To celebrate Edu's 38th birthday, we pulled an interview from our archives. This piece first appeared in Arsenal Magazine in January 2004.
It is usually very easy to know when a Brazilian football player is approaching fatherhood. After baby-faced striker Bebeto scored in the 1994 World Cup he trademarked a celebration - elbows in, one hand cradled in the other, arms rocking from side to side, as if holding a newborn to your chest - and that has become de rigueur for sporting Brazilians commemorating new additions to the family.
And so it was when Edu learnt his wife Paula was pregnant. The week coincided with this season’s Community Shield. The game went to penalties and after Edu successfully dispatched his spot kick - his hands cupped together and with his face in a huge, contagious grin he swung his arms in the style that could only mean one thing.
Luigi is due in March. What can we expect when Edu scores his first goal after his baby son is born? “It’ll be another celebration,” he says. “I’ve thought of it already but I won’t say. It will be a surprise.” He beams another of his winning smiles and you know he’ll keep his word.
It is not just in goal celebrations that Edu is noticeably Brazilian. It’s his crowd-pleasing touches of skill - a flick here, a nutmeg there - and the good humour and warmth that in his three seasons here have made him a firm favourite at Highbury and one of the most popular players in the changing room. Everybody likes Edu.
Luigi will be born in London and his first passport will be British. How does Edu feel about having an English son?
“It will be a great experience. It’ll be good for my son to be born here. The doors of Europe will be open to him.” Of course, mum and dad will also get the boy a Brazilian passport when they go home.
Talking of multiple passports, Edu has two - a Brazilian and a Portuguese one - and he’s pondering on adding a third. “In two years, I’ll be able to get a British passport if I want one. I think after working here for five years I can become a UK citizen.” Not only this, but according to FIFA, after five years he would be eligible to play for England since he has never been called up to the Brazilian squad. Is this an attractive proposition?
“I’ve never thought about it. Honestly! Even though I like England and have come to really like the English people and players, I’m Brazilian and I need to think of Brazil. I still have got lots of chances to play for the Brazilian national team, so I could hopefully be involved in future call-ups.”
It may seem odd to some Edu fans that the 25-year-old has never played for Brazil at any level. He has been pro since he was 17 and by the tome he was 22 had won two Brazilian championships and the World Club championship with Corinthians. He is the only Brazilian to have a Premiership winner’s medal. But competition is fierce. When I ask who I see as his main rivals for places in the squad he rolls his eyes and says: “The are so many of them!”
In his position the first choices are Gunners team-mate Gilberto and Roma’s Emerson - who he thinks will always be in the squad. Ze Roberto of Bayern Munich is establishing himself as the strongest understudy. And now an even younger generation are getting try outs.
But Edu is not one for getting too worried about this. This is not to say he is frivolous and care free - quite the opposite, in fact. You sense that his character is completely grounded. He has had more than his fair share of trauma - both personal and professional - and there is a feeling that having had it bad, he knows how lucky he is now things are good.
As well as having to come to terms with the death of his sister in a car crash, his family briefly being held hostage and the initial problems with his passport, he also had an injury-prone start to his days at Highbury. How does he now see those dark early days, from a playing perspective?
“When I arrived I did ave some difficulties. I think it was all to do with getting used to a new country and new players. When I arrived I was pretty young. Immediately I was playing in a big club next to great players. I arrived in January, which is just after the season ends in Brazil, but here it’s when the team is gathering momentum. I had just finished an entire season and I got here having to play a completely different rhythm.
“That was 2000/01. In 20001/02 I broke my foot at the beginning of the pre-season warm-up. But despite that I feel I had a good season, I played many games, many important games, and we won the ‘double’. Last year was also good. It was a good season, although we were disappointed to just lose the championship, we won the FA Cup. This season I feel that we are getting better and better.”
With three years of perspective how does he now consider the English game? “Here it’s a hundred times faster than in Brazil.” We talk about the previous night’s away game against Everton. “You would never play a game like that in Brazil, against a team who play with everyone held back and just one person up front, kicking the ball up to him to header or whatever. It’s quite a strange way for us, but you have to adapt and to develop in the best way possible.
Has he developed? “I think I’m a little faster than I was. You always need to be sharp, switched on. That’s English football.”
Edu has really endeared himself to the fans and one can make a strong parallel with Arsenal and Corinthians - where he started aged four and a half. The fans of both teams have a strong identification with the players. In the same way that being an “Arsenal player” means more than just wearing the shirt, so it does at Corinthians. Corinthians is the biggest team in Sao Paulo, which is the biggest city in Brazil, and its fans are notoriously the most committed and demanding.
It is not just enough to show fancy footwork at Corinthians - you have to show fearlessness, and unreserved commitment to the cause. Edu tells a story that sums this up. When Corinthians let against arch-rivals Palmeiras in the Libertadores Cup massed crowds of angry fans surrounded the team hotel and said they would not let the players leave.
“We had to stay in the hotel the entire night,” he remembers. “All the fans were waiting outside.” Then the fans allowed a few players to go home. “They said that these were the players who had shown courage and determination.” Edu was included, along with keeper Dida and rough-and-ready striker Luizao. “But lots of people had to stay.”
Edu has always been loyal, committed and the terrace favourite. “I’ve had a huge relationship with Arsenal, from as soon as I arrived. I feel completely part of the team. I love the club, the fans, I love seeing Highbury full, wherever we play away there are always lots of Arsenal fans - the fans leave you with a real desire to play. I like this.
“Here the fans are really involved with the club. Corinthians has a lot of this too. You get so linked to a club that even now when I go to Brazil I am known as Edu from Corinthians. Corinthians has this same spirit.”
It wasn’t a typing error when I wrote that Edu started at Corinthians aged four and a half. He began playing futebol de salao, or futsal, which is football on a basketball-sized court with a smaller, heavier ball. There are three beginner levels, called chupetinha, mamdeira and fraldinha. (These mean, literally, dummy, baby’s bottle and nappy).
Edu started the first, for three to fives, and then progressed up to the next level, for six-year-olds, and the last, for seven-year-olds. It wasn’t until he as eight that he first played on grass.
“It was only once the people running the club saw me playing futebol de salao that they got me playing proper football.” He says that the tricks he sometimes shows on the pitch are a legacy of his days playing futebol de salao. “It really helps your dexterity. Your ball control and speed of play. You have to be very quick.
“There is a big difference between futebol de salao and proper football. But it gives you a good base to be able to move well in proper football. Because you have less space in futebol de salao you can learn some cunning moves.”
Edu’s experience shows that Brazilian teams have different approaches to youngsters than British ones. The key in Brazil is getting them as soon as they are out of the cot!
“In Brazil you start very early. Serious clubs have teaches there to train kids from really young, You learn how to touch the ball, to pass on the right, pass on the left. And it works. Sometimes you can see someone at five, six, seven years old who is a lot better than the others, who has real talent and shows real promise. Here it’s different. There in Corinthians it is much earlier when talent is spotted than in England I think.”
Edu comes from a much more privileged background than many Brazilian footballers - although this is not to say that he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. His grandfather emigrated to Sao Paulo from Portugal with enough money to buy a bar, where the whole family worked. The family grew up in Guarulhos, in great Sao Paulo, where the international airport is. His father used to be a trader until the prodigal son bought him his early retirement.
"Patrick and I are always together, travelling together, training together, so when someone says ‘let’s go to a restaurant’, we all go together. Thank God I get on with everyone."
“In Brazil I never had a life of luxury. We never went hungry but there was no abundance. We couldn’t afford to go out all the time, to buy whatever we wanted. We had a normal life, everything was accounted for. He adds that it was he who insisted his dad stopped working. “I got him a house, I got one for my mum too. I wanted them to enjoy life a little more.”
Sao Paulo is the most European city in Brazil and Edu is more worldly-wise than most Brazilian footballers. Edu is upfront and curious about his new country and keen to get out as much as possible. He’s been all over London and he takes advantage of weekends off to travel around England or take hops to the continent. I ask if he gets recognised.
“Yes. But here it’s different than in Brazil. Here people in the street respect you, they joke with you. It’s cool. I don’t have any problem with it.” He even takes the tube. “Sometimes when I need to go to the centre, I’ll leave my car at the station and catch the tube. When I bought my wife’s Christmas present I went to Selfridges by tube.”
How does he react to being recognised? “People look at me at first. They check me out and then confer with their friends to ask if it’s really me, after that we end up chatting.”
You can really imagine Edu talking to strangers on the tube - not through naivety, insecurity or self-obsession, but simply because he is a great bloke. When he’s not travelling he’s usually hanging out with his team-mates. He doesn’t spend much time with London’s Brazilian community, preferring to socialise with colleagues.
At Arsenal his great mate is Patrick Vieira, since their partners both get on. He describes the players as like brothers. “We’re always together, travelling together, training together, so when someone says ‘let’s go to a restaurant’, we all go together. Thank God I get on with everyone.”
Edu seems too cosmopolitan to really miss Brazil. Of course he misses the company of his family and friends, but he has a good life in London. “I have everything here.” Most Brazilians say they miss their mum’s rice and beans. Not Edu. “My wife cooks really well and she’s doing a cookery course. She can cook every sort of food so I don’t miss anything. You can even find Brazilian cuts of meat in London. I buy them, Paula cooks them with Brazilian seasonings and we eat at home.”
At home he keeps in touch by watching Brazilian satellite channels. He adds, “Nowadays it’s easy to follow everything on the internet. With a computer you can find out anything.”
Edu is computer-literate and excited to talk about his website. Currently it is only in Portuguese - done by a mate in Brazil - but he says if he gets enough request to have it translated into English he will. “All you need to do is click on a Union Jack that is on the home page,” he explains.
Edu has been at the heart of Arsenal’s recent cup runs. He played every game last year except the final, which he missed through injury. Already this year he has started well, scoring against Leeds United in the third round. He looks likely to keep that role this year and hopes that he can work on his six Premiership starts and seven substitute appearances. “When I’m playing I get more opportunities to score and play well.” Arsenal fans will be hoping to see him score lots more goals and to see, come March, just what celebration he has planned.
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