x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Ciel out to seal the deal for Bonamigo

Turning to football late in life, the Al Shabab midfielder has put his troubles behind him and hopes to help his side lift the Etisalat Cup.

Jociel Ferreira da Silva, centre, popularly known as Ciel among his Al Shabab teammates, was not allowed to play football as a child, but now he is making up for lost time in the UAE Pro League.
Jociel Ferreira da Silva, centre, popularly known as Ciel among his Al Shabab teammates, was not allowed to play football as a child, but now he is making up for lost time in the UAE Pro League.

Given the success of Brazilians in world football, you could fairly assume the sport to be pursued by every child in the country. Certainly, parents must shower their children with gifts of footballs and boots to produce the more than 2,000 professionals playing outside Brazil.

That scenario was not the case, however, for Jociel Ferreira da Silva. Born in the north-eastern Brazilian city of Caruaru 29 years ago, he was forbidden from playing football and his early years were spent labouring with his father.

"I used to work with my father in a small farm and I was not allowed to play football," Jociel said. "If my father found me on a football pitch, then I was sure of getting a beating."

Respecting his father's wishes, Ciel - as he is popularly known - stayed away from the game that is synonymous with his country. However, when he was 10, his father died. With no one to take care of the farm, it fell into ruin and the youngster was left searching for work.

Football came to his rescue. When he was 15, his elder brother took him for trials to the local club, Porto de Caruaru, and with that started Ciel's football journey, which has seen stops for varying length of times at clubs in Brazil, South Korea and Portugal.

"When my father passed away, the animals we had, some of them died and we were forced to sell some," he said. "So I did not have any work.

"My elder brother was a footballer. He took me to Porto, we had a test and I passed it. That's how my football career started."

Ciel is now at the heart of the Al Shabab midfield and has led a revival of the Dubai club since he joined it in January. In 12 domestic matches since his arrival, Shabab have won seven and drawn three, and the 2008 champions are unbeaten in six Pro League matches, with three victories and three draws.

Their last Pro League defeat was against Al Jazira, the champions elect, in December.

They have accumulated 12 points in those six games and occupy third position on the table with 28 points, 15 behind Jazira. But they harbour hopes of overhauling Baniyas (31) to finish second. They are one of the league's form teams.

Ciel has been a fulcrum in Shabab's resurgence, but his arrival at the club was not greeted with unanimous approval. He had earned the reputation of being a brat, and his problems with alcohol and attitude had seen the midfielder thrown out from seven clubs, including Brazilian giants Fluminense and Corinthians, in two seasons.

"Ciel is an excellent player, but his behaviour off the field hurt," the president of Agremiacao Sportiva Arapiraquense, Ciel's last club, said after his dismissal in September.

"There had been problems before and he was given another chance, but he again became involved in alcohol and violated our agreement. Therefore we decided to release the player."

Paolo Bonamigo, the Shabab coach, and the club management, however, backed their new arrival to the hilt.

"I will be like a father to him," Bonamigo told the media at the time, confident that Ciel's troubles were a thing of the past and expecting good things from his new signing.

Ciel, chastened by his past experiences, was keen to grab the opportunity.

"I'm very happy with this chance and now it is up to me to make the most of it," he said on his arrival. "I am starting a new phase in my career. My wife [Rutilene] and my daughter [Sarah Yasmin] will arrive to stay here with me and then everything will be complete."

Watching Ciel train, you are almost certain he has turned the page on his past. The Brazilian seems hugely popular among his teammates; one of them jumps on him as he stretches after training and they roll on the ground in a mock fight.

Another indulges in a bit of banter as Ciel shows off his new, purple-coloured spikes. His Mohican haircut, which got him into trouble with a few clubs, has also caught on at Shabab with a couple of his teammates replicating the look.

"The players here have been really warm in welcoming me to the group," Ciel said. "I have developed a good bond with all of them. This has motivated me to work very hard and, thanks to God, we are collecting the fruits of our labour.

"The motivation still remains high and we want to finish the season on a high, with hopefully a trophy on Friday."

Tomorrow, Shabab will meet Al Ain in the final of the Etisalat Cup at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi. The team have been training hard for the clash and Ciel is convinced they can return home with the trophy.

"We have not lost a game in the Pro League [since December] and we hope we can keep this run going in the final of the Etisalat Cup," he said.

Shabab were held 1-1 by Sharjah on Sunday, but Ciel said it was just a blip on the radar.

"The atmosphere in the team and the mood of the players is very positive. The motivation is high," he said. "We have full respect for the Al Ain team, but we are going there to try our best."

Ciel looked short of his best in the draw against Sharjah, but Bonamigo has backed him and the team to bounce back tomorrow.

"The opponents know you now. They study the team, they study all the foreign players and try to find means of stopping the players," the Brazilian coach said.

Ciel prefers to play on the right, and Sharjah countered that.

Bonamigo said: "So Ciel found a bit of difficulty against Sharjah; they had organised something for him. That is why we moved him to the left side. We are always trying to find positions where the players can perform at their best.

"We are always talking and studying the game, and creating alternatives for us to help the players and team."

Having such a coach to guide him, Ciel has been able adapt quickly to the conditions here and express his talent. He hopes his efforts and that of the entire team will bring them a medal tomorrow and convince the management to extend his contract, which lasts till June.

"In South Korea, it was -18°C," he said. "The weather in Dubai is very similar to the place I grew up in Brazil. The north-east is a warm place. So I am pretty used to this weather.

"Among all the places I have played in, this is one where I adapted to the conditions quickest. I am happy here and I wish to continue.

"A lot of things have happened through my career, some good and some bad. But I am happy and satisfied with the way I have coped with the challenges. I have come up every time. God has given me a new chance every time and I hope I can make the most use of this one."

arizvi@thenational.ae