Though a promising attacker in her youth, when growing up in the city of Sao Carlos in Sao Paulo state, real sporting glory would come for Maurren Maggi in another field – most notably at Beijing 2008, when the long-jumper became the first Brazilian woman ever to win an Olympic gold in athletics.
A childhood friend of Brazil international defender Monica, another veteran of those hometown kickarounds, Maggi remains intensely passionate about the beautiful game and particularly Sao Paulo, to whose athletics division she also belongs. In conversation with FIFA.com, she spoke about her relationship with football, her exuberance when following O Tricolor Paulista and her thoughts on the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
FIFA.com: You’re an unusual case of someone who competes for the club they support. How much does that mean to you?
Maurren Maggi: I’ve always hugely enjoyed supporting Sao Paulo, and when I managed to sign up to compete for them, representing my beloved club, it got even better. I’m really passionate about football. I had a very good relationship with the club, even before they began sponsoring me. I’ve always liked coming to the ground to watch them, and the board used to invite me too. I’d watch from Rai’s box or the Chairman’s box, and was always very well looked-after. I’m very proud of my club.
Well, the team are currently involved in the Copa Libertadores and have a massive game against Atletico Mineiro coming up...
It’s going to be a very good game against Atletico, but we’re capable of giving them the run-around. Atletico have Ronaldinho and Diego Tardelli, who’s a friend of mine. Let’s see what happens. I’ve been to loads of games. There was one match against Corinthians during which I jumped up and down so much I ended up going dizzy!
Well jumping is what you do best, isn't it?
(Laughs) Yeah, but you can’t be jumping so high without warming up, it’s not good. I remember that I was shouting so much that I my head hurt. I had to sit down in the end because I was feeling dizzy. And later I said that I need to start controlling myself more when I’m cheering on the team, I need to do a warm-up first! (Laughs)
Given you’re an athlete with a lot of experience of major events, including taking part in a Pan American Games on home soil in 2007, what advice would you give to the Seleção players ahead of Brazil 2014?
I’m an international athlete who’s been competing at Olympics for a long time, and I can really tell when someone’s just there for the ride or whether they’re going into the competition to give their body and soul for it. I think that’s really what’s needed [for Brazil in 2014]. I really admire the Spanish national squad, because they’ve got a very impressive set-up in that sense. In fact, I was there when they won the World Cup [in 2010 in South Africa], because that’s where I always do my pre-season. After the Final, I even went out onto the street to celebrate. And now, if Brazil don’t win, at least I’ve got a second team to support. I really like Spain.
But, I’m certain that things will go differently at the World Cup in Brazil. On that note, I really admire Kaka. I chat to him a lot and I know that, even if he was in pain, he wouldn’t complain about it – he’d just go out and play as if it was his last ever game. He’s had that trait ever since the start of his career and he’s always been an example to me. Now Lucas [Moura of Paris Saint-Germain] is following along that same path. But I’m not saying that just because they’re fellow São-paulinos! Someone else I admire is the keeper Julio Cesar, and I also really like what I’ve seen of Corinthians’ Cassio – he’s excellent. I can see him going on to be like Taffarel in the future.
Indeed, when Cassio was awarded the adidas Golden Ball at the FIFA Club World Cup 2012, he took it remarkably in his stride...
Yeah, he’s got his feet firmly on the ground, he’s fully aware of what he can achieve and what will have to wait. But with the talent he has, he should only think about going as far as he can. And he’s a real Corintiano. I think that he’s worth a try [with A Seleção]. He’s big, he reads the game well and makes all kinds of saves. He deserved to be voted the best at the Club World Cup.
Of the new crop of up-and-coming Brazil stars, we know you’re also in touch with Neymar, who’s currently A Seleção’s leading light. What insights can you give us on the situation he finds himself in?
He’s a really good friend of mine, so I’m totally biased when it comes to talking about him. He’s still a lad, he’s barely in his 20s and he’s already our best player, which is exceptional. He’s ended up coming under a lot of pressure due to the fact he’s our only craque (superstar), and Brazil was crying out for a hero. He’s not on a par with Messi yet, who’s a player I think is spectacular and even better than Maradona, who I’ve also seen play. But Neymar’s going to keep getting better. He’s very dedicated and he can take a game by the scruff of its neck, which is how he needs to be. Plus we’ve not got anyone else like him. He’s a special player, he makes the game look easy and can do things you very rarely see.
In playing terms, what’s your relationship been with the game over the years? Did you play much when you were younger?
Yeah, I used to play in a square in Sao Carlos, I’ve even got a best player’s award from those days. That was when I was around ten, if I’m not mistaken. I used to play with a childhood friend of mine called Monica, who went on to play for A Seleção. We even coincided with each other at the Sydney Olympics. I remember that we used to go down to the square and the lads wouldn’t let us play: there was still that attitude back then. That’s when Monica, who was strong and taller than me, told them we’d beat them all up if they didn’t let us play! (Laughs) Funnily enough, they let us after that... She was already a defender at that point, but she could finish too. I was a forward and used to love running with the ball and trying to score goals. I played a lot during my school years and my team would always win titles. I did Physical Education at university too and first year was brilliant – it was all about football. [Due to athletics commitments] I could have been exempt, but I wanted to go to all my classes. Like I said to our teacher then, it was to get more chances to kick a ball around. I’d get good grades too.
When you first started to compete in professional athletics, in 1996, women’s football was also starting to develop and raise its profile. Did you have many dealings with the women’s Seleção at the Olympics you’ve been to?
I saw most of Monica, more than anybody else, but I met a few of the other players too. Marta is someone I’m a real fan of as well, she was deservedly voted the world’s best for several years in a row. We [Brazil] get something of a complex against more complete teams like USA or Germany, who end up beating us to titles. But in Marta we’ve got someone different, a class above.
What are your hopes and expectations for Brazil 2014?
I think it’s going to be awesome, really lovely. We’re used to hosting huge celebrations here and giving a great welcome to the fans and the participants. I’ve got loads of friends abroad who ask me what the World Cup will be like. I’ve already spoken to Ronaldo and told him I want to be involved in the World Cup in any way I can. I really want to be there and follow A Seleção at close quarters. I’m sure that it’ll be a marvellous festa and, if I can give the players a piece of advice, it’d be to give their body and soul for the cause – because it’ll be worth it. I think that in this country, which has had to suffer with violence, we could really do with something to celebrate. It’s only sport that can do that.