On the day Euro 2020 begins with Italy against Turkey, Jorginho details his early days playing football, reflects on what it takes to make it as a professional, and remembers his first few years living and playing in Europe…
From a young age, I was always a responsible boy, but with great determination.
I knew very early that when you want something bad enough, when you want to reach a certain level, you have to make sacrifices and remain determined through it all. We all have our own story of how we got here, but there is one fundamental for me, not just in football but in life – you have to remember where you came from.
My first football story was different than most, because my mum played with me. In the room where we used to play there were no pictures on the walls, there was no TV, only space for playing football! A room with nothing, because in a room like this you can’t break anything! Then we played outside in the garden and on the beach as well.
Imbituba in Brazil is a small town – 50,000 people – but it’s a beautiful place. In fact, I absolutely love that place. I can travel anywhere in the world but I always want to return there. Our house was where all the kids in the neighbourhood used to come to play. After school, it was always everyone round to mine to play football in the afternoon.
Sometimes we played other little kids’ games too. There was a piazza in town where all the kids from the area went and played games like hide-and-seek, or run races, or a kind of cricket that we played, two-v-two. We played marbles and had these little wooden spinning tops. It was a lovely childhood, there weren’t really PlayStations or mobile phones – only the ones with lots of money had them. The streets were always packed with kids playing into the evening. That was my early childhood. Beautiful.
Then, when I was four years old, my friends all started to tell me about this local football team. Peixe – which means ‘Fish’ – was the nickname of the team. It wasn’t the official team name, but everybody called it Peixe’s football school, Peixe’s team.
The minimum age at this club was six and my friends all used to say, 'You have to go, you have to, you have to!' So I would say to my dad, 'I want to go to the football school, I want to play for Peixe’s team!'
My dad just said, 'No, you’re too young, you can’t. You have to wait two more years before you can go.'
From then on, every time my dad came home I would say, 'Dad, I want to go! I want to go to the football school! Dad, I want to go, I want to go. Dad!'
At first he just said, 'No, you can’t,' but I kept going until one day he said, 'I’ll see what I can do.'
So he went to speak to the coach, but he said, 'I’m sorry, your son can’t come, he’s too little. Come back in two years time. He could get hurt playing against boys two years older than him.'
My dad looked at him and said, 'You don’t understand. You have to let him come here, I can’t take it anymore. There’s no peace for me at home. Please, you have to let him come here!'
And the coach said, 'Okay, but...you have to be present for every second of the training session and, if anything happens to him, it’s not my responsibility, it’s yours.'
My dad said, 'Fine. My son, my responsibility, but you have to let him play because I can’t get any peace at home until he does!'
So, I went there for the first time, with my dad, and as soon as I got there, training with these boys two years older than me, I played really well! Peixe was impressed and, afterwards, my dad went to him and said, 'Okay, he’s been once now. He’s happy. Thanks very much, that’ll do. I won’t bring him again, alright?'
And the coach said, 'No, no, no! Bring him back, it’s okay, I’ll take responsibility for him!'
I think I was born with this passion for football and it was my dream for as far back as I can remember to become a professional. My dad loves to tell a story from when I was really little, I don’t remember exactly how old, but he asked me, 'What do you want to do when you grow up?' And I said, 'I want to be a footballer.'
'Are you sure?'
'Yes, I’m sure. Football’s my life.'
'But to make it as a footballer you have to suffer, you have to go through tough times, difficult moments that will make you want to give up, but you have to stick with it. Being a professional isn’t easy, it’s not just what you see on the TV – it’s very, very, very hard and you will have to move away from home too. It’s not going to be easy.'
I was just sat there, looking at him after he said all this, so he asked again, 'So, what do you want to be when you grow up?'
'I want to be a footballer!'
We both just laughed. He loves to tell that story.
Football was a true obsession for me. When I was a little kid, I watched all the top players and the incredible things they did. Then I left home when I was 13 to move to a football school about 200 kilometres from Imbituba. That was a tough time for me as such a young boy. I remember we ate the same thing three times a day and we had to have cold showers in the winter because there was no hot water or anything like that. That place made me grow up fast as well, it forced me to learn a lot about life.
The man who ran it also had a football school in Italy, and after two years I was invited to move to Verona. It was a really great opportunity for me but when I was 15 it didn’t occur to me the risks that I was running, you know? I was living for a dream – and, believe me, I did live for that dream – I didn’t think twice about moving halfway across the world and putting all my faith in this man. In the end, what could happen?
It’s true, he said to me that when I arrive in Verona things would happen like this, then this, then this, but who can guarantee that when you arrive all those things will happen, especially in this dangerous world of today? Now that I’m a dad myself, I see how courageous my mum and dad were to let me go to the other side of the world at 15 to follow my dream, and it wasn’t easy.
When I first arrived, I had the happiness of arriving in a new place but I soon realised that not everything that had been promised to me was going to transpire over there and for a year and a half I was only receiving €20 a week. There were six of us in the same room, although who it was changed over time as boys returned to Brazil and then others came in. But for a year and a half, I shared a room with five other lads, on €20 a week.
I didn’t have any need for money to eat or to sleep because that was all paid for – breakfast, lunch and dinner – and there was a woman who cleaned the room as well. I needed money for other personal things, so for a year and a half of my life, I used that €20 to buy the same things every week.
I will never forget what I did with that money. I’d put five Euros of credit on my mobile to send messages. Another six Euros went on a card where you had to scratch off a password and it would give you an hour’s worth of calls to Brazil. So, after I had paid for calls and messages home to my mum, my dad and my sister, I’d already used 11 Euros. Then I used another two or three for little things like shampoo, deodorant and toothpaste, and I’d try to save four or five Euros for the weekend, when I’d spend it at an internet point in town because I didn’t have a computer and we couldn’t get the internet where we lived. I’d spend that time chatting to my friends back home on the internet.
I used to try and save up my minutes so I could have the maximum possible because it was really important to me to have a moment when I felt close to them all. I used to wait the whole week to be able to message my friends in Brazil because I used all the credit on the card to call my family, and they had to wait until I could get to the internet point. Once a week, I got to speak to them all online.
But it was a great experience for me that made me grow as a man, as a person. I was alone and, at times, I cried because I missed my family and friends, but they couldn’t be there with me. There was one particular moment when I was 17 and thinking of giving up football and I called home to my parents in Brazil and said I wanted to go back. They spoke to me then and said: “Don’t do it, don’t come back now. It may feel bad, but you’re so close to realising your dream and you’ll realise it very soon.” That is just one example when I didn’t have the strength to carry on but they were the ones who gave me that strength.
It’s incredibly important to know that you have those people who love you that want only the best for you and that you have 100 per cent faith in. That’s incredibly important, just to have someone like that by your side, above all during those hardest moments. I feel very lucky that I have the full support of my family. It wasn’t only my dream, it became the dream of my mother, my sister, my father as well.
It wasn’t long after that conversation with my family that I became a professional footballer. In total, I think three of us – out of around 25 boys at that school – are now professional footballers. One plays in Belgium and the other still plays in Italy. So, this is the reality. It’s a fragile dream.
I think all of that is the reason why my mum cries every time she sees me play now. She cries over the little things because we’ve been through so much together, even at a distance, with very little money. She cries because she remembers the times my sister and I asked for something different to eat and she couldn’t buy it because there was no money. So today, to see where I am is something special for them, something unique, and for this I say that I truly am living a dream.
The most fundamentally important thing is to always remain humble and not think that you are better than other people, because in the end we’re all equal. The wheel turns: one day you’re up at the top, but the next you can be down at the bottom. So you should never be arrogant and always keep your feet on the ground, with humility.
A version of this article first appeared in the Chelsea matchday programme