Miranda: Brazilian Who Chose to Play in Defense to Honor His Brother

Miranda: Brazilian Who Chose to Play in Defense to Honor His Brother

Thursday, 14 June, 2018 - 07:30
Miranda combines with the goalkeeper Alisson to deny England’s Dominic Solanke last November. Photograph: Dylan Martinez/Reuters
London- Márvio dos Anjos
What on earth could persuade a Brazilian kid to play in defense? Some will tell you a lack of dribbling ability cost them a more attacking role; others will say their coach was taken by their physique and gave them little option. For Miranda it was rather different. The Internazionale player, now 33, made the choice in homage to a fallen brother.

João Miranda de Souza Filho, youngest of 12 siblings, was six when the eldest, Vicente, died in an accident at work. Piu, as he was nicknamed, was a fine defender and well-known on the amateur pitches of Paranavaí. The southern city has 87,000 inhabitants and an economy strongly based on producing oranges. Piu, though, helped his parents provide for the family by working as a technician for the electric company that supplied the region. Miranda has little recollection of the incident that killed Piu but says his brother’s body was burned.

“I guess I wanted to follow his steps – that is why I have become a defender. In Paranavaí, they still say he was better than me,” a modest Miranda said in 2007, when he played for São Paulo. Fast-forward 11 years and, now he has worn the Inter and Atlético Madrid jerseys, it is difficult for anyone to back up that statement.

Life came fast to Miranda. By 19 he had married Jaqueline and the pair were expecting a baby when he received an offer to play in France with Sochaux. Then, tragedy struck again: his father, also João, died and his mother, Maria, asked him not to leave.

“I was weakened and not so sure if I would succeed in football,” Miranda has said. “I thought about stopping.” A shy boy from the countryside, exuding a sense of responsibility but lacking self-confidence, he almost quit, even though he had played 89 times for Coritiba and won his first professional title, the state championship of Paraná.

But he made the move and stayed at Sochaux for a year and a half, returning to Brazil for a loan with Internacional. However, he never played for them: instead representatives of São Paulo made contact with Miranda, who committed himself to a move there. Unusually, Miranda did not have a manager at that time. He received offers himself, referring them to a lawyer and a friend only when it came to analyzing contracts. Now he is represented by the agent Jorge Mendes, who also takes care of Cristiano Ronaldo.

At São Paulo the cool, low-profile defender blossomed, winning three Brazilian league titles within five years. He received his first call-up to the Brazil team in 2007 as a replacement for the injured Lúcio and his debut two years later when Dunga selected him to face Peru. It is hard to believe that Russia 2018 will be his first World Cup and, when he recalls missing out on a place in Brazil’s home tournament four years ago, a tinge of resentment is evident.

“Today I am more experienced and more wilful to show that I could have played in that competition and helped Brazil to thrive,” he said after being picked for this summer’s squad. “That was in my country; it was a dream I had to postpone.”

In 2014 Miranda was probably at the height of his powers, playing alongside Diego Godín and idolized by the Atlético fans after scoring an unforgettable goal against Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey final a year previously. It ended a 14-year winless run against their bitterest rivals, and won him the adulation of half a city; he later said it “changed everything” for a club that had previously been down on its luck. His partnership with Godín reached its apex in the 2013-14 season, when Diego Simeone’s side won La Liga and finished runners-up in the Champions League.

A less convincing campaign the following season, during which errors crept into his game and he struggled to be in good condition, brought his departure for Inter. He had become an impossible luxury for the hardworking Spanish side, although he has become a reliable performer in Serie A. Miranda is the oldest player in Tite’s squad – born 15 days before Thiago Silva – and reports for duty after a season in which Inter conceded only 30 times in 38 matches, helping him cement his reputation as one of Brazil’s finest defenders.

The classy right-footed center-back epitomizes the values Tite demands from his teams. “A high level of focus, competitive, serious,” the head coach said to describe Miranda, who will start alongside Paris Saint-Germain’s Marquinhos at the back. His years in Europe have added the confidence missing in his younger days.

“I tell you honestly, based on experience and everything else, I think I am the best defender in Serie A,” he said in April. “I made myself a complete, skilled and fast player.” The career he has carved out could hardly be a finer tribute to Piu.

(The Guardian)

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