Weverton: The Palmeiras supporters are absolutely fanatical
Weverton speaks about his special relationship with the Palmeiras fans
He assesses Saturday’s Copa Libertadores final against Flamengo
The Brazil goalkeeper discusses Taffarel, Marcos, Alisson, Ederson and Qatar 2022
A 28-year-old was on his first trip away in his new side job. He finally got finished work at 1:40am. He needed to get from the midst of the Amazon jungle to the tropical beaches of Florianopolis – 4,300 kilometres away – for another work assignment at around 4pm that day. A colleague whom he’d met on a previous commission overheard his dilemma and offered to help him get to work on time. The pair were not career slashers but celebrities… though this wasn’t a segment from Carpool Karaoke, with James Corden asking Adele, Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez or another musical mega-star for help to get to work. It was the opening sequence of the love story between Weverton and Palmeiras, with Gabriel Jesus unwittingly playing cupid.
Then Palmeiras president Paulo Nobre had sent his private jet to rush the young striker back for the derby against Sao Paulo. As a grateful Weverton hopped on board, he was introduced to the club’s head honchos. Alexandre Mattos, Palmeiras’s then director of football, joked that he was taking Weverton back to the Allianz Parque with him. Weverton, his face deadly serious, replied that if he did, Alexandre wouldn’t regret it. The two stayed in touch and 14 months later, Weverton joined O Verdão. Thereafter, his exceptional reflexes have inspired them to the Brasileirao, Paulistao, Copa do Brasil and Copa Libertadores crowns, and become an icon to almost 13 million supporters. Another private jet he wasn’t even supposed to get on in mid-2016 licenced him to become a hero to over 200 million. A few days before the Men’s Olympics Football Tournament kicked off, Fernando Prass was ruled out and Weverton whizzed to Rio de Janeiro as his replacement. The Rio Branco native jumped to the front of the goalkeeping queue, kept five consecutive clean sheets to get the Seleção to the final, then repelled Germany’s final penalty in the shootout to enable Neymar to end Brazil’s 64-year wait for a first Olympic football gold. Weverton chats to FIFA about his FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ dream and Saturday’s Copa Libertadores final against Flamengo.
FIFA: Can you tell us about the Palmeiras supporters and your relationship with them? Weverton: The Palmeiras supporters are really passionate, absolutely fanatical for the club. They are the soul of the club. A club without supporters is a club without life. Happiness for us players is seeing your supporters euphoric, celebrating. We went through a difficult time without supporters at our games, and now it’s great to have them back. Thank God I have an incredible relationship with the supporters. I arrived here a little shy on confidence, because the club had two idols: Jailson and [Fernando] Prass. Maybe the fans didn’t see the need to have another goalkeeper at that time. But I worked really hard, fought for my place and tried to understand how the club and the supporters worked. I think the relationship I have with the fans today is the fruit of what I’ve done on the pitch and what we’ve won as a team. The love they show me is really pleasing because I know how hard I worked, how dedicated I was. The Palmeiras supporters give me a lot of happiness and motivation.
How are Palmeiras feeling heading into the Libertadores final? Palmeiras are greatly respected across South America and the world. For their history, for all the great players who have worn and dazzled in this shirt, for all the important titles they have won. We’ve been writing another beautiful chapter in the club’s history. We’ve won the Brasileiro, Paulista, Copa do Brasil titles recently and are in our second successive Libertadores final. Brazilian football and South American football is extremely competitive. To achieve what we’ve done shows we have a very good side with a strong mindset. Now we want to enhance our story by conquering more titles. We’re very confident going into the final. What do you think of Flamengo? We know them well, we know all their players well. I know some of them personally from the Seleção. They have a great team full of great players. A lot of their players had good careers in Europe and have returned to Brazil still playing at a good level. We know that we’re up against a very good side, but Flamengo are also up against a very good side. It’s a battle between two giants of Brazilian and South American football. I don’t think you can predict anything other than it being a great game. For me there isn’t a favourite.
If you could take one player out of the Flamengo team, who would it be? That’s difficult to answer with a team like Flamengo. They have a lot of very good players: Bruno Henrique, Arrascaeta, Everton Ribeiro, Gabigol as well as the new players. But for his ability to score goals I’d take out Gabigol. Palmeiras and Flamengo are third and second in the Brasileirao, with Atletico Mineiro on the cusp of their first title in 50 years. What do you think of the impact Hulk has made? He's an outstanding player. He spent a lot of years away from Brazil, came back and came back at a top level. He's having an excellent campaign. Physically he’s incredible and he has so much ability. He’s hard for teams to stop. He’d be hard for the top teams in Europe to stop.
Palmeiras lost to Tigres in the semi-finals and Al Ahly in the match for third place at the FIFA Club World Cup in February. How did you feel going home from Qatar? It wasn’t the campaign we wanted or expected. However, we didn’t have to time to prepare for the World Cup or adapt to the time difference, the country’s climate. Teams often have 15, 20 days to adapt. We’d had a crazy run of games – one every two or three days. If I’m not mistaken, we played the [Libertadores] final on the Saturday, played in the Brasileiro on the Tuesday and had our first game at the Club World Cup on the Sunday. It’s so difficult to go to the other side of the world and adapt to everything in that time. But we learnt a lot from it. Sometimes defeats are what teach you the most. We came back from that desperate to return to the Club World Cup and now we have the opportunity to do so. I can promise that it would be very different from the first time. What do you think of Chelsea? Chelsea are an excellent team. They didn’t become champions of Europe for nothing. They beat an outstanding Manchester City team in the final. They have great players. Thiago Silva, my friend, is still playing at an excellent standard. Lukaku is very imposing, a great striker. Mendy is one of the best goalkeepers in world football. Chelsea are very complete and in great form. But we’d have another step to reach the Club World Cup final. We know we can’t take a final for granted. We saw that last year and other great teams have seen that before us. The standard of the teams in the Club World Cup has improved a lot and any semi-final would be really tough. Many Palmeiras fans insist that you are the best Brazilian goalkeeper… It's nice to receive this affection. I know just how many good Brazilian goalkeepers there are. But I think this affection is down to what I represent for Palmeiras on the pitch. I go out on to the pitch and do what I do with love, with dedication and in exchange comes this affection and love from the supporters. I hope I can continue putting in good performances and pleasing the fans.
Is your target to go to the World Cup or to be Brazil’s first-choice goalkeeper at Qatar 2022? My target is to go to the World Cup, to feel the sensation of being at a World Cup, to experience the atmosphere. I don’t know what it would be like, I can only guess, but I imagine it is spectacular, unbelievable, unique. It would be even better knowing that I am representing my country – this would give me huge pride. Whether I play or not, that’s down to Tite and I always have the utmost respect for his decisions. I’ll try to work my way into the team, but my principal target is to be among the 23. To be honest, when I was younger my dream was to play for the Seleção just once, to know for the rest of my life that I had worn the shirt. Then I won a gold medal at the Olympics, which was indescribable. And now I really, really want to be at a World Cup. It’s the ultimate for any player. I’ve watched all the World Cups and to be at one, as a player, would be amazing, a huge dream. What are your favourite memories from the World Cup? My biggest memory – it was before I started playing [professional] football – is what Taffarel did in ’94. It’s unforgettable. I was a young kid, I was at my uncle’s house, all my family there watching the penalty shootout. I remember Galvao [Bueno] commentating: ‘Vai que é tua, Taffarel! Acabou! Acabou! Acabou!’ (It’s yours, Taffarel! It’s over! It’s over! It’s over!) Everybody was celebrating, jumping up and down, screaming in the streets. Brazil were the champions. This is really fresh in my memory. And then the other one was Marcos, one of my biggest idols, playing superbly to help Brazil become champions in 2002. Taffarel was my inspiration as a kid, and Marcos was my biggest inspiration when I started playing [professionally]. I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would be wearing the Palmeiras shirt Marcos dazzled and won so much in. This, to be, is an immense honour, it gives me huge pride.
Who do you think are the best three goalkeepers in the world? I say this with total respect to the others, because there are a lot of great goalkeepers in the world, but for me Brazil has the best two: Alisson and Ederson. They are playing at an incredible level. Then I’d go for [Jan] Oblak. He's a great goalkeeper and does it season after season.