Brazilian trailblazer Mirandinha comes full circle
FORTALEZA, Brazil (Reuters) - Not too many Brazilians speak English with as passable a Newcastle accent as Mirandinha, the first Brazilian to play in the English top flight.
Nowadays more than two thirds of the players in the Premier League are foreigners, with South Americans commonplace at many of the leading clubs.
But when the 26-year-old striker arrived in England in 1987, the only South Americans to have made an impact there were the Argentine pair of Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa who enjoyed success with Tottenham Hotspur a decade before Mirandinha rolled into the Geordie heartland.
Mirandinha, now 53 and heavily involved in the seaside city of Fortaleza's World Cup preparations, is still proud to have been a trailblazer for players of the five-time world champion nation.
"It was an unknown journey for Brazilians then and for me too," he told Reuters during a tour of the 65,000-seater Arena Castelao, the first of Brazil's 12 World Cup stadiums to be completed.
"I had a fantastic time at Newcastle and still follow them very closely.
"What I now want from the World Cup more than anything, besides Brazil winning it of course, is for Brazil to play England here in Fortaleza.
"This is my home town, this is where I was born and where my whole journey started. I played here, in the old stadium before it was knocked down when I was 16. It has changed quite a bit since then."
As he stands in the scorching sun, workmen swarm around Mirandinha with the detonations of drills and jack-hammers, and the rumble of forklift trucks, filling the air.
But he insists everything that needs to be ready for Sunday's formal opening by President Dilma Rousseff will be ready.
Mirandinha had spells at Palmeiras, Botafogo, Nautico and Portuguesa before arriving at Newcastle where he stayed for two years, scoring 19 goals in 54 games in the old First Division.
Out of the sun, and in the new stadium's museum, he points to old English newspaper cuttings displayed in a cabinet highlighting his career. He laughs at one headline "This One's For You, Boss," with his beaming photo alongside it.
"That was my first goal for Newcastle, I had not scored for a few games. I said to the manager Willie McFaul afterwards, "this one's for you boss," and after that, it was fine.
"I had a fantastic time at Newcastle, it was my best football experience - and I played in Brazil, Portugal, Japan - but the Newcastle fans are passionate, they are like Brazilians.
"They love their football like we do here, it is a very special place and I loved it there."
He was also hugely impressed with one talented youngster and was keen to learn how that young man was doing today.
"Paul Gascoigne was the outstanding player there. I loved him so much, but he was so crazy," he laughed.
"He was brilliant on the field, mad off it, and of course we became close and he taught me every English swear word I know. But how is he now? I know he has had problems and I wish him well."
Mirandinha's journey has, in a sense, come full circle.
He left Fortaleza to discover the world - and now the world is coming to discover Fortaleza, which is hosting matches in next year's Confederations Cup as well as the World Cup in 2014.
"It is wonderful for my city which, we must admit, is not all that well known internationally. But the name will go around the world over the next year or so.
"The state government, the workers, the politicians - everyone has done a marvellous job in getting this stadium ready on schedule and on budget.
"The stadium will act as a catalyst for the city's development too. It is a world-class stadium, and it will change how this city thinks of itself.
"I was lucky to play in some great stadiums around the world, and that includes St James' Park, and although I won't play here, my hope is that Brazil play England here in the World Cup.
"Of course I want Brazil to win and now with (Luis Felipe) Scolari back in charge and with (Carlos Alberto) Parreira helping him, I think we have a very good chance. But there is always pressure on Brazil, and more with a World Cup at home."
Even more pressure than playing at St James' Park?
"Definitely yes, but the Geordie fans will appreciate that, because after the Brazilians, they are the best fans in the world."
(Reporting by Mike Collett; Editing by Robert Woodward)
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