Dubai: As a 13-year-old, Ricardo Felipe da Silva Braga, or Ricardinho, watched in awe as Brazil’s Alessandro Rosa Vieira, or Falcao as he’s commonly known, burst on to the international futsal (a scaled-down version of football, which is normally played indoors) scene with his subtle skills and amazing goal-scoring ability.
Ricardinho instantly decided that he wanted to become better than Falcao. And to drive him on in his quest, he got a tattoo on his left leg saying Falcao was ‘The No.1’. Fifteen years later, Ricardinho has risen through the ranks of futsal with Portugal and racked up an array of achievements, including four-time national champion, three domestic cups, three Super Cups with Benfica in the Portuguese Futsal League, best player in the Uefa Futsal Championship in 2007, best futsal player in the world in 2010 and the star of the Euro Futsal Championship in 2012.
Very often, Ricardinho has been described as the futsal equivalent of the world’s best footballer Lionel Messi, something he does not feel too comfortable with as he considers Falcao the best ever. Ricardinho recently made a dream UAE debut at the Nad Al Sheba Ramadan Championships when he scored a hat-trick to lead Al Jawareh to victory.
Afterwards, the 27-year-old Portuguese star shared with Gulf News his thoughts on the measures that can be put in place to make the UAE a powerhouse on the international futsal scene.
GULF NEWS: You must be pleased with your winning debut in the UAE. What makes you so happy?
RICARDINHO: Yes, for me this is a dream come true. There was another occasion in the past when I was invited to play here, but I could not come as I was busy with my club Benfica. But now to come and play here before such passionate fans and score three goals to win this trophy for my team is an amazing experience.
GN: What do you think needs to be done to raise the profile of futsal here?
R: You need more kids to be involved. The normal thinking has been to have players involved in futsal once they are 18 or 19 years so that they assimilate a separate level of skills from playing futsal. This is no longer true. We need children getting involved with futsal when they are 11 or 12 years old. If the kids join in when they are five or six years old, then it will be even better. And it would make me even happier to see these kids stay back as futsal players instead of going back to football. You learn much better as a kid.
GN: What measures would you recommend to raise the profile of futsal in the UAE?
R: Besides the children getting involved, we would need sponsors and investors for futsal here. People will need to believe that this country has the potential to make it big. Organisers who stage tournaments need to invite the big international stars, such as the Brazilians and Spaniards, so that they can improve the standard of futsal here. And the national team will need to work extra hard so that they can prove themselves on the international stage. The UAE needs to believe they are capable of playing in the Futsal World Cup. They need to believe they are capable of taking this next step.
GN: Do you think you have a role to play in the development of futsal in the UAE?
R: My biggest problem is that of making the time. But honestly, I would be more than happy to help out here provided it is for just a few days at a time. To start with, I would be delighted to organise a clinic for coaches and players so that they understand the proper concept of futsal. Everyone wants to play like a star. Everyone wants to make it big. And now with this window of opportunity, I would not mind coming here on a regular basis and helping kids see me in action instead of just watching on YouTube and television.
GN: What would be your dream?
R: Firstly, I want to win the World Cup and the European Cup, which Portugal have never won so far. Ideally, I would like to play for another seven years at least and, during this time, I want to add these two titles to my name. Of course, I need to be injury-free and I think I can achieve my dream as I have quite a good work ethic.