrigo Luiz de Castro Santos has embellished the music industry for close to three decades, most prominently as a bass guitarist in Barão Vermelho, one of the most influential Brazilian rock groups in history. He is also the founder and lead vocalist of Os Britos, a captivating Beatles tribute group with whom he won an Order of the British Empire award, presented by Prince Andrew in London in 2006, one year before launching his burgeoning solo career.
Yet despite the enormity of his success, Rodrigo had a surprise revelation for FIFA.com. “I always thought I was a better footballer than I was a musician!,” he exclaimed, an intrinsic, infectious grin emblazoned across his face. “But my music career was starting to take off and I just went with the flow. I don’t know what would have happened if I’d have returned to America, but I don’t regret my decision.”
That decision did not serve to abate Rodrigo’s addiction to football. Indeed, in that same 1978 he began to sketch every single goal Flamengo scored, employing arrows to depict ball and player movements. He did so religiously for six years and has done so sporadically thereafter. He also boasts an immense collection of footballing articles, videos and memorabilia.
“Music is my profession and everybody knows how much I love it, but football has always been my biggest passion,” he explained. “I play whenever I get the chance and I’ll watch any game. It’s an addiction.
“It has brought me such joy over the years. I’ve seen Flamengo win the Libertadores and world titles, and Brazil win the World Cup. One of my best memories was seeing Zico and Pele play together live for Flamengo [O Rei was 39 when he participated in the 1979 charity match]. We beat Atletico Mineiro 5-1. The Maracana was packed and the atmosphere was incredible. I have the entire match on video.”
This magnitude of fixation has regularly clashed with the 46-year-old’s marriage to music. “I’ve always got very, very irritated when Barão had a gig on the same day as a Flamengo or Brazil game,” he lamented, amid a ratifying nod from his band-mate Fernando Magalhaes. “There was nothing worse. I would moan non-stop.
“I’ve had to watch matches in hotel rooms, in airports, on really poor-quality portable televisions in the back of vans, backstage at gigs, all over the place. Guto (Goffi) and Peninha are diehard Flamenguistas and love football, so we’d always watch the games together. But some of the other guys in and around the band would wind us up something rotten.
“The best thing about launching a solo career is that I was able to tell my manager not to book any gigs when Flamengo are playing. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, though, and I still get really irritated.
“I hate watching football outside Rio. If I’m not in the stadium, I like to be at home around my mates. But only those that understand football properly. I hate watching a match with someone who doesn’t. I love my mother but she doesn’t have a clue about football – I stopped her watching matches by my side a long time ago! I get very nervous when my teams are playing. I need to concentrate on the game. I can’t stomach people around me making jokes or talking about other things.”
Rodrigo is acutely aware that irritation caused by football has a crueller brother by the name of devastation. “I remember 2006. Ronaldinho Gaucho, Ronaldinho Fenómeno, Adriano, Kaka… Brazil had won that World Cup before they had kicked a ball,” he said.
“After the France game [the South Americans lost 1-0 in their quarter-final] I walked into the kitchen. My son Leo, who was seven at the time, and his mate Eduardo were crying uncontrollably. I knew the feeling, sheer emptiness. I felt it in 1982. It’s a devastating feeling. There was nothing I could say.”
Rodrigo, regrettably, foresees deeper tragedy for his beloved Seleção at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ – tragedy beholden to enemy hands lifting the hallowed Trophy. “I think Argentina will win it. (Lionel) Messi’s capable of anything and they have other great players.
“Brazil will make them work for it though. If we can play the exciting football for which we’ve earned a reputation over the years, the South Africans could get behind us, just like the Mexicans got behind us once they were eliminated in 1970. This would be a big help. And if Neymar’s in the team I feel we could beat anyone. He’s a fantastic player. I don’t think Dunga will take him, but I really hope he does.
“Whatever happens, I think it’s going to be a great World Cup. The African supporters are very passionate. They’ll give the World Cup a very unique feel with their dancing and vuvuzelas.”
This year could, potentially, be the annus mirabilis of Rodrigo’s enduring devotion to football. Indeed, his country are among the favourites for gold at the FIFA World Cup, and his club beat Corinthians 1-0 last night in the first leg of the Copa Libertadores last 16.
“I’ve written a song about Flamengo, including all the great players throughout their history, from Leonidas da Silva and Zizinho through to Leo Moura and Adriano. If we win the Libertadores I’ll release it. It’s got a catchy rhythm and is the type the fans could adopt and sing on the terraces.”
It would be a fitting way for Rodrigo Santos to combine his profession with his obsession.