Emerson Palmieri looks back at the first steps he took in the world of football, from playing five-a-side with his schoolmates, to signing for his boyhood club and making his debut aged 16 on the same pitch as Neymar…
I grew up in Santos in Brazil. I played for my school in many regional tournaments. It wasn’t anything particularly organised but it was just to have fun.
I have very nice memories from that time. We were great friends and we used to go to school all together. It was very close to our homes and any time we had the opportunity we would all go and play five-a-side together. Even today I still speak to some of my friends that grew up with me. I will always have them in my heart.
We didn’t really train properly. We just used to meet a couple of days a week and play football between us. What I remember the most were the tournaments we played. One we won and it was very important for the school because they had never won it before.
When I was five years old already the coaches were telling my parents I was different from everyone else. I realised only when I was eight or nine that I was the one who was scoring more goals or getting more assists. That was when I realised I could make football my job.
I played five-a-side until I was 14. I was like the no.10 behind the attacker. Then when I was 15 I joined Santos, one of the biggest clubs in Brazil. Me and all my family supported Santos. It was my city, my team, so it was very special. It was also the first time I felt part of a proper team or a club. It was very organised.
When I signed for Santos I started as a central midfielder going up and down, but then they told me I had technical quality to play left-back or right-back. I started doing this and I liked it. They tried me in one game, it worked well and I stayed there.
The academy system at Santos is very well known. It is one of the best in the country. I can only thank God for the opportunity to go there and also for having grown up in that city, and playing football there.
I made my debut for Santos in 2011. I was 16 years old. It was a game we were winning 3-0, and when the manager called me I couldn’t really believe it! There were very important players on the pitch such as Neymar, and my whole family were in the stands. I couldn’t believe it.
And to play with Neymar at that time? It was very, very easy!