Brazil new boy de­ter­mined to make Dunga’s 2010 squad


MANY Brazil­ians were sur­prised when Felipe Melo re­ceived his first in­ter­na­tional call-up last year. Yet, within months, no less an au­thor­ity than Ar­gentina coach Diego Maradona was hail­ing the mid­fielder as one of world foot­ball’s big­gest rev­e­la­tions.

It has been a long jour­ney to in­ter­na­tional star­dom for the Ju­ven­tus player. Af­ter start­ing his ca­reer in 2001 with a two-year stint at Fla­mengo, fol­lowed by shorter spells at Cruzeiro and Gremio, Melo made the move to Spain.

Fail­ing to make much of an im­pact at Mal­lorca or Racing San­tander, he even­tu­ally shone in a mid­field hold­ing role with Alme­ria.

His suc­cess there earned him a move to Fiorentina, and af­ter catch­ing Dunga’s eye, his ca­reer took an­other up­ward turn when he signed for Ju­ven­tus in 2009. caught up with the 26-year-old and spoke to him about his long road to the top, his hopes of book­ing a place at the World Cup South Africa with Brazil, and how it feels to earn the praise of Maradona.

Felipe, do you think the path your ca­reer has taken has helped you tackle the chal­lenges you have faced along the way?

I was only 20 when I left Brazil and joined Mal­lorca from Gremio. I didn’t do much in Brazil­ian foot­ball apart from scor­ing the goal that saved Fla­mengo from rel­e­ga­tion one year (in a vi­tal Brasileirao match against In­ter­na­cional). That made me a lit­tle more fa­mous at the time. I went to Europe soon af­ter and, be­ing a for­eigner, I had to learn lots of new things like the lan­guage and cus­toms. It’s a dif­fer­ent type of foot­ball too, and I had to take lots of tac­ti­cal and dis­ci­plinary as­pects on board. It was very dif­fi­cult and maybe that’s why it took me a lit­tle time to come through.

What was the big­gest dif­fer­ence when you moved to Italy from Spain?

I was at Racing San­tander for two years and re­ally suf­fered there un­til I went to Alme­ria, where Unai Emery (the cur­rent Va­len­cia coach) gave me a lot of help. I re­ally pro­gressed with him and by the time I went to Fiorentina I’d earned much more re­spect. That was a far big­ger shop win­dow. I was play­ing reg­u­larly in a team that was go­ing for the Euro­pean places and I was de­vel­op­ing a lot from a tac­ti­cal point of view. That all helped me make the Brazil team.

What did you like most about Unai Emery? Has he been the most im­por­tant coach in your ca­reer so far?

He re­ally was like a teacher for me. He used to sit down and speak to me in ev­ery train­ing ses­sion and he made me an im­por­tant player.

There are two other coaches I can’t for­get ei­ther. Van­der­lei Lux­em­burgo (his coach at Cruzeiro in 2003) helped me a lot when I was in Brazil and made me be­come more pro­fes­sional. Then there was Ce­sare Pran­delli, who was very in­tel­li­gent and was al­most like the King of Florence.

It was dur­ing your time at Fiorentina that you caught Dunga’s at­ten­tion. How did you feel when he called you up for the first time? How did you find out and had you spo­ken to him be­fore­hand?

I used to look out for all the squad an­nounce­ments and I thought that maybe one day I might make the list. I found out about the call-up on the in­ter­net one day. I was look- ing at some stuff on­line and a friend called to tell me about it. I couldn’t be­lieve it. I was so happy I ran around the house scream­ing! I spoke to Dunga for the first time when I joined up with the squad.

When you were watch­ing Brazil at Ger­many 2006 on TV at home did you think that one day you might be part of the team your­self ?

I al­ways had that dream of mak­ing the na­tional team. Ev­ery player does. Peo­ple used to laugh at me for talk­ing about it in pub­lic, but I worked hard and never gave up and it fi­nally came true for me.

You got the nod ahead of some big names for your de­but match against Italy in Lon­don. Can you tell us a lit­tle about the whole ex­pe­ri­ence?

Dunga had a few ques­tions for me in the ho­tel and we had a bit of a chat, though not about his tac­tics for the match.

We only had two days to­gether and it was only in the team talk the day be­fore the match that I found out I’d be play­ing.

I felt a shiver go down my spine when he said in the dress­ing room that I was in the team. Ev­ery­thing that had hap­pened in my ca­reer to that point flashed through my mind and I knew it was the op­por­tu­nity I’d been wait­ing for for so long.

I knew I ab­so­lutely had to make the most of it and show what I was worth. Thanks to God I had a re­ally good match and I kept my place in the team with some more good per­for­mances.

You are now play­ing along­side a very ex­pe­ri­enced mid­fielder in Gil­berto Silva, who oc­cu­pies a deep po­si­tion, while your job is to close peo­ple down and get for­ward when you can. Do you think you can make a com­par­i­son be­tween the two of you and the tan­dem formed by Mauro Silva and Dunga at USA 1994? Has the coach spoke to you about this? He’s never men­tioned it but I’m sure he and Jorginho (Dunga’s as­sis­tant coach and a mem­ber of the Brazil team at USA 1994) are aware that the ex­pe­ri­ence they gained then can be use­ful for us now.

They come from a gen­er­a­tion of cham­pi­ons and that’s no co­in­ci­dence. Their ex­pe­ri­ence shows that and ev­ery­thing they went through in that World Cup can be of use to us.

They are both very fo­cused on their work and know what it takes to win. I’ve worked with one or two coaches who had very fixed ideas but Dunga is just an­other mem­ber of the team who puts a lot of hard work in and it feels like he’s been coach­ing for years. He knows how to lis­ten and knows what play­ers need. He knows the short­cuts to suc­cess.

How does it feel to play along­side some­one with Gil­berto Silva’s ex­pe­ri­ence and stature?

It was fan­tas­tic to have him by my side when I made my in­ter­na­tional de­but. He made me feel very calm. It’s hard to ex­plain just how much help he gives you on the pitch,

The na­tional side is very or­gan­ised in a tac­ti­cal sense. We play as a team and there’s a lot of unity out on the pitch.

Every­one runs, closes play­ers down and gives their all, and play­ers like Kaka and Robinho do their fair share of mark­ing too. It’s things like that which have brought A Seleção closer to the fans again, just like in the past when peo­ple re­ally loved the team.

One last ques­tion. In an in­ter­view last year, Maradona named you as one of the play­ers of the sea­son and one of the rev­e­la­tions of the World Cup qual­i­fiers. How does it feel to re­ceive praise from some­one of his stature?

It was a very great hon­our be­cause he is one of the two great­est play­ers in the his­tory of the game. If he were play­ing to­day, he’d still be putting on a show.

Nat­u­rally, it made me very happy. To be hon­est, though, I’d re­ally like Pele to give me some praise. Af­ter all, Maradona is Ar­gen­tinian, isn’t he? –

MOUTHING OFF: Felipe Melo of Brazil cel­e­brates dur­ing the Con­fed­er­a­tions Cup in Pre­to­ria last year. Brazil won the tour­na­ment and Melo will chase more sil­ver­ware when Brazil re­turn to South Africa for the World Cup.

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