Monday 07 February 2022, 18:00

Rony: Edmundo had a big impact on me

  • Rony hit six goals in ten games to inspire Palmeiras to Copa Libertadores 2021 glory

  • The 26-year-old believes the Paulista giants can win UAE 2021

  • Rony discusses his difficult upbringing and learning from Edmundo

Ronielson da Silva Barbosa was six years old. The memory is maybe his earliest. It’s indubitably his most life-changing. He awoke at the crack of dawn, after sleeping on a makeshift wooden bed without a mattress, in a poverty-stricken part of Para. He, his two brothers and two sisters had to be on their hands and knees early, picking weeds and planting seeds in a dusty field. For it, they would earn a few pennies, which would be turned into bread to palliate their hunger. One day, a car pulled up. Rony’s brother jumped in. He returned a few hours later sporting the sweat and battlescars of a football match on a potholed pitch… and with a few notes in his pocket, which were used to buy the five siblings toasties – an enrapturing luxury. ‘How cool,’ Rony thought. ‘It was cool that my brother got to ride in a car. It was way cooler than he got money for playing football’.

Rony decided at that moment he wanted to become a professional footballer. He was told, coming from Magalhaes Barata, to get real. ‘Real’ has turned into representing Palmeiras at the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2021™. And if one Rony was the subject of his own 2002 fantasy, another Rony is the subject of his 2022 one: the 26-year-is is dreaming of telling his son and namesake that he’s a world champion.

Can you tell us about your upbringing in Para? It was really difficult. My life was really tough. We were poor. I can promise you that it wasn’t easy to get from where I’m from to where I am today. I can’t put into words how proud I am to represent Vila Quadros, Magalhaes Barata, the state of Para. I’m very grateful, very honoured to have all the supporters I have from there. I hope to make them proud by delivering big performances at this Club World Cup, representing the state of Para. The state of Para is huge. The Palmeiras fan base is such. To be representing them both is a huge honour for me and it makes me so proud. Speaking of the Palmeiras supporters, you grew up one… My entire family is Palmeiras supporters. It was great because Palmeiras had so many incredible players back then and they have had others in recent years. One who had a major impact on me was Edmundo. He wrote a beautiful story at Palmeiras. He was a sensational player and scored a lot of goals for the club. I’ve talked to him a lot. He responds to my messages. He's helped me a lot.

What went wrong at the last Club World Cup? Last year was completely different. We had a crazy run of games. We arrived in Qatar and had no time to train. We felt like we were inside our rooms the whole time, trapped. The timezone is completely different. We had no time to adapt to it. We couldn’t sleep properly. We tried to do our best but didn’t get the results we wanted. But it was still a great experience, we learned from it, and now we have the opportunity to make up for it. We have so much motivation, we’re so focussed. Just being here is a huge privilege, but we are here to win the world title. I’m going to give my all for Palmeiras to become champions. What did you think of the send-off the Palmeiras fans gave you? The Palmeiras family put on a wonderful party to send us off to Abu Dhabi. There were so many supporters there. It gives you goosebumps. This makes all the difference out on the pitch. I can’t explain how much of an incentive this gives you to become champions. Without doubt, with the positive energy from each and every one of them, we’ll be able to realise our target of becoming world champions.

How does it feel to be at the Club World Cup again? I’m so grateful to be here. It’s a dream. Few get to go to a world championship twice. I’m really happy, really excited. I have to thank God for the opportunity he’s given me. I’m feeling totally different from the first time I was here. I will enjoy it as much as possible, because stuff like this doesn’t happen all the time. I will give it my absolute all to help Palmeiras become world champions. Not just for Palmeiras and myself, to have this amazing title on my CV, but also for my kids. It would be amazing to tell me son in the future that his dad is a world champion. Do you have any other targets at the tournament? Of course you dream. You dream about scoring a goal in the Club World Cup, scoring the goal that wins the match, being named man of the match. But what really matters is doing everything I can to help Palmeiras becoming champions.

You’ve been making the young players do initiations in front of the whole squad here in Abu Dhabi, right? (laughs) We joke around. Whenever a new player gets here, we make them sing, dance in front of everybody. We’re not letting anybody off just because we’re here. I did it when I arrived at Palmeiras and so they’re going to have to do the same! It's good us all too because it takes our mind off it and we have a laugh at the expense of the youngsters.

Finally, what do you think of Abel Ferreira? There are no words to describe the coach he is. He gives us so much confidence. It’s a great privilege to work with him. He leaves everything so well prepared, sorts all the little details to make it easy for us players. He’s a great man, and man of character, and he’s an incredible coach.