The Elastico‘s Samindra Kunti recently spoke to long-term Tottenham Hotspur transfer target Leandro Damião, who discussed his career to date, the Brazil national side and his plans for the future – including his desire to be reunited with Chelsea star Oscar. Read the full transcript below!
Your path to being a football player wasn’t straightforward, enlighten us…
Yes, I started at Ibirama and Atletico Tuburao, small Brazilian clubs, and I really had to fight for my place in team. I also switched position from midfield to central-striker. I had set out to become a professional player and always maintained that goal. I think I worked hard and always looked for a way forward. This contributed in a big way to eventually becoming a professional. I made my professional debut agasint Ypiranga in the Campeonato Gaucho. It was the best debut one could have hoped for. The Internacional team had a lot of quality at the time and that obviously helped a lot in scoring two goals and giving two assists.
What role did Luis Fernando Roese have in your development as a player?
Ortiz – he had a fundamental part in my development as a player. He was a great craque in Futsal – winning the World Cup with Brazil in 1992 – and he is still working in the youth development department for Internacional. My early career meant that I was not the finished article when I arrived at Internacional. He invested a lot of time in me, pointing out and teaching me certain aspects of the game that would help on my way to becoming a real professional.
Celso Roth had a policy of rotation during your first season at Internacional in 2010. It must have been difficult to settle down?
I established myself as a professional bit by bit, by working hard. Internacional played the final of the Copa Libertadores that season. It was very emotional as I started on the bench. The coach then gave me a chance by bringing me on in the second half and it was a moment I wanted to seize, rewarding my coach’s faith and so I scored a goal, winning possession on the half-line. It helped Internacional to win the Copa Libertardores and it was defenitely a memorable moment.
The emotional rollercoaster continued with a call up for Brazil…
Indeed, it was very emotional again! It all went rather quickly. I arrived at Internacional and soon I got the call up. As a small kid I dreamt of wearing the yellow jersey and respresenting my country. Against Scotland, early in 2011, it became reality.
You quickly became a regular for Brazil, ousting Pato as Brazil’s true number 9!
I do not consider Pato a rival. Remember that he played for Internacional as well – he is a great striker and a friend. But it is for Mano Menezes to decide who he starts up front. Do not worry, I am convinced Pato will return to the Seleção. There is no rivalry between us. There is no jealousy within the Seleção. It is a group of players with a strong sense of cohesion.
What is your perception of the Seleção’s evolution under Mano Menezes?
The Seleção has clearly been improving. Not winning the Olympics was bad, but it was very competitive as every opponent provided us with serious resistance. Whether sacrificing Hulk for Alex Sandro after the quarter-final against Honduras was a tactical error, is not for me to judge – you should ask Mano Menezes! My belief is that Brazil is growing as a team.
In recent friendlies against Iraq and Japan, Brazil played a 4-2-4 without a recognized number 9 – a worry?
That is a matter of positional play and different systems should be used and tried by Brazil. I was slightly injured at the time, although I travelled with the Seleção. But I am sure I will have more opportunities in the future to play for Brazil.
Your performances at Internacional and for Brazil led Ronaldo to saying your were the next craque of Brazilian football. How would you describe your own qualities as a player?
I am grateful for Ronaldo to have said that. He was my childhood hero – I have never seen any player like him since. As to my qualities as a player, I would say I am good with both feet and know how to keep possession – physical and direct in the box, always looking to score. I am gaining in experience every game, but I still have room for improvement.
Your physicality would make you great for the Premier League. What is the situation looking like right now?
I have a contract until 2015 with Internacional and for the moment, despite all the rumours, I am staying where I am and that is in Porte Alegre with Internacional. The Premier League holds great attraction, of course. I was in England for quite some time during the Olympics and it is a great country with good people. But for the moment I am staying put.
Recently though, you indicated that you’d like to be reunited with Oscar…
Yes, Oscar is a fantastic player, an absolute craque at Chelsea. I had an excellent relationship with him on the field at Internacional and it is true that I would like to be reunited with Oscar. We still play together when fielded for Brazil. But, I have a contract to honour at Internacional. Regardless of the fact that Internacional will not play the Copa Libertadores next year, I maintain my focus here at Internacional. It is not an incentive to leave. When a European club will come to the fore, we will see.
For now you remain at Internacional, the club that made you great, a club with a rich tradition – what do you think will your place in the history of Internacional be?
Well for the moment, I am still at Internacional. I think that to be a club great, like Falcão, Dunga or Taffarel for example, I will need to contribute a little more to this great club in the future!