Hyderabad: Roberto Mendes da Silva — a few in India, except the small but vociferous followers of Indian football, would recognise the name.
When Churchill Brothers clinched the I-League title on Tuesday with a 1-1 draw against Mohun Bagan, Sunil Chhetri — who is on loan at the Goan club — grabbed more of the spotlight for his 72nd minute goal. But Churchill fans know their road to glory in the Indian domestic club competition started in the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo — hometown of their star midfielder Mendes da Silva, a.k.a. Beto.
Without the 34-year-old Brazilian controlling the midfield, Churchill perhaps wouldn’t be where they are now. For Beto, the title — his third following the two he won with Dempo SC — is yet another reason to rejoice at the decision he made way back in 2004 — to leave football-crazy Brazil for India.
“It (winning the title) is an incredible feeling. When I decided to come to India in 2004, I never imagined I would be so successful here.
In fact, back then I was a little unsure. I wanted to explore the Asian market but wasn’t sure how it would turn out. But now after nine years, I can confidently say, I made the right decision,” Beto told this newspaper over phone from Goa. “India has given me a lot. And I would do all I can to give back whatever I can to the country and the fans,” he added. That determination to ‘give something back’ is what drove Beto and his compatriot Jose Ramirez Barreto to start a football academy — Brasil Futebol Academia — in Goa.
“We have around 300 kids training there. Now, with the help of a firm Techno India we are set to open another academy in Kolkata,” Beto said. “My dream is to open 10 such academies in India. But I don’t want to rush things.
Step by step, we will reach there,” he says.
“It hurts me a lot that India does not have the required infrastructure to develop the talent. With my experience here, I can assure that India has the talent to become a strong footballing nation.
Hopefully, with the help of some corporates, I can do my part to improve the scenario.” But nurturing India’s future football stars is not the only dream Beto has. “I want to play for the national team. I understand it is difficult but I’ll be extremely happy if the Indian federation decides to call me,” he said. Recently, Japaneseborn Arata Izumi became India’s first naturalised national team player. But unlike Beto, Arata had an advantage — his father is an Indian. “But India is my home now,” Beto quickly added. “In fact, my two daughters — Gabriella (13) and Juliana (11) — even speak good Hindi.”