Why is World Cup-winner Lúcio Still Playing at 40? ‘My Love for Football'

Why is World Cup-winner Lúcio Still Playing at 40? ‘My Love for Football'

Wednesday, 11 July, 2018 - 07:00
Lúcio in action for Brazil against Germany at the 2006 World Cup. Photograph: Tom Jenkins for the Guardian
London - Joshua Law
Sixteen years after Brazil’s last triumph at a World Cup, Lúcio is the last man standing. The 40-year-old defender is the only player from the team that won Brazil’s fifth World Cup who is still lacing up his boots every weekend. Many of his companions from that glorious night in Yokohama now proffer their opinions on the endless football debate shows on Brazilian TV, while others have become club directors or plucked up the courage to step into the dugout. Goalkeeper Marcos has even started his own beer brand and Ronaldinho recently revealed his intention to run as a candidate for the Republican Party in October’s elections.

Meanwhile, at the start of this year Lúcio could be seen turning out for Sociedade Esportiva do Gama in the Campeonato Brasiliense, the local championship in Brazil’s Federal District. It’s a far cry from the glamour of the World Cup or Champions League. Gama’s home games this year have attracted an average crowd of just 1,692. Some of their away matches have been played in front of fewer than 100 people. So why does Lúcio keep coming back for more?

“What motivates me to keep playing is my love for football, the joy that I can keep training, the motivation of waking up every day in good health,” he says. “Obviously, I have played for big clubs and won big titles but, for me, the day-to-day is important. The moment is important. And passing on my experience to the other players – from the time I spent at big clubs abroad and with the Seleção – is fundamental.”

Lúcio delivered those lines with a heartening sincerity. The centre-back famous for his galloping forward runs is relishing his time in the city where he grew up. It helps that he is playing for a club who acted as an important stepping stone on his way to the top. “I started off at Planaltino,” he says, “I played the Campeonato Brasiliense in 1996 and from there I was transferred to Gama.”

“Gama didn’t play in the Copa do Brasil the year I was there, so Guara, the team that would play the Copa do Brasil against Internacional, signed me on loan just for one game. We lost 7-0, but the people at Internacional were able to see something good in my football and signed me. I see this as an opportunity that God gave me in my life, in my career. I ended up being able to make the most of that opportunity and experiencing everything I could have dreamt of.”

It was during his time at Internacional, a giant club in Porto Alegre, that the towering centre-back earned the first of his 105 caps and caught the attention of Europe’s elite clubs. He moved to Bayer Leverkusen in 2001 and began the most dramatic, bittersweet season of his career. Leverkusen were five points clear at the top of the Bundesliga with three games to play but they lost two of those matches and lost out on the title by a single point. On top of that they lost the German Cup final to Schalke and were then beaten by Real Madrid in the Champions League final. Lúcio came so close to a treble in his first season in Europe but ended up with nothing – until the summer.

At the same time, the Seleção were in the midst of their marathon World Cup qualifying campaign in South America and were struggling like never before. They only guaranteed their place in Japan and South Korea by beating Venezuela in their final qualifier. “In the 2002 season there was the World Cup qualifying, which was really difficult for us,” he says. “Without doubt it was tiring as well, having the qualifiers in Brazil and then going back to Europe to play in all the domestic competitions and the Champions League. It was tough.”

“As we had a difficult qualifying campaign there wasn’t much confidence. The fans still didn’t put a lot of faith in the Seleção. Of course it’s understandable, because of the irregular qualifiers that we had played. There was a bit of distrust.”

Despite the draining season, Brazil arrived at the World Cup in the best physical condition of any team at the tournament – no more so than Lúcio, who played every minute for Brazil. “The diligence of the players to look after themselves and prepare themselves was very important,” says Lúcio explains. “That made the difference for us to have success at the World Cup. During the tournament, the team constructed some consistency. All the parts fell into place and we went on winning and gaining confidence, self-esteem and motivation. All this was fundamental for us to get to the final against Germany and win the title.”

Luiz Felipe Scolari was in charge of Brazil and he roused the players before the final. “Felipão, for the final, was motivating the players as always. Not only him, the players were helping to motivate each other. We talked a lot. We said: ‘Now we are not going to lose.’ We had got to the final, so we were going to show our true value to the world. It’s a match the entire planet stops to watch. We were really determined and full of desire.”

Brazil’s qualification for the World Cup was much smoother this time around, with Tite’s men topping the South American segment after a scintillating campaign. In Lúcio’s eyes, the hype around the team is merited. “The Seleção have managed to gain real consistency and form a strong group in the little time that Tite has had in command. He’s managed a huge revolution.”

Brazil have only conceded six goals in 25 matches under Tite and only one in their four games at the World Cup. The last time they defender this well, Lúcio ended up lifting the trophy.

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