- Manoel Tobias is one of the greatest futsal players in history.
- On the occasion of his 50th birthday, he looks back on his glorious career.
- He talks about Ronaldinho and Lithuania 2021.
“I was in the same state of mind as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi today: I was constantly pushing myself to evolve at the highest possible level.” These words are those of Manoel Tobias, and his actions date back to the 90s.
He was only 21 when the Brazilian won his first FIFA Futsal World Cup Hong Kong 1992, claiming the title of World’s Best Right-Back. He will do even better four years later by winning a second title of world champion, but also the trophies of best player, top scorer and best passer.
As he celebrates his 50th birthday on April 19, the Brazilian futsal legend has agreed to look back on his glorious career at the microphone of FIFA.com.
Manoel, when you were a kid, did you play more futsal or football?
I did both. In 1986, I was licensed at Nautico Capibaribe as a futsal player and a football player. I played with the U-17s in football and with the seniors in futsal. I would have wanted to do this all my life, but at the end of 1988, I had to make a choice and I had a weakness for futsal.
Barely two years later, you were called up for the FIFA Futsal World Cup…
When I decided to make a career in futsal, I knew there was the World Cup two years later and I dreamed of it. And I found myself, at 21, on a flight to Hong Kong, surrounded by all these players that I revered. I will never forget arriving at Hong Kong airport. We weren’t used to the limelight, but there were loads of photographers. It was at that precise moment that I realized that I was participating in the World Cup … It was a huge dream come true. And then I was not just showing up, I was starting in the middle of all these extraordinary players.
What are your memories of this competition?
I remember we played against the Netherlands in the last match of the second round: the winner qualified for the semi-finals. We had heard that Pelé would be present. And when we entered the field, he was there in the stands. We had one of our best matches, we won 6-1 and I scored two goals. When I put on the second, I looked in the direction of Pelé and I dedicated my goal to him. And he gave me a congratulatory sign. Unforgettable ! This snous service brought a lot of confidence. Then we beat two very good teams, Spain and the United States, in the semi-finals and the final. At the final whistle, we experienced indescribable moments. I remember the day I received my first soccer ball when I was a kid: it was the most beautiful thing ever, an unforgettable moment. It gave me the same feeling to hold up the trophy.
The return trip to Brazil took about 30 hours. It gave me a lot of time to think things through and set goals for myself. The first was to participate in the next FIFA Futsal World Cup, which was not easy given the pool of great Brazilian players. The second was to help Brazil retain their title. And the third was to be elected best player of the competition …
And you have achieved these three goals …
It was difficult. Our opponents had made great progress. There were only four players left in the 1992 squad: me, Fininho, Vander and Serginho. And we were in the role of the bad guys. Everyone said it would be Spain’s World Cup. We had to play eight matches with five thousand, seven thousand, ten thousand people against us. And in the final, we won 6-4 in Barcelona against a very great team from Spain. On a personal level, I stayed focused on my three goals. I achieved all three and in addition to being named the best player in the World Cup, I also finished top passer and top scorer. All thanks to my will. I have always strived to be the best version of myself. I was in the same state of mind as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi today: I was constantly pushing myself to evolve at the highest possible level
Do you think 1996 Brazil is the best team ever?
The Spain of Daniel, Kike and Javi Rodríguez was exceptional. The Brazil of Schumacher, Falcao and Vinicius, ditto. But the Brazil of 1996 played a more fluid futsal, we made actions that the teams continue to reproduce today. It was like Brazil in 1970 with Pelé, Jairzinho, Tostao … There are still teams that take up the actions they were doing at the time. We were ahead of our time.
In 1996, you switched to football by signing to Gremio, then reigning South American champion …
I first declined the club’s offer because I knew I would have a hard time adjusting. I had been playing futsal pro for six or seven years. For me, it was settled. But two days later the phone rang and it was Luiz Felipe Scolari! I said to myself: “If Felipão calls me, it’s because they must really think I’m capable of playing on a large pitch. Am I really capable of that?”. I didn’t want to stop futsal, so I asked them to quadruple what I won in Enxuta so that they would say: “But is he crazy or what?”. That way, we would talk about it more. But they said “ok”! I couldn’t believe it. I spent four months in Gremio. It was a great experience. I really had a hard time adjusting, but after a couple of months I started to get to the point. I managed to put out some great performances. It was great to play with these great players. In training, we played against young people like Tinga, Rodrigo Gral and a kid, I don’t know if you’ve heard of it… a certain Ronaldinho Gaucho. Wow !
Do you think you would have had a great career if you had chosen football?
If I had devoted myself to football in 1988, I am sure I would have become a great player. But six, seven years, without playing it… it’s huge. Do you think that if we put Neymar on a futsal pitch, he would be as strong as Ferrao or Ricardinho? No… And I told you the footballer who would be the best in futsal. If Neymar had continued in futsal he would be the best futsal player in the world today by far. The other footballer who could have made an extraordinary futsal player is Juninho Pernambucano. We were both from Recife and we had to make the same choice between futsal and football. He chose football and I chose futsal.
What do you think of the current Brazil squad?
They may not be as talented as other generations, but they have the culture of winning. They work really hard and they play really well as a team. They have Ferrao. Marquinhos Xavier is a fantastic trainer, he does an amazing job. I see them very strong in the perspective of the World Cup.
Who will win the 2021 FIFA Futsal World Cup Lithuania?
I keep hearing that Argentina were lucky at the last World Cup… Pardon? It’s a great team. I don’t know if she will win again, but she will be in the last four. It will be played between Brazil, Argentina, Spain and Portugal.
Who is the best player in the world right now?
Ferrao is the best player in the world today. It’s a monster.
And who do you think is the best futsal player of all time?
(laughs) He’s the man you’re talking to. I’m not going to do the modest falsehood: I think I’m the best futsal player of all time. Why ? Because Manoel Tobias attacked and defended, he created goals and he scored. Sorry, but I would be hypocritical to say anything else. I am convinced that I am the best. Manoel Tobias number 1, Falcao number 2, Ricardinho number 3. Jorginho was a huge player too.