For many Brazilian children, football is a way to become great, escape hardships and deliver a future for their families that cared so much about them since they were only little. We heard the story time and time again, children coming from difficult conditions in the favela to thrive on the biggest of stages and see their names on the top of the world.
Take any Brazil side that took part at the FIFA World Cup at any edition and you will hear that story. It is no different at Qatar 2022, when the Selecao was dubbed to be one of the biggest favourites to win the trophy, but eventually fell short, being eliminated in the quarter-finals in a nail-biting shoot-out by Croatia, as Rodrygo and Marquinhos missed crucial penalties.
For some stalwarts like Thiago Silva or Dani Alves, the two captains of the squad, it is the end of the road. For others, younger players who are just making their mark in football, it is only the beginning. One of the players who will have a shot in the future is Bruno Guimaraes, the 25-year-old midfield stalwart, that played only twice at Qatar 2022, but is already earmarked as the future of Brazil.
Yet the ascension to greatness was hardly an easy proposition for Guimaraes. Born in Rio de Janeiro, he was rejected by several clubs from the area and his career looked over. He was rejected even by Flamengo, where he started in his early years as a futsal player, or Fluminense or Botafogo.
It was clear that he was not cut out for football. He told his parents that he was going to quit and stick to futsal. His father rejected the possibility and sent Bruno to Sao Paulo, over 400 kilometres away, to continue playing football. The parents would come on weekends to see their son play.
“It was good for me. He made jokes, but in a serious way. If we lost a game, I would eat a ham and cheese sandwich and get juice. But, if we won, he would let me eat whatever I wanted. If we lost, I would talk to my mother later in the day and tell her that I was hungry. ‘Give me a burger, for the love of God!,’” said Guimares for “The Guardian”.
It was not easy for the Guimaraes, especially as they were a working class family, with his father being a taxi driver in Rio de Janeiro. Ever wondered where Guimaraes chose the 39 number he plays with at club level?
Well, his father, Dick, was a taxi driver in Vila Isabel, a northern suburb of Rio de Janeiro. The taxi that supported the family financially for years was the number 39 of the rank there and it is why Guimaraes chose it both at Olympique Lyon and at Newcastle United.
“It brings luck to the family, it is our lucky number, the family’s lucky number,” added the Brazilian midfielder.
It was in Sao Paulo where he started playing better and better and it was little time before Brazilian giants Atletico Paranaense laid eyes on him. Sooner rather than later, Guimaraes struck a deal to move there, spending two seasons.
His games were better and better, as plenty of teams in Europe, including giants like Benfica or Atletico Madrid wanted him. Yet he chose a path beaten by many Brazilians players before him, going to France at Olympique Lyon, a deal sweetened by then sporting director of the French club, Juninho Pernambucano, who was a key player for Vasco da Gama in Brazil, a team supported by both Bruno and his father.
Lyon forked out €20 million and doubled their investment exactly two years later when Newcastle wanted Guimaraes and dished nearly €50 million for his transfer.
“I try not to forget where I came from. I know what I had to go through to be here, to live what I am living. Despite having lifted a few trophies and being young, I want to do it much more. I want to play in the Olympics, at the World Cup and in the Champions League many more times. I want to win, I want to participate,” added Guimaraes.
While he was not a start for Brazil, he featured against Switzerland and Cameroon, highlighting his potential time and time again. He has already earned rave reviews for his excellent games in a Newcastle shirt, scoring eight goals in the Premier League in one year, exactly the number scored for Atletico Paranaense and Lyon combined in four years.
Humble, hard-working and with a strong tactical nous, Guimaraes will likely be a key for Brazil in the next decade. The fundamentals are there and irrespective of the pain caused by the loss against Croatia, the team is very strong.