When Newcastle signed Brazilian striker Joelinton from Hoffenheim for £40m this summer, he became the most expensive player in the club’s history. These are boom times for Brazilians in the Premier League, the dream destination for young players growing up in South America’s largest country. Seven of the Brazil squad who won the Copa América on home soil in July play in for Premier League clubs. They all owe some debt to Mirandinha, who became the first Brazilian to play for an English club when he signed for Newcastle back in 1987, five years before the Premier League even launched.
“I’m very proud of that,” says Mirandinha, who celebrated his 60th birthday the day Brazil beat Argentina in the Copa América semi-finals. “It was a mark in the history of both Brazilian football and English football. My name is always quoted by journalists and fans. I also came to help when Juninho went to Middlesbrough a few years after me. But I look at it with humility. Each person has their own time. That was my opportunity.”
Mirandinha admits he does not know much about Joelinton, the latest Brazilian striker to arrive in England, but he is proud that his legacy continues to grow. “I’m glad the club has turned its attention towards Brazilians. It’s proof of the good performances I had there, with goals against important opponents. Joelinton he has an opportunity to consecrate himself at a giant club. With those supporters, any player is motivated.”
Mirandinha made his first impression in England in May 1987, when he helped Brazil win the Rous Cup. He scored his only international goal in a 1-1 draw with England at Wembley and was the man of the match in a 2-0 victory against Scotland at Hampden. He was back a few months later and ready to build a new life for him and his family in the north east of England.
Newcastle paid Palmeiras £575,000 for his signature in the summer of 1987. He was quick to make the city home, even being asked to turn on the Christmas lights that December. Mirandinha scored 13 goals in his first season, including two against Manchester United in a 2-2 draw at Old Trafford, as Newcastle finished eighth in the league.
He also developed an unlikely yet enduring friendship with Paul Gascoigne that season. They dined together regularly and, before Gascoigne left for Tottenham Hotspur, he gave Mirandinha’s daughter a dog as a gift. “The friendship with Paul was built from the beginning. He was the one who first greeted me at the club. We were together at hospitals and other charity events. He was a friend who helped me a lot with the initial difficulties in England. Before, we had a fair amount of contact, but after his problems with alcohol he moved away a little. But I always try to talk about him and I’m always looking out for what’s going on at Newcastle.
“To this day I am remembered by the people of Newcastle. I visited the city in 2016 for a Brazilian restaurant’s opening night. The club staff knew I was coming and took me to a home match against Manchester City where I received a tribute on the pitch at half time. People didn’t talk about that in Brazil. They treat me like a real idol there, with affection. I get letters with pictures and autograph requests from English fans.”
Things did not go so well for Newcastle in Mirandinha’s second season in the north east. Despite a few great moments for the Brazilian – he scored the winner as Newcastle beat Liverpool at Anfield for the first time in 38 years and he also hit a brace in a 3-0 win over local rivals Middlesbrough – but Newcastle were relegated. After 67 appearances and 24 goals for the club, Mirandinha returned to Palmeiras, something he says was “the biggest mistake” of his career.
The landscape of English football has changed in the three decades since Mirandinha left Newcastle. The league has not yet begun but five Brazilians – Alisson, Fabinho, Roberto Firmino, Ederson and Gabriel Jesus – have already been to Wembley this season for the Community Shield. Joelinton is one of 24 Brazilians in the Premier League this season and they are all being paid handsomely.
Sadly, Mirandinha’s finances have caused him real pressures in recent years. An unsuccessful business venture, two divorces and the turbulent nature of football management have combined to strip him of his assets. After hitting rock bottom a few months ago, he went on Brazilian TV to ask for help paying his debts, a plea that was eventually answered by anonymous businessmen.
“I was very reluctant to get to that point,” he says of his TV appearance. “Unfortunately, things were tough. A friend then approached a director and talked about my situation. I needed to put it out there, it was good [for me]. My participation shocked a lot of people. I had two divorces, one of them traumatic. I moved away from my daughter, lost money. I got involved with a team from my city and had to sell my property to pay players’ unpaid wages. I didn’t want to be seen as a bad person.”
As if cashflow woes weren’t enough, Mirandinha has also suffered family trauma. One of his daughters died a couple of years ago due to lung failure and his other daughter – Sarah, who was born in England and named after princess Sarah Ferguson – has refused to speak to him for more than a decade. During his emotional, tearful appearance on TV, he said that their lack of contact has been “worse than the financial problems”.
Mirandinha hopes his hard times are coming to an end. With the help of some old friends, he was able to obtain his A license in Brazil – now a mandatory requirement for all coaches – and has set his sights on a return to football. Having coached throughout Brazil and across the world in Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Malaysia, he wants to resume his career in the dugout. “I was a champion in Saudi Arabia and also with Fortaleza in 2009 [winning the Ceará state championship]. I feel empowered. My worldwide experiences allowed me to speak English well and a little Arabic and Japanese. I expect an opportunity soon.”
After opening up about his financial problems on TV, Mirandinha was offered a job with an insurance company. He is midway through a training course for the role, which he says is “interesting”, but his heart belongs to the game he loves. “My focus is on coaching,” he says. “Football is in my blood.”
The Guardian Sport