Tuesday 03 December 2019, 22:00

Everton Cebolinha: Neymar has everything to be the world’s best

  • Everton Cebolinha discusses his FIFA World Cup dream

  • Singing in the shower and Renato Gaucho also make the menu

  • He hails Neymar, Arthur, Philippe Coutinho and Mo Salah

Filipe Luis likened him to Eden Hazard. Argel Fucks said Cristiano Ronaldo. He reportedly has Barcelona, Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain infatuated. The Brazil fans cheer the announcement of his name rhapsodically. Tite said, “It’s him, Neymar and another nine."

Yet Everton Cebolinha travelled to the Copa America 2019 having never started a game for Brazil and wholly expected to warm benches. Then Neymar suffered ankle ligament damage, Richarlison got the mumps, the Gremio attacker was promoted into the starting XI and the rest is history.

FIFA.com caught up with the 23-year-old to discuss the Seleção, Neymar, Renato Gaucho, the players he's most enjoyed watching and his career ambitions.

FIFA.com: Everton, you began the Copa America on the bench, but finished as its leading goalscorer, man of the match in the final and, arguably, the player of the tournament. How did that feel?

Everton Cebolinha: It was a magical time. When we’re kids, we always dream of playing for the Seleção. I gave my all, trained hard, and in the end I managed to give a good account of myself. I’m reaping the rewards of the fruit I planted through hard work.

When your name was read out to be brought on, or before matches, it was greeted with enormous applause…

I never imagined that would happen. There were players alongside me who I used to play as on video games. I was a big fan. So to have my name applauded, in the middle of them, was something that meant so much to me. I still can't believe it.

You played alongside Arthur Melo at Gremio. What’s he like as a player?

I’m always really happy to see my team-mates having success. Even more so Arthur, who’s been a personal friend since I first arrived at Gremio. We played at U-17 and U-20 levels together. I was called into the Seleção with him. He's a superb player and person.

What do you think of Neymar?

He’s a guy who has everything to be the best player in the world. It’s up to him. In terms of ability he has it to spare. On the pitch he has talent that very, very few have. He’s outstanding. He’s the biggest role model in terms of technical ability in Brazilian football. We all hope he recovers 100 per cent. He’s a player who helps the Seleção enormously.

For his Seleção initiation, Matheus Henrique told the hilarious story of how, having never travelled first-class on a plane, he mistook the hot towel for tapioca and tried to eat it! Can you tell us about that incident?

(Laughs) We were on the plane next to each other and he told me. I didn’t believe him, I said, ‘You’re winding me up.' I got off the plane not believing any of it. Then afterwards we were in the dressing room and he insisted it was true. I looked at him and realised it was! I erupted in laughter and couldn’t stop! I was laughing so loud that Lucas Paqueta heard and asked what I was laughing at, and Matheus told him. Then he told the story in front of the whole squad for his initiation.

The guys are always sending him pictures of a hot towel or tapioca. It was hilarious but to be honest, the first time I took a flight and had the hot towel placed in front of me I thought, ‘What is that thing, what’s it for?’ I was looking at what the people around me were doing with it. Paqueta also said that the first time he went to a Japanese [restaurant] and they put a hot towel beside his sushi, he didn’t know what it was, if it was to eat. But the Matheus story was hilarious.

As a 16-year-old, you moved from the scorching north-east to the bitterly cold south of Brazil and struggled to adapt…

I had tremendous difficulties in my first few months. The cold, being physically inferior – I was really small, really skinny and the guys were all lifting weights. Physically they were way superior. But I couldn’t surrender. Thank God I didn’t.

What would you be if you weren’t a footballer?

A singer. I have a lot of songs to sing, and I’m always singing in the shower. I once said I almost became a forró singer rather than a footballer – I was joking. Seriously, I don’t know what I’d be doing because I’ve only ever played football, but I think I’d take a risk and try to become a singer.

What’s Renato Gaucho like as a coach?

He’s a winner – he was as a player and is as a coach. He’s destined to lead the Seleção. It’s a target of his, something he wants. He’s helped me a lot. He’s given me so much confidence. He’s always chatting to me, telling me he needs me, and this has helped me grow so much and allowed me to thrive on the pitch.

What’s your best position?

I like to play on the left, but it’s also because I’m used to it. But I can also play as a false nine or in a deeper central role. And during games I will move around, pop up on the right. When I arrived at Gremio I was a number nine, a striker. I wasn’t very strong but I had good ability and speed, which helps a lot there. But, honestly, I don’t mind which of the attacking positions I play in.

Which players have you most enjoyed watching over the years?

Ronaldinho and Ronaldo. But a guy who inspires me a lot is Philippe Coutinho. I’ve had the privilege to play with him. He’s a phenomenal person and a phenomenal player. I’m always trying to learn from him – he’s a one-of-a-kind player.

And which three players do you regard as the best in the world right now?

Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Salah.

What are your ambitions in football?

My big dream is to play in and win the World Cup. I really hope to be on the final list in 2022. I always try to keep working hard to try and improve. And I want to play in and win the Champions League. They're such prestigious titles. By God’s will I hope and can play in and win them both.