Jorginho is the latest player to remember his early days in the game and the significant obstacles he had to overcome to make it professionally, from moving to the other side of the world at a young age to discovering he was being financially exploited by his agent, before battling hard to prove his class…
I started off playing five-a-side at the local soccer school. I went to an under-six team when I was four, and the coach said ‘no no, you have to be six’. My dad told the coach he would get in trouble at home if he didn’t let me play. So the coach said ‘okay, you can have a game’. I played once and my dad said to me: ‘you have played once, we are going home’. But then the coach said ‘no no no! You need to play every week!’
We used to play lots of small-sided games. We did loads of dribbling drills, slaloming in and out of cones, and lots of shooting as well. More than anything I just remember how enjoyable it was.
Even today when I go on holiday I still see my coach from back then. But I am not in contact with the players really because it was a different place from where I was born.
I could never imagine a life without football. It’s something I have always done and have always wanted to do. When did I realise I was a good player? I suppose when I started playing. I was already playing against kids who were older than me, and then when I played against kids of my age it was easy.
After playing five-a-side in this soccer school I moved to another one where I could play 11-a-side. We’d play tournaments against soccer schools from other regions. I was playing in this tournament in Brazil and an agent scouted me. He took me and other players to his soccer school, which was 200 kilometres away from where I lived at the time.
I spent two years there. The idea was he used it to scout players and anyone he thought was good enough he took over to Italy. That’s what he did with me when I was 15. He set me up with a trial at Verona in their youth section and they took me on.
Initially when I moved over to Italy it was really easy because I was living my dream. Everything was brand new. Then I began to get into the routine: training, school, home, home, school, training. That’s all I did for 18 months. I had 20 euros to live on a week and I couldn’t do anything else, because you can’t with that amount of money. I couldn’t even play for the first year because my licence hadn’t come through from Brazil. All I did was literally train and go to school. That was really tough.
The style of football in Italy was very different. In Brazil up until that point it had been nice and calm, all about enjoyment, whereas in Italy even at that age it was all about tactics, about intensity. It was tougher.
Because Verona weren’t in Serie A at that time, they didn’t have a youth team so I played in a local youth team called Berretti. They played in Serie C1/C2. I did that for two years. Whilst I was playing for Berretti, I met a fellow Brazilian called Rafael who was a goalkeeper. I got friendly with him. He was asking me about what I was doing, how long I had been there for, and I told him I was living on 20 euros a week.
He said ‘hang on a minute, there’s something not quite right about that’. He made some enquiries and it turned out my agent had been taking money and I knew nothing about it whatsoever.
At that point I wanted to give up. I was completely devastated. I was fed up. I phoned home in tears and told my mum I wanted to come home and I didn’t want to play football any more. She said: ‘Don’t even think about it! You’re so close, you’ve been there for a few years, I won’t let you back in the house! You need to stay there and hang tough.’
So I stayed. I continued to train with the first team. I could have continued playing for Berretti, but at that point I decided I would go on loan. I went to a professional team in Serie C2 called Sambonifacese.
While I was playing for Sambonifacese, Verona were in Serie C1 and that year they got promoted to Serie B. When I went back to Verona the coach, Andrea Mandorlini, said he didn’t need me because I had only played in C2 and now they were in B. But one of the directors who I knew quite well stuck up for me, and argued my case with the coach.
By the October I hadn’t played a single game and had thought about the possibility of leaving in January. Then the first team player who had my position got injured, and his natural replacement was injured as well. The coach didn’t know what to do. He had to either improvise or play me.
He played me and I did pretty well. I stayed in the team and from then on he was really supportive and did a great deal for me.