How the Premier League's Brazilian Community Has Finally Made England Home

Marcus AlvesFeatured Columnist IAugust 6, 2018

Chelsea's David Luiz, left, greets Liverpool's Roberto Firmino , centre, during warm up before the English Premier League soccer match between Liverpool and Chelsea at Anfield, Liverpool, England, Saturday, Nov. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Rui Vieira)

At least once a month, Roberto Firmino takes a break from the rigors of everyday life—playing football table tennis in his back garden and such—and drives more than 40 minutes from Liverpool, England, to the Salford district of Manchester to visit the same tiny grocery store. It's called Mais Brasil Market, and it can only be described as a Brazilian Paradise.

From acai (a fruit from the Amazon that is mainly consumed frozen, almost like an ice cream) to guarana (the national drink for those who are not into cocktails like caipirinha), it's possible for Firmino to find almost anything he could want from his homeland there.

The shop is the brainchild of Borman Litig, a 48-year-old Brazilian who 18 months ago quit his job at a local steakhouse to set up a shop so small it struggles to hold more than five customers.

When Firmino visits, he buys in bulk and never misses the picanha, a succulent and tender cut from the rump that is a must in Brazilian barbecue.

"He's one of my best clients," Litig tells Bleacher Report of the Liverpool forward.

And not just for the direct sales. Litig knows if he's got Firmino, he's got the word out to other valuable clients.

Firmino's new teammate Alisson, for example. Liverpool splashed out £65 million (about $85 million) this summer on the goalkeeper, who was born and raised in the southern part of Brazil, where eating meat is a religion. Alisson has a reputation as a grill master that has followed him to Europe.

He will likely be in charge of the churrascos (mixed grills) for a Brazilian band that has swollen this year on Merseyside, with former Monaco midfielder Fabinho also joining Liverpool before highly rated forward Richarlison moved to crosstown rival Everton from Watford.

"I can now move on after [Philippe] Coutinho's departure [to Barcelona]," Borman jokes at the prospect of some new high-profile customers.

It was Manchester City's Fernandinho who helped advertise the secret spot in Salford. He asked Litig for contact cards and distributed them among his national-team pals.

Gabriel Jesus, who lives in the neighborhood, can often be seen walking to the shop looking for rice and beans. He has a personal chef, Lena, who formerly worked with City midfielder Fernando, now at Galatasaray. Ederson and Danilo's wives are also regulars.

Litig describes them as simple people, like a big family.

"They have not forgotten their roots," he says. "Firmino invited me for his daughter's birthday once. I had suffered a heart attack a little before that and Fernandinho came to me and asked how I was doing, if everything was OK. He really cared about me."

Rui Vieira/Associated Press

Living in the north of England hasn't always been so comfortable for this community. A lot has changed since Manchester City's then-record signing, Robinho, said back in 2010: "Manchester is a sensational venue for football but an awful place to live. ... The winter, the cold and the dark nights. It's very hard for a young Brazilian."

Similar improvements have been made in London—Chelsea's David Luiz and Willian have even launched their own Italian restaurant, Babbo, in Mayfair. Paris Saint-Germain superstar Neymar is among those who have already paid a visit.

For decades, English teams missed out on Brazilian talent to clubs in Spain, Germany and Italy. It wasn't seen as a desirable location. How things have changed.

This season, 22 players from the Portuguese-speaking country will play for Premier League clubs.

From Firmino's birth townMaceio, on the northeast coastto Alisson'sNovo Hamburgothe Brazilians arrive from miles apart with accents that sound like different languages.

And while they may still struggle with the language and the temperatures, cultural issues like missing beans and rice are no longer an excuse. Brazilians have become one of the largest international communities in the Premier League—and have formed a community to make England feel like home.

Gabriel Jesus was 19 years old when he completed a £27 million (about $35 million) move from Palmeiras to Manchester City.

Fernandinho, Ederson and Jesus all helped Manchester City win the Premier League last season
Fernandinho, Ederson and Jesus all helped Manchester City win the Premier League last seasonPAUL ELLIS/Getty Images

Carlos Eduardo Santoro, the man who convinced him to sign with Adidas, had been hired by the club to scout Latin America. "At that moment, I didn't know if we (City) needed a striker," Santoro said in a lecture in Brazil. "But he was talented. If we did not catch him at that moment and he then went to Real Madrid or PSG, we would never catch him again."

Before the deal was struck, Jesus' representatives told City that he had a non-negotiable demand: He would be bringing some friends with him.

If he had to leave the streets of Jardim Peri, the favela where he grew up in Sao Paulo, he would need to bring his support group with him.

When it comes to South American footballers, this sort of transfer requirement is not uncommon, and for Jesus it has clearly helped.

"Over the last few seasons, we had Ramires, Oscar and other excellent names, but no one impressed me the way [Jesus] did. He's been brilliant," says Emerson Thome, a Brazilian veteran of more than 150 Premier League games who is now an international scout for West Ham United.

Jesus' entourage consists of his brother, Felipe Jesus, and childhood friends Higor Braga and Fabio Lucio. The trio suffered a setback when immigration officers at Heathrow Airport denied their entry back into the country because of visa problems in January, but the group has since sorted the issues out and will return to Manchester for the new season.

"We didn't know we couldn't spend an entire year in England. We could only stay a maximum of six months," Lucio explains. "When we returned to Brazil [to celebrate New Year's], we thought we could remain there for two months and then travel back [to England] without any problem. That was not the case."

Jesus' friends have drawn comparison to Neymar's controversial entourage, but they will be once again watched by a strict taskmaster this season—Jesus' mom, Vera Lucia Diniz.

Jesus celebrates his goals by "phoning home" to his mother, but she will move back to Manchester for the new season, Jesus' longtime agent Cristiano Simoes tells B/R.

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - MAY 13:  Gabriel Jesus of Manchester City celebrates scoring his sides first goal during the Premier League match between Southampton and Manchester City at St Mary's Stadium on May 13, 2018 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Mike
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Dona Vera, as she is better known, watches the four of them very closely. Posting pictures of parties on social media is completely forbidden. "I've told [Higor and Fabio] that if they wanted to come [to Manchester], they would have to accept the same raising method of my children. I nag them [about it]. [But] they obey me," she told Brazilian outlet O Globo.

Instead of being tabloid fodder, Jesus is known for organizing samba sessions with his boys or playing Counter Strike: Global Offensive online in his free time. (The game is popular with Brazilian players throughout Europe, and they talk about it on a WhatsApp called ground "Meninos do Hexa" or "six-time boys," a reference to the country's quest for a sixth FIFA World Cup title.)

Living in an environment that keeps him comfortable, Jesus has kept his private life his own.

Another new Brazilian in the northwest is Fred—a summer signing whose move to Manchester United from Ukrainian club Shakhtar Donetsk was brokered in part by former Arsenal star Gilberto Silva.

Silva and his partner, Fabio Mello, run a football consultancy business, and Fred's brother, Filipe dos Santos, brought them in to help secure a Premier League move for his sibling.

Both Fred and Silva are from Minas Gerais—a connection, coupled with Silva's knowledge of England, that will hopefully help Fred avoid some of the pitfalls experienced by previous Brazilians at Old Trafford.

Midfielder Anderson could barely speak English after eight seasons at the club. Twin brothers Rafael and Fabio da Silva were mocked in the dressing room for living with their older sibling and wives under the same roof. Kleberson, meanwhile, once surprised Sir Alex Ferguson by bringing his father-in-law to breakfast during preseason abroad.

"For a Brazilian, London is a much better city than Manchester," argues Watford goalie Heurelho Gomes, who has been plying his trade in England since 2008, save for a brief loan spell at German club Hoffenheim in 2013. "But it's not like you can't succeed there. You can—especially if you come with the right mentality, do not behave like you are still in Brazil and respect everyone.

"The cultures are very different. If you don't change your mindset, you're going to get here and want to head back home right away."

MUNICH, GERMANY - AUGUST 05: Fred of Manchester United runs with the ball during the friendly match between Bayern Muenchen and Manchester United at Allianz Arena on August 5, 2018 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Boris Streubel/Getty Images)
Boris Streubel/Getty Images

Fred has just got married, and a settled lifestyle off the pitch seems to have helped the Brazilians in Manchester. With the exception of Jesus, all of them are now married, and they mostly spend their spare time with their families in the Cheshire area, outside the city.

Globo Esporte even went as far as to call Manchester "the capital of football that bores the players."

City goalkeeper Ederson has had no problems, though. He lives with his wife, Lais; his daughter, Yasmin; his mother-in-law; a former teammate from the Sao Paulo academy, Victor Severo; a couple of employees and is expecting a new child. He's never on his own—and prefers it that way.

The 24-year-old has an indoor heated swimming pool, a billiard room and a personal tattoo studio at his Alderley Edge mansion—he doesn't even need to leave home to get his body inked.

A two-time Champions League winner with Real Madrid, Danilo is also in the neighborhood and is considered the most reserved of all the South Americans at City.

The stalwart of the group, Fernandinho, has been at the Etihad Stadium for five seasons and leads the welcoming committee for new Brazilians. The holding midfielder is a man of few words but is known for his big heart. He's 12 years older than Gabriel Jesus and treats him like a son.

The group meets at least once a month at his house. It has also been known to arrange bowling games in the city.

Richarlison's reaction to a personal invitation from Neymar to attend the FIFA Awards in London tells you all you need to know about Everton's new signing.

A few weeks after the two first meta chance encounter in ParisNeymar invited the then-20-year-old to hang out with him at the star-studded FIFA event at the London Palladium event. Richarlison would get to rub shoulders with likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, movie star Catherine Zeta-Jones and British rock band Kasabian.

A simple, humble and introverted young man, Richarlison declined.

His representative, Renato Velasco, couldn't understand it.

"He was actually worried he would turn up late to training the next morning," Velasco recalls, laughing. "But he should have gone. It's not every day you have such an opportunity."

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - AUGUST 04: Richarlison de Andrade of Everton during the Pre-Season Friendly between Everton and Valencia at Goodison Park on August 4, 2018 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Lynne Cameron/Getty Images)
Lynne Cameron/Getty Images

Some would call Richarlison naive. When he arrived at Watford from Brazil, he asked his teammates if Portuguese was taught in London's primary schools (after all, the opposite happens back home). Watford teammate Gomes was instantly drawn to his young compatriot and was keen to help him settle.

"When we met, I tried to help him as much as I could," he says. "I took him to buy new clothes and told him, 'You can't be wearing fleece jackets forever, you need other kinds of stuff.' If it's a black-tie event, you have to wear a tux. These small details make a big difference.

"It's not easy to adapt to a new country. The weather can be depressing here—very dark—but Richarlison is a great kid, has [Velasco] 24 hours by his side...it helps a lot."

Velasco and his wife, Geovana, share a house with the winger, who has just transferred to Everton for £40 million (about $52 million). They cook for him and get him everything he needs—including a hairdresser who cuts his hair at home just the way he likes. They will now move to Merseyside with him.

"He's like a son to us. We would have followed him wherever he went," Renato says. "We had no problem settling in the London area. When I celebrated my birthday, we had a party with over 30 people, samba and barbecue in our backyard.

"It felt like we were in Brazil."

Eight members of Brazil's World Cup squad in Russia now play in England. Seven of them are in Manchester or Liverpool, but London is still the place where deals get done.

That's the base for Giuliano Bertolucci, Brazil's most influential football agent and an associate of the controversial Kia Joorabchian, who also owns part of Willian and Luiz's restaurant.

A former water polo goalkeeper, Bertolucci has been around for almost two decades and has become the go-to guy for Brazilian talents wanting a big move, especially to the Premier League.

This summer, Bertolucci was involved in the negotiations that brought Richarlison to Everton, Felipe Anderson to West Ham and sent Chelsea's Kenedy back to Newcastle United on loan.

Among his clients are the likes of Luiz, Willian, Ramires, Alexandre Pato, Oscar, Coutinho, Lucas Leiva, Paulinho and Julio Cesar.

Unlike other agents, Caverna, as some call him (a reference to the cartoon Captain Caveman), keeps a relatively low profile. He doesn't use social media, avoids photos and replies monosyllabically to reporters' messages.

"The biggest artist is the player. I usually say that while some agents like to talk, others sell," Bertolucci said in an interview with FourFourTwo.

"I came from another school and carry different values. I have two mottos, not in football but in life: Never lie because it'll get back to you, and don't sell a player if you don't think it will work out. If you have a look at every footballer I negotiated with Chelsea, most of them did well."

Bertolucci spends at least three months per year in London and can be easily found dining out at Babbo. 

Jaramike daniel ice @Followdany_ice

Willian, David Luiz: Chelsea players launch new restaurant https://t.co/AYeBRPpc7T https://t.co/BwWMvmCVz2

Despite offers from everywhere, Luiz and Willian remain the main ambassadors of the Brazilian gang in the city.

When they miss food from home, the Chelsea duo pop into Cafe Brazil, a restaurant near Stamford Bridge where specials on the menu are sometimes named after them.

Willian is also a regular churchgoer at the Cathedral International in West Norwood, which is popular with London's Portuguese-speaking community. The pastor is Brazilian and has become close with Willian.

So settled is Willian, he has talked about applying for a British citizenship when he becomes eligible next year.

Back in 1995 things were much different for Brazilian footballers arriving in the country.

When Juninho Paulista landed in a private jet and was presented to Middlesbrough fans in a suit that looked two sizes too big, there was no familiar face there to offer assistance. He could only rely on a translator provided by the club, one who proved unfit for the task.

The move was a leap into the dark.

90s Football @90sfootball

Middlesbrough sign Juninho from Sao Paulo, 1995. https://t.co/g3vzmr2IPG

"When I arrived, there was a Brazilian family waiting at the airport with the rest of the fans," Juninho remembers. "We met after the press conference, and they asked me, 'Juninho, who was that translator?' I explained, and then they told me, 'He didn't say anything negative, but he didn't translate anything you said correctly.'

"I suddenly realised he did not understand a word I said. He was an Italian lad called Palladino that had been part of the negotiations. One night, I was at the hotel and told him, 'Palladino, quero comer feijao' (I want to eat beans). He ordered, but then, when the dinner was sent to my room, it was faisao (pheasant), not feijao. I could not believe it."

Mostly remembered as the first Brazilian to play for Chelsea, Thome made 152 Premier League appearances for four different teams. The solid centre-back earned a £2.7 million (about $3.5 million) move to Stamford Bridge after shining during Sheffield Wednesday's campaign in 1999.

Thome was lucky he could speak Italian. If it wasn't for Paolo Di Canio and Benito Carbone, he would not have been able to talk to anyone with his first English club.

"I had no support from the club," Thome says. "They did not hand me a teacher (for English classes). I learned it reading the newspapers. I had no mobile phone, translator program, stuff like that—only a dictionary. I would read the newspaper and underline the words I did not understand to check their meanings and try to figure out the context. I had to get by on my own.

Thome and Juninho did things the hard way, on their own, without much help.

But things have changed for Brazilians arriving in the Premier League. Sure, there is little they can do about the weather, but in every other aspect, a little bit of Brazil isn't far away.

They can pick up beans, rice and picanha at Mais Brasil Market, and a compatriot who has been through it all before is never far away.

The Brazilian Premier League community is growing all the time and shows little sign of slowing down. It means that for the current generation of talented Brazilians footballers, moving to the Premier League can become more than just a career move. It can become home.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.