IN MY OWN WORDS: José Edmílson
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Today is a special day. May 17 marks 14 years since that magical night in Paris. It was one of the greatest moments of my career and also in Barça history. We won the Champions League against Arsenal and brought joy back to the Barça fans. Along with the 2002 World Cup, it was the greatest achievement of my career.
The celebrations afterwards were very similar to when Brazil won the World Cup. I can still remember the victory parade to the Camp Nou. All the streets were full of happy people, it was amazing. I remember the smiles on the faces of people like Chema and Antonio, the kit men, after we won the Champions League after such a long wait. What a moment!
It was also the way we won it, against a very strong team that would also have been worthy winners. It was a unique experience. I played ten seasons in Europe, nine of those in the Champions League, so it was a huge thing to win it. And to win it with Barça, which has such a special sentiment. Unique.
There was a young Argentinian the breaking into the team back then, and 14 years later he’s still wearing the Barça shirt. I always thought Messi was different. He had such a strong mentality and skills like I had never seen before. When I came to Barça I could see this 17-year-old lad playing with us who had such amazing ball control … You may have talent, skill, speed or a goalscoring instinct, but it won’t be easy without the right mentality too. You need to control fame, anxiety, money and prestige, and Leo was always mentally very strong.
They have compared Messi to a lot of other great players, but they each belong in their own generation and era. But for a player to control everything on and off the pitch for such a long time, that’s what makes them different from the others. Leo has been up there for ten years, like Pelé, but there are others like Maradona who were only really at their best for three or four years. That’s where Messi is different. He was trying to get into a team that had Eto’o, Ronnie and Henry… but he bode his time well. It was similar with Xavi and Iniesta. They weren’t playing much because we had Deco, Van Bommel, Motta and me. They waited to seize their moments.
I remember an amazing goal that Leo scored when I was at Zaragoza. I played the first half and he played the second. Thank God I wasn’t on in the second half because I’m sure he would have dribbled past me too! I was watching from the bench and it was an exceptional goal, so many different skills, changes of pace and direction, so much strength and such a cool finish. The day after we were in the dressing room and all saying the same thing: that guy is unstoppable.
Messi has been the best for 10 years and that is the difference between him and the rest“ José Edmilson
When I arrived at Barça I was 28 and already experienced, and was joining a nice project with great players. It was a dream come true to join Barcelona, to wear a shirt that means so much in world football. They were putting together a team to win trophies and change history, and from the 2004/05 season everything changed for the better at the club. I had to wait three games before my debut because of a suspension carried over from the French league, and after five games I injured my knee. It was so frustrating because I knew I only had four years here and had to make the most of them.
I recovered my fitness and confidence for the next season and that’s when I started playing more. We won La Liga and the Champions League and I got into the Brazil squad for the Germany 2006 World Cup, where there weren’t many places because there were so many great players, but I got in at the last minute. Unfortunately, I got a knee injury and didn’t play any games. That injury kept coming back…
I finally left Barça in 2008. That generation could have ended better, even though we did get to the semi-finals of the Champions League. But such a big club has to win at least one trophy every year. I believe a club needs to keep going for ever and the players and managers are just passing through. You need to change things every five years, you need fresh faces. There was quite some controversy when I made a comment about “black sheep”, but people misinterpreted my words. Perhaps I got the words wrong because I wasn’t targeting anyone in particular. What I meant was the team was going through a difficult patch as a family, and in every family some people think and do things differently. I spoke to Rijkaard and the captains and said I was sorry for not talking about that behind closed doors. But they weren’t angry. I don’t regret what I said, but perhaps I should have expressed it differently.
I left the club in 2008, but it will always be a thorn in my side that I never got to play for Barça under Guardiola. I got to play for FC Barcelona for four years, but only one at my true best, the way I had played before coming here. I think I could have stayed longer and played under Pep, but injuries got in the way. He came and not only wrote a new page in the club’s history books, but in the history of world football.
I played the kind of way that would have worked for Guardiola and I’m sure I could have been part of Barça 2008/09, the best team in the world. I was left with a question mark. The way they played, the way they brought the ball out from the back… the centre back was able to come forward and start moves, and that’s something I liked to do when I was centre back at Lyon. I loved it so it’s such a shame I never got the chance to be part of that. There was a way of playing the ball out from the back that changed thanks to Guardiola’s Barça. Goalkeepers also started playing a different kind of game. I played with Víctor Valdés and he played with me a different way to the way he did with Pep, he was the one who started attacks. Footballers want to have the ball, it’s wonderful to create nice moves.
I’m sure that in that Barça, Pep would have seen me more as a centre back than a defensive midfielder. I played on the right centre of defence for four years in Lyon. Barça signed me because Rijkaard saw me playing as a defensive midfielder one day for Brazil in Belo Horizonte, and we beat Argentina 3-1 with a hat-trick by Ronaldo Nazario, and also in a friendly at the Camp Nou against Catalunya. But when we won the World Cup in 2002 I was a sweeper or third centre back, and only played defensive mid a little bit.
Speaking of Brazil and the World Cup, I have to say that that was the biggest moment of my career. Brazil were on top form, from 1994 to 2002 we went to three straight finals, and won two of them and I was there for one of those. I think some of the magic of playing for your country at the World Cup has been lost these days, but it was every little boy’s dream back then in Brazil. I don’t know if it’s because there are so many games these days, but it’s not quite the same. All the Brazilians in that team, like Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Cafú, Roberto Carlos and Ronaldinho, had always dreamt of playing for Brazil at the World Cup. I think that is gradually dying out in Brazil and it’s a pity. It was the dream moment of my career, for sure. Playing in and winning a World Cup is what every boy wanted to do.
One of the nice things about that World Cup was the unity between the players. We were together for 52 days, from a friendly against Catalunya, to Malaysia for the warm-up, and then Japan and Korea for the finals. We were a compact group and we were convinced we could win it, especially after losing the previous final to France in 1998.
Brasil es va proclamar campiona del món al 2002 en un equip on hi eren els exculers Ronaldinho, Rivaldo, Ronaldo, Edmilson i Belletti - FIFA.com
I have infinite anecdotes from that tournament, but my favourite was in the quarter final against England. After scoring the goal that qualified us for the semis, Ronaldinho got sent off 20 minutes into the second half with us winning 2-1. Edilson came on for Ronaldo Nazario, but Luizao thought he should have gone on. At the end of the game we were all celebrating the win, but Luizao was still fuming because Scolari sent Edilson on and not him.
The next day we were recovering, some trained, some went to the Jacuzzi, other went to the pool. Scolari told us all to get in an almost 40 degree Jacuzzi and told Luizao to explain why he had been so angry the day before. He left us shut in the Jacuzzi for almost 40 minutes, and when he remembered, the players had almost passed out! We were really suffering, we were sweating so much. When he noticed, the fitness coach came running over in a panic, saying “coach, they’ve been in there for 40 minutes”, and Scolari answered: “well, leave them there another hour until they learn their lesson”.
But we sorted things out in there. Luizao said he had done wrong because he had not only disrespected the coach but a team-mate too. One of the great qualities of that Brazil team was the team spirit, apart from its footballing qualities of course, and that had a lot to do with the way Scolari dealt with so many big egos.
I was still at Olympique Lyon at the time, and I’d like to tell you a bit about my time in France. After five years with Sao Paulo, I joined Lyon in 2000. I had a closed deal with Arsenal, but because of passports and community quotas, Wenger decided to let me go and I took an offer from Lyon instead. I didn’t think twice because I was eager to make my name in Europe. We did something unprecedented. Lyon had never won the league and we won three in a row.
Edmilson jugó en el Olympique de Lyon del 2000 al 2004 - FOTO: Ligue1.com
A compatriot, and another former Barça player, Sonny Andersson helped to get me settled there. I was 23 and recently married, and it wasn’t easy to adapt to a new culture and way of playing. Olympique practically built a team from scratch, and Sonny played a massive role in my success in France. He was experienced and had only just left Barça.
Somebody else I have fond memories of at OL is Juninho Pernambucano. He scored free kicks from all over the place … Awesome! From 30 or 40 metres, from the wing like the one he got against Barça in the Champions League in 2009, from anywhere. He was the greatest free kick taker I ever saw, even better than Messi. Some players are good from close to goal, but he was good from anywhere. I remember a goal in Munich against Bayern. He was about 40 metres away. I said: “it’s too far away. Let me take it because I have a stronger kick”. But he confidently replied “No, no. It’s fine for me.” I was just behind him and the way the ball swerved was impeccable. He hit in right in the spot, what a goal.
So, now my life is very different. I have the Edmilson Foundation, which I’ve had for 15 years, and we have an agreement with the Barça Foundation, and we’ve worked together on a number of projects. The Barça Foundation does a formidable job all around the world, and I have been travelling around South America for two years on FutbolNet projects and I love it. There is no other team in the world that does these things. Barça members and fans might not know that much about the Foundation, but it does wonderful work around the globe to help disadvantaged children to learn values through sport.
And I have been with the Barça Legends since the project began. It’s good for us to do some sport and meet old friends, old workmates. Players we’ve been with for our national teams or at clubs. I’m also president of a training club called Futebol Clube Ska Brasil, it was started in June and I came up with the methodology and everything the club needs to do. We have Japanese investors, and after living in Barcelona for two and a half years (from 2017 to late November 2019), I’m back in Brazil and working with young footballers. I also work as an ambassador for the Barça Academy Sao Paulo, the newest Barça program in Brazil.
Coaching? I got my coaching license in Brazil, but although it’s something I’d enjoy, I’m happy working with kids right now. In Brazil we need to work on character ahead of working on players as athletes, because otherwise once they come into money, they make the wrong decisions in life. There is talent everywhere, but you need to work on psychology, like a social worker. It’s very important to do that with young Brazilians.
In short, it’s been a pleasure to talk to you all on such a special day for the club. Thank you to everyone and I hope everything returns to normal as quickly as possible.
A big hug from Brazil for all Barça fans.
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