José Clayton, a defense player from the northeastern Brazilian state of Maranhão, is a veteran in World Cups, and this year he hopes to participate, in Germany, in his third world championship.
He will be next to his fellow countryman, attacker Francileudo dos Santos, who will participate for the first time in a World Cup. However, not for Brazil. Both took on the Tunisian nationality and defend the colors of the Tunisian National Team.
Together with the coach Marcos Paquetá, manager of the National Team of Saudi Arabia, they are the ones bearing the yellow and green colors of the Brazilian flag who are going to defend the two Arab teams qualified to play the world championship.
And more, a large part of the technical committee of the Saudi team is formed by Brazilians summoned by Paquetá, like the goalkeeper trainer Wagner Andrade, the fitness experts João Paulo Medina and Francisco Gonzales, the physiologist Gustavo Araújo, the assistant coach Marcelo Cabo and the masseuse Cledis Andrade.
Clayton, who has just turned 32, played in the Moto Clube of São Luís, capital of the northeastern Brazilian state of Maranhão, city where he was born, between 1992 and 1994.
"When I was about 21 years old I had an opportunity of leaving and so I went without looking back," he said. "In Maranhão you could play for 20 years and not make enough money to buy a car," he stated.
That opportunity was in Belgium, but ended up not materializing. Clayton then saw himself in Europe, penniless and hopeless. Salvation came from a former manager of Moto Clube, called Dutra dos Santos, who worked in Tunisia.
"He heard that I was in Belgium with no club and invited me to play. I answered him: I’ll go right away."
That was how the defense player from Maranhão landed, at the end of 1994, in Tunisian soil to play at the í‰toile Sportive du Sahel, from the city of Sousse, where he played until 1998. In that same year he was transferred to the Sporting Club de Bastia, of France, where he played until 2002.
In May 1998 came the offer from the Tunisian Federation of Football to play the Cup. "I didn’t think twice, before the person finished speaking I said yes," stated the player, who had to take the country’s nationality to be able to play.
The opportunity for Clayton came from the tragedy of a colleague who played in the same position as him and died of a heart attack during a match.
"I never thought that something like that could happen, there are things that God just places before us," remarked Clayton.
Since then he played the Cups of 1998 and 2002 and the Football Championship of the Athens Olympics, in 2004. The main title won by Clayton and Santos, and also by the Tunisian Team, came in 2004, winning the African Cup of Nations.
At the time, the daily Khaleej Times, from the United Arab Emirates, qualified the victory as "made in Brazil" due to the part played by the Brazilians. "It was a title the country didn’t have and it generated great excitement," said Clayton.
Dos Santos, as attacker Francileudo is known in Tunisia, took on the Tunisian nationality just before the African championship in 2004, in which he scored four goals. "He is the striker, scored many goals, he plays so well," compliments the co-player Clayton.
Santos, 27 years old, was born in the city of Zé Doca, in the interior of the state of Maranhão. His professional career started in Sampaio Corrêa, also in the city of São Luís, in 1996. From there he followed to the Standard Liège, in Belgium.
In 1998 he started writing his story in Tunisian football when he was transferred to í‰toile Sportive du Sahel. In 2000, Santos went to play for Sochaux, in France, and currently plays for the French team Toulouse.
According to information from the official website of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (Fifa), the striker had already received an offer to take the Tunisian nationality in the year of 2000, but it was only in December 2003, right before the African championship, that he accepted the challenge. Before that, according to the site, he still had hopes of being summoned by the Brazilian National Team.
Clayton left Bastia in 2002 and went back to Tunisia, where he played for Esperance. Currently he plays for Al-Saad Club, in Qatar. "Work conditions are excellent," he said.
The Tunisians, however, are fanatics for football. "They fill up the stadiums, there are 80,000 people in classic matches," he remarked. And the defense player knows what he’s talking about, as he has played for the two greatest rivals in the country, í‰toile and Esperance.
"Whenever there’s a match between these two teams, it’s like the place is on fire. It is like Flamengo and Vasco," he said, referring to two teams from the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro.
The story of Marcos Paquetá is quite different. Before coming to Saudi Arabia he was already a consecrated manager in Brazilian football, as he was twice the world champion in 2003 as coach of the Brazilian Under 17 and the Brazilian Under 20 National Teams.
Paquetá landed in Saudi lands in August 2004 to train the Al-Hilal, one of the main teams of the country and where he had victorious times.
"Of six competitions in which we participated while I was there, we won five," he stated. "Including the King’s Cup and the Viceroy Cup, which are the most important championships," he added.
The curriculum of victories gave credits for the Brazilian to take on the Saudi National Team in January this year, substituting Gabriel Calderon. He follows the steps of other Brazilians, like the current coach of the Brazilian National Team, Carlos Alberto Parreira, who managed the Arab team two times and won the Asia Cup in 1988.
A good salary offer and good work conditions convinced Paquetá to take the challenge of going to Saudi Arabia. "Al-Hilal is a club that has already thrown to the spotlight many coaches and this motivated me to do the job completely, from the beginning of a season," he stated. Paquetá already had some experience with Arab football as he worked in the United Arab Emirates between 1988 and 1990.
The coach from Rio de Janeiro, who is 48 years old, started his career as a player in the teams América and Vasco, from Rio. "The nickname Paquetá came because I lived in the island of Paquetá for a long time and when I played there were many other Marcos, so they gave me the name of the island," said Paquetá, who is in fact called Marcos César Dias de Castro.
In the beginning of the 1980s he dropped out of the career as a player to dedicate himself to physical education college in the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, from which he graduated in 1984. After that, already as a coach, he managed teams like Flamengo, Avaí, from the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, and the Brazilian National Team.
The Arab Challenge
Tunisia and Saudi Arabia are the only two Arab teams to compete in the Germany World Cup. Both are part of the Group H and will play against each other on the 14th of June, in Munich. In the same group are Spain and Ukraine.
Statistics point to similar performances by the two countries in world championships. The national team of the Gulf country is going to compete in its fourth consecutive World Cup, in which their best result was to reach the eighth finals in 2002. After beating Belgium and Morocco in the first phase, the team lost to Sweden. Now the coach Marcos Paquetá wishes to take the team further.
"We are working the team to qualify in the first phase and reach the eighth finals. Then it becomes a lottery, one mistake could be fatal and the difference between the first and the last becomes very small. Everybody has a chance," said the coach.
"This is the line of thought we’re passing to the players: thinking small or thinking big causes the same effort, so the best is to think big. We can’t go dreaming, but we can fight for the best result," he added.
Tunisia is also going to participate in their fourth world championship, where they have a small disadvantage in relation to the Saudis, as they never managed to pass the first phase in any of the opportunities (1978, 1998 and 2002). For the defense player José Clayton, a good result for the team would be to advance to the eighth finals.
But what about their families, who will they support? Clayton, from northeastern Brazilian state of Maranhão, 12 brothers, father and mother, replies: "Well, they’re going to support Brazil and Clayton!"
Family, in fact, is something important for those who leave Brazil in search of opportunities in an unknown country. "In the beginning my adaptation in Tunisia was difficult, as I was very young and the culture is very different. But I had great support from my parents and ended up adapting well," said the player, who now speaks French well and "about 70% of Arabic". "There are supporters you meet who don’t speak French, so you have to speak Arabic," he stated.
Paquetá, who lives in Riyadh, took his wife and two daughters when he moved to Saudi Arabia. "In the first season they stayed here with me, now they come only for the holidays," he said.
"My adaptation was smoother as I already had some experience in the Arab world. For them in the beginning it was a little harder, due to the cultural difference, but then they enjoyed it a lot," he added.
Future and Dreams
And the future? Clayton thinks of playing at least another two years before quitting. "My wife (Simone) says there are many people who play until they’re 40 and she asks: why can’t you? So I think that while I have legs I’ll keep on going," he stated.
And a dream? "My dream as kid was to play for (Brazilian team from Rio de Janeiro) Flamengo, but now I think it has already come true," said the defense player.
"Tunisia received me very well and I don’t regret anything I did, on the contrary. The country gave me everything in life and I love it. I am well where I am," remarked Clayton, who now divides his time between Doha, in Qatar, Tunisia and the state of Maranhão.
Paquetá, in turn, said moving to Saudi Arabia has been worth it, both financially, as professionally. For the future he hopes to find open doors both in the Arab world, as in Brazil. "I would like to work in Spain too, as my parents are Spanish descendants and I have a very strong relation with the country," he said.
His dream however, is to manage the Brazilian National Team on the next Olympics. "It will be the generation of the under-20 team that I coached in 2003," he stated. With this, the coach hopes to win the only title Brazilian football never conquered: that of Olympic champion.
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