- Natalia Guitler is women’s footvolley’s world champion
- She famously beat Neymar in a game of teqball
- Her fan club includes Ronaldinho and Zico
“She does things you couldn’t even dream about.”
Think ‘Magic’ Johnson on NBA courts, John McEnroe on the Acrylic fibers of Flushing Meadows, ‘Prince’ Naseem Hamed inside boxing rings, Viv ‘Master Blaster’ Richards on cricket creases and Ronaldinho, the man who paid the above homage, on Camp Nou grass and you’ll appreciate the ingenuity and artistry of Natalia Guitler.
Her fast-flourishing fan club also includes Neymar, Zico, Kaka, Rivaldo, Marcelo, Douglas Costa and Vinicius Junior, but she remained, until last year, one of Brazil's best-kept secrets. When she arrived in Reims, France to compete against men at teqball, Natalia got the she-doesn't-belong-here glares. The Rio de Janeiro native rapidly turned them into gawks of veneration.
“Last year I played in the Teqball World Cup,” she explained to FIFA.com. “It was my first teqball tournament. It was open to men and women, but there were only three women out of 80 people involved in the doubles.
“When I got there, people didn’t say ‘hello’, looked at me like I shouldn’t be there – I didn’t feel respected. This happens a lot outside of Brazil – judgement. As a woman, you don’t start with respect, but have to earn it.
“But then we started winning and people were like, ‘Ok, she can play.’ Me and my partner Marcos Vieira came fourth. By the time I went home people were asking to train with me, being nice. I felt like I had earned credibility, broken taboos.”
Natalia finished 2018 at Neymar’s holiday home in Bahia. She ‘thanked’ him for the invitation by edging him in a teqball match.
“It was really close,” said Natalia. “I ended up winning by a very small margin. He has enormous talent.
“It was such an honour for me. Neymar’s such a nice person, humble. He made us feel so welcome.”
Amazingly, teqball is only Natalia’s second football spin-off – she is the reigning singles and doubles world champion at footvolley. And even more amazingly, footvolley wasn’t even Natalia’s first sport.
“I was a professional tennis player,” she explained. “I had three older brothers, so I had contact with a football from an early age.
“But when I was 12, my mother stopped me playing football and sent me to tennis classes and when I was 17, I moved to Argentina to pursue a career in it. I got to travel the world, had some great experiences.
“While I was still playing tennis, I used to spend my holidays in Brazil. One summer, when I was around 20, my eldest brother introduced footvolley to me and I immediately fell in love with it.
“When I stopped playing tennis, I wanted to continue playing sport, competing – I am a very competitive person and I wanted to have some sort of tournament to play on a weekend – so I started playing footvolley regularly.
“I graduated in business – that was my profession. Footvolley was a hobby for me. I loved it. Something to look forward to on a weekend. But with teqball and other events, it’s become a profession.
“My first [footvolley] World Championship was in Israel in 2018. I was without my partner Bianca [Hiemer] – we’d played together for ten years and won a lot of tournaments together – so that was difficult. But me and Josy Souza managed to become champions.
“And now I’m two-time World Footvolley Queen of the Beach, which is a [women’s] singles world championship. One was in Brasilia, the other in Barcelona.”
Natalia, who attributes her flexibility to Pilates and believes Alex Morgan or Megan Rapinoe deserves to win The Best FIFA Women’s Player this year, is overwhelming grateful for her lifestyle.
“I feel very privileged,” she said. “I get to play with Bianca and Marcelo and other greats. It’s been such an honour and pleasure to be friends with Ronaldinho for the last ten years, to get invited to his house to play footvolley with him. I’ve played with Neymar a few times… Nene, Zico, Marcelo, Douglas [Costa], Vinicius Junior.
“It’s an honour to have people asking to play with me, wanting to watch me and take photos with me. And it’s really cool that I’ve been able to show people that women can play. I never, ever imagined any of this could have happened.”