Topic: 1,2,3,4..... The Ronaldo Vieira Appreciation Thread
Have I mentioned I like Vieira...
“If we get promoted this year or next year — I know it will happen soon — then this is going to explode,”
Guinea-Bissau to Batley: how England found their Vieira
Leeds United starlet has a name that turns heads and talent to live up to the billing, writes Rick Broadbent
On the coldest days in Yorkshire, with a family tragedy behind him, sooty black buildings all around and an uncertain future ahead, Ronaldo Vieira wondered what he was doing. There was the time his twin brother, Romario, cried because his hands were frozen and the afternoon when his coach warned that the opposing team would try to hurt him. The coach was right. Fancy monikers were red rags to bullish Tykes and the young starlet did not play again for three months.
“You would get clattered every week,” Vieira says at Leeds United’s training ground. “There was one rival team that would try to get me out of the game and this time they did. It was my groin.”
Guinea-Bissau to Benfica to Batley Phoenix was an unlikely sequence and, not for the first time, the teenager dug deep. A few years on and he is one of the brightest starlets of the Championship and a man who has already won a penalty shoot-out in a final for England.
But first that name. Born a week after the 1998 World Cup final between France and Brazil, his mother, Regina, a keen footballer, went topical. “I don’t get fed up with people asking about it,” Vieira says. “It makes you stand out and I have watched the clips of Ronaldo and Romario.” Who got the better deal? “Ah, I don’t know.”
Nevertheless, he opted to put Vieira on the back of his shirt rather than Ronaldo because the name can be both blessing and curse. “In Sunday league opposition sides would be, ‘Who the hell are these kids?’ And they’d always think it was Cristiano anyway.”
Now Vieira, 19, is making a name for himself as a controlled and combative midfielder who has taken the road less travelled. Significantly, he was absent as Leeds’ four-match winning run ended at lowly Birmingham City on Saturday, having been kicked out of another game by a rogue tackle away to Burton Albion four days earlier. Leeds will need him back for today’s TV encounter with Nottingham Forest.
The subject of overseas youth players coming to Britain is controversial. Brentford have shut their youth academy to focus on foreign talent and top-flight cast-offs. The Times has heard how Premier League clubs circumvent rules barring the movement of players across borders by paying a family’s bills and waiting a year before logging a scouting report. Ronaldo, who signed scholarship forms only two years ago, and Romario, now playing for Leeds Under-23, came for very different reasons. It was a voyage that began when their father died while the duo were five and still living in west Africa.
“In Africa we just played football in the streets all the time,” Vieira says. “When my father died it was tough and my mum needed to find work. My mum had relatives in Portugal so she left us with our auntie while she went there to find a job. Eventually, we went over and it was a culture shock, but then we started playing football again. I got spotted by Benfica and moved to the academy in Lisbon. It was three hours away from home and I did not want to leave my family so it was hard again. It is the longest I have ever been away from my brother.”
The twins stayed in Portugal until they were 12, then moved to England as their mother and stepfather sought a better life. There was a holiday with their aunt in Newcastle, games for Whitley Bay Boys Club and the move to Yorkshire, where their stepfather found work on a retail park.
“I wanted to stay at Benfica but it’s my family isn’t it?” Vieira says. So, aged 12 and unable to speak English, he found himself playing for a team in a small West Yorkshire town, immortalised by Monty Python and the Batley Townswomen’s Guild’s re-enactment of Pearl Harbour. It often seemed a surreal battle for the boys, too. “The language was a barrier but if people think you are a good football player everybody wants to be your friend,” Vieira says.
Simon Collins, once a coach with Leeds and then Manchester City, arranged a trial with the current Premier League leaders. “It didn’t work out,” Vieira says. “I was nervous and did not sleep the night before. I was still playing as a winger then. I knew in my head it was not happening.”
Instead, he continued to toil away in the lowly rungs of Yorkshire amateur football until a holistic academy called i2i (Inspire 2 Independence) was set up in York for those outside the system. Collins was part of the coaching team and the Vieiras found themselves travelling to York College, getting up at 7am and home at 8pm. “Go to sleep and do it again, but I was still a kid enjoying football,” Vieira says.
Since then progress has been swift and interest from other clubs plentiful. Ronaldo signed his first professional contract in May 2016 and made his debut as a 17-year-old two days later. Sufficiently impressed after his Derby team faced Leeds in January, Steve McClaren mused: “Vieira — wow!” The ink was barely dry on Andrea Radrizanni’s takeover before he signed a new four-year-deal.
I get my strength from my mum. All of this is for her and my family
His travelogue CV made him eligible for three countries, and Portugal were favourites at the start of the year. When he was called up simultaneously by England and Portugal this summer he changed his mind. “I spoke to my brother and my family. The decision was mine but I wanted to hear what they said, too,” Vieira says. “Romario told me to pick England. I think they give more chances to young players than in Portugal.”
More will surely follow after his stand-out displays for England Under-20 at the Toulon Tournament in July, capped by the winning penalty in the shoot-out against the Ivory Coast.
The only downside to this ascent has been that, for now, he has left Romario in his shadow. The pair live together in Leeds and holiday together. Ronaldo cooks, Romario is the messy one. “We’re always supportive of each other and I hope I am an incentive for him. The dream is to play at the same level,” Vieira says.
The path of true love, even brotherly stuff, rarely runs smooth at Leeds. From Peter Ridsdale to GFH the club has been run by people happy to either sign their own grandmother or sell her.
Vieira might be the totem for faith in the future. Leeds have not finished in the Championship play-off zone for 12 years — and even spent three seasons in League One — but they are there now. Radrizanni has bought back Elland Road. Plans to build their own training ground are in the pipeline. Season-ticket sales have rocketed by 7,000 to 21,000 this year. On the pitch the team have topped the league and off it, when results faltered in November, they refused to sack manager Thomas Christiansen.
Vieira is too young to know all the shades of grey from the darker days but he gets advice from Eddie Gray, the club’s most faithful legend, and mentions Gary Speed when asked about past players. “If we get promoted this year or next year — I know it will happen soon — then this is going to explode,” he says. “One team, one city, I think it would be good for the Premier League too.”
As for his own motives, he admits that he sometimes goes back in time to Africa and remembers what his mother did for her sons. “I get my strength from her,” he says. “All of this is for her and my family.”
Last edited by placidcasual (Tue 02 Jan 2018 7:34 pm)