John Wragg interviews Wolves’ much-travelled Brazilian striker
LEO Bonatini’s father has flown in from Brazil to see, for the first time, his son play like a Wolf.
Striker Bonatini has made an impact in the opening months of his loan to Wolves with three goals in seven Championship games ahead of yesterday’s trip to Nottingham Forest.
“How do you say, the Wolves? The wolf, it is an animal,” says Bonatini.
“It is an animal that the coach (Wolves boss Nuno) talks to us about. He says we have to have the same mentality as wolves, to play like a pack to win the games.
“If we can play like the wolf, I know they will remember us here. If you just play and say ‘oh, ok, I’m here’ then that is not enough.
“I think you have to write your name in the history books of this club.”
They love the Wolves in Brazil. They are up there with our Premier League glamour boys Manchester United, City, Chelsea.
Why? The answer is in the name.
“When they watch the Championship on the TV or the computer, Wolves is one of the big clubs in Brazil because when they see the wolf, they remember,” explains Bonatini.
“They know which club it is because of the wolf. They know the colours. They follow.
“Many friends of mine they know about Wolves and they like to watch. This makes the attraction. It is very famous. I know from history that Wolves were the biggest club in England in the past and now to get this club back into the Premier League, and for me to play in that league with them, that is the dream I have.”
In an hour with him at the Wolves training ground the day before the Forest game, Bonatini, 23, was good company, his English good, although he says he will have lessons to make it better, a man made mature by his worldwide career.
His dad Eduardo has seen his son play for Cruzeiro and Goias in Brazil, go to Italy with Juventus as a youth, make his name with loads of goals for Estoril in Portugal, get more goals and more money in Saudi Arabia with AlHilal and now he is the Black Country boy.
“My dad is here for 20 days to stay with me,” he said. “He has not seen me play for the Wolves live so I think he is excited to see.
“I like to live on my own so that if I want to stay at the training ground and work, stay until 6pm, I can and not worry for my dad. But also it is good he is here to help me. I really like when he comes.
“He will watch me and bring me luck. He watched me in Saudi Arabia, but my mother, she could not because the women there, they cannot go to the stadium.
“She really, really likes football and now she loves it because I am playing in England. She says she can come but is afraid to come alone because she cannot speak English.
“But she will come in December. Christmas and New Year, my parents will come together.”
Mr and Mrs Bonatini, you will be able to see your rapaz (boy in English), bebe (babbie in Black Country) play against Ipswich at Molineux on December 23 and Brentford at home on New Year’s Day.
By then we’ll know if Wolves’ exciting flying start to the season has been sustained or if it’s sobre (over).
Bonatini scored on his Wolves debut against Middlesbrough, got another in their defeat at Cardiff and one in the midweek 3-3 draw with Bristol City.
He’s around his career ratio of a goal every two games.
“I was told the difference for me is that I will get less chances in the Championship. If I get three chances I have to take one. So I think of that,” says Bonatini.
When he came back from Juve (“I was on loan from Cruzeiro and Juventus said they wanted to sign me. Then they didn’t. I don’t know to this day why”) he scored 20 goals in 37 games for his first major club, Estoril, and then 15 in 35 for Al-Hilal.
He was playing in front of 80,000 crowds in Riyadh, winning the league, the cup and flying vast distances in the Asian Champions League. Games are at night to avoid temperatures which can top 36C and the heat and the sand burn the throat.
So playing on a wet midwinter in Barnsley (January 13) has its attractions.
“It is better to play in cold than hot. Here the weather is very good to play. I just need something to get hot on my fingers and that would be nice,” he smiles.
The game schedule he had with Al-Hilal was heavy, the traveling draining, the pressure big so Bonatini doesn’t think he will fold when Barnsley comes.
“With Al-Hilal, they are the biggest club. Like Real Madrid in Spain, Al-Hilal are like that in Saudi. You are expected to win every match which of course is not possible. But if you don’t the people want to know why.”
Expectancy at Wolves is always simmering, as it is at Aston Villa. Leeds, Nottingham Forest and the
“Wolves is one of the big clubs in Brazil because when they see the wolf, they remember
Leo Bonatini Wolves
full list of the Championship’s yesterday heroes.
The latest to try and do what six managers haven’t since Mick McCarthy eight years ago and get Wolves up is Nuno Espirito Herlander Simoes Santo. “Nuno” for shorthand. He’s whirlwinded his way into the club, the old guard gone, the new, mostly Portuguese like himself, in with a slick style of football.
It’s working but Nuno is shy to the media. So what’s he like?
“He looks like a strong guy,” he said, “but he’s a very good guy.
“It’s the first time I work with him and he is like a father for us. He is open to everything. If you need something, if you want to go and speak with him to ask something, you can go there. He says to us, ‘If you want to go to my office my door will be open’.
“Some coaches they are small. But Nuno was a keeper, a very good keeper, he is tall, strong, he is a big guy, but he likes to be the first to joke.
“He treats us all the same but when he needs to say something in football you cannot just say ‘please, come on’. No, you need to scream to say the best way. He can do this.
“I’m learning a lot off him. I feel at home here. When I wake up I never feel like ‘come on, I have to go there’. A day off is nice to enjoy, but I miss it.
“When I was at Juve I didn’t like it. I wanted to go home. I could have gone to Utrecht but I said no. Here I want to stay. I hope I am successful, I hope Wolves want me at the end of the loan. I hope Al-Hilal can agree with Wolverhampton. That is my wishes.
“But one thing. My ears are ready to understand the accent here, but it is hard. I can talk in English but when I hear the accent it is a different language.”
Don’t worry bab. Keep out the hoss road. (Don’t be concerned my friend, but get out of the way).
HOT STUFF: Bonatini in his days playing for Al-Hilal
C’EST BON! Leo Bonatini, right, has settled in nicely at Molineux UNDERSTANDING: Nuno Espirito Santo