Brazil brought a loaded squad to Qatar 2022, with a huge amount of talent, especially in attack. They won the first two games in the group phase, against Serbia and Switzerland, without even conceding a shot on goal, while their loss against Cameroon, 0-1, did not matter, as they won their group.
The last match also provided coach Tite with a chance to give meaningful minutes to all their players on the roster, including Antony, a 22-year-old wing wizard, who was subject to a $100 million transfer this summer from Ajax Amsterdam to Manchester United.
He made an instant impact on the “Red Devils”, becoming one of the most talented youngsters in the world. And his excellent games at “Old Trafford” made him a lock on Tite’s 26-man roster for Qatar 2022, with the video of Antony watching the names being announced and starting crying becoming viral on social media.
“Putting on the national team’s shirt, representing your country and your family is very important to me. I hope to make history,” said the 22-year-old right winger, whose technique and speed was refined on the streets in Brazil and are now available for all the world to see.
Yet was Antony’s path to greatness so straightforward? Well, the answer to the question is a definite no. Born in a favela – a slum, an umbrella name for several types of working-class neighborhoods in Brazil. – in Sao Paulo, Antony had to work hard, steer away from trouble and try to make do with what he had before earning his big break. And it was all thanks to football.
“I was born in hell. That’s not a joke. For my European friends who don’t know, the favela where I grew up in São Paulo is actually called Inferninho — “little hell.” If you really want to understand me as a person, then you must understand where I am from. My history. My roots. Inferninho,”said the player in a first-person essay for “The Players’ Tribune”.
His financial means were scarce and he had to fight for everything he had, before getting his first break when playing for Sao Paulo, the Brazilian powerhouse that produced so much talent over the last decades.
“My mother worked at a clothes and shoe shop close to our house. The boots I used were borrowed through her, somewhat in secret. But I only borrowed them because I didn’t have the means to buy any,” said the Brazilian star.
The struggle was too real and widely known for many Brazilian players that had to make do with what they had. The right winger was nearly cut three times by Sao Paulo, being called surplus to requirements.
Three times he was allowed to stay, as he battled his way to stardom, being surely toughened up by the difficult life in the “Inferninho”, where, according to his own testimony, criminality was just something he was used to every day.
“Every day, my older brother would take me to the square to play football. In the favela, everyone plays. Kids, old men, teachers, construction workers, bus drivers, drug dealers, and gangsters. There, everyone is equal. In my father’s time, it was a dirt pitch. In my time, it was asphalt. In the beginning, I played barefoot, on bleeding feet. We did not have money for proper shoes. I was small, but I dribbled with a meanness that came from God. Dribbling was always something inside me. It was a natural instinct. And I refused to bow my head to anyone. I would elastico the drug dealers. Rainbow the bus drivers. Nutmeg the thieves,” says Antony.
That time toughened him up and made him the player he now is. Gone were the moments when Antony was close to being cut of by Sao Paulo, who cashed in on their diamond in February 2020, as Ajax Amsterdam, a club renowned for discovering young talent, forked out $20 million for him.
Two years later, the Brazilian star cost Manchester United five times, with a huge return on investment for Ajax and a lofty pay-out for Sao Paulo, which kept some of his rights.
“Man, it took a while. When I signed with Ajax, it was early in the morning. I called my brother and we talked about closing the deal. Right there I already envisioned myself playing in the Champions League. Making my dream, my family’s dream, come true. Last year I was watching it, now I’m playing in it and I’m scoring. It gives me butterflies in my stomach and I was very emotional coming into the game. Only God and my family know how much I had to endure and how hard I needed to work to reach this moment,” said the 22-year-old Brazilian star.
Now,at Qatar 2022, he has the chance to fulfil another dream. He co-wrote his own book at 18 years old and married at 19. At 22, he is one of the stars of football and an idol at “Old Trafford”.
Being a world champion at this age, with this background, Antony would surely become a legend.
“I always say that wherever I go in life, no matter what happens to me, I represent the place that taught me everything. Without my home and my people, none of this matters. On my boots, before every match, I write myself a little reminder. ”FAVELA.” When I tie my laces, I remember. I remember everything,” concludes the Brazilian player.