- Palmeiras faces Santos in the Copa Libertadores final
- Gabriel Menino discusses this poster with FIFA.com
- The 20-year-old looks back on his first call-up for Brazil and his meeting with Neymar
As he prepares to watch the final of the Copa Libertadores 2019, which pits Flamengo against River Plate, dreams are racing in Gabriel Menino’s head: to win the final of the State Junior Championship, which is due to take place on next day and one day make his professional debut.
Twenty-four hours later, Palmeiras wins the U-20 championship paulista. Two months later, Menino played his first professional match. Better: while his favorite player on his Playstation was Neymar, he finds himself today alongside him in the Brazilian team. As for the Libertadores final, it is one of the most anticipated players in this year’s edition.
FIFA.com met Gabriel Menino to discuss his meteoric rise, the Copa Libertadores final against Santos, his summons to the Brazil team and his meeting with his idol Neymar.
Gabriel, a year ago you were still waiting to make your professional debut. How do you experience this progression?
I feel like I’m in a dream. It all happened so fast. My professional debut, my first title, my first goal, the Selection, the Libertadores final … it all seems unreal. I have the impression that just yesterday, I was a simple supporter. It’s hard to believe but, on the other hand, I’ve always said that I don’t want to be a player like any other. I want to mark the history of this club. When I got to the club headquarters, I looked at the portraits of all these legends and thought: “One day, we’ll see my picture here”. What could be more beautiful than to become an idol in one of the biggest clubs on the planet?
What is your assessment of the Palmeiras season?
The results are incredible, but we want to go further. We won the Paulista Championship, we reached the Brazilian Cup final, we were the best team in the group stage and we are in the Copa Libertadores final. The last game was not brilliant, it’s true. We lacked focus and seriousness, but throughout the campaign, we deserve our place. The time has now come to write this course in letters of gold in the history of this club.
What role did your goalkeeper Weverton play in this competition?
He was fabulous. He makes extraordinary saves at decisive moments. He is the best goalkeeper in Brazil and arguably one of the best in the world. In addition, he is a golden teammate. I am happy to have him by my side. With him in goal, all outfielders feel confident.
Are you already thinking about a possible participation in the FIFA Club World Cup?
We take Santos very seriously; it’s a great team. La Libertadores is a leading competition, which arouses a lot of passion and emotion. This final will appeal to a lot of people, not only in Brazil but in the world. All the ingredients are there to witness a magnificent spectacle: two great teams, good strikers and a derby. But frankly, when I think about it, I still see Palmeiras lifting the trophy. The squad is good, the players are united, the team works perfectly, we have excellent substitutes and a coach who knows how to get the best out of the players at his disposal. We have heart and a lot of ambition. Palmeiras supporters are enthusiasts, even fanatics. They have been waiting since 1999. It’s far too long! I was not even born! I am convinced that we will be champions.
What’s your best job?
Holder! Me, I want to play above all. The coach is in the best position to choose my position, depending on the opponent. I’m fine in the middle and I’m fine in the hallway. Whatever my role, I always give my best.
How did you feel when you received your first call-up for Brazil?
It was crazy. All players dream of joining the Selection. I had this chance in my first year with the professionals. When I arrived, I saw the stars that I embodied in video games. I could not believe my eyes. It took me a while to adjust. Everyone was very welcoming and the standard is just exceptional. I have learned so much. It was amazing to be there. I am all the more determined to return to the selection as soon as possible.
Do you have any anecdotes about this convocation?
When I was younger, I was a fan of Neymar. One day Santos was playing and I begged my father to take me. He accepted and I shouted “Neymar! Neymar!” throughout the match, until you lose her voice. I had just arrived in selection when Neymar made his appearance. I almost burst into tears. I had just realized one of my childhood dreams. I really had to take it upon myself not to cry. When he came to see me, I was not leading off. He introduced himself and he welcomed me. He was really very simple and kind. I told him how I lost my voice because of him. “Wow, I’m getting old,” he replied. We both laughed. I couldn’t believe Neymar was there in front of me.
What do you think of him as a player?
He is out of the ordinary. For me, he deserves the title of FIFA Player. He performs unimaginable gestures. I think he can win The Best – FIFA Player title this year and the World Cup in Qatar next year.
Would you like to travel to Qatar with him?
We’re talking about the World Cup …. I’m going to keep working hard, I’m going to give my all on the pitch and with a bit of luck, I might be able to fulfill another of my dreams.