Manchester City's Elano reveals his tough upbringing and aiming to help City to the Premier League title.
Samba boy Elano is loving City life
MANCHESTER // A 2008 US State Department report rates the criminal threat in Sao Paulo as "critical". Murder, robberies and kidnappings are part of everyday life in the city and most other parts of Brazil. Despite the lure of the Copacabana Beach and the carnival, Rio de Janeiro is plagued by the same problems, depicted in the eye-opening movie City of God, where the gun-carrying, drug gangs take control of poor areas - known as favelas - to ply their trade.
For every youngster growing up on these mean streets and in the slums, football offers an escape route. To follow in the footsteps of Pele, Zico, Ronaldo, and currently Kaka and Robinho, is the dream. Born and raised in the village of Iracemapolis, Elano Blumer faced similar hardships as he chased his goal. At 13, a daily trek to and from his first club Guarani, also in Sao Paulo state, often involved around four buses per journey, while respect to the club's senior players increased chances of a much-needed pair of boots.
But Elano admits not everyone's path is littered with success and stardom. "I've got friends who made it in football, and did OK, and I've got friends who led a much tougher, sadder life," reveals the Manchester City man. "Some of them went into crime, yes. It didn't stop me being their friend, but it was hard. Some went to prison, some have died, but that is life. It is not always perfect. "Football is the healthiest way out for any kid in Brazil. It's the best way of giving yourself a peaceful family life and achieving some sort of success.
"The trouble is that in Brazil football is also probably the most competitive industry of any country in the world. For instance, when I had my trial at Guarani, there were another 600 kids there, all trying to show what they can do and live their dream. Fortunately, I managed to be selected ahead of those 600. "I feel I have always had a good head on my shoulders and I had good parents who brought me up in the best possible way.
"I come from a simple, poor family, but they have shown me the right way. "I am lucky enough that I have been blessed with this talent in football and I have been able to give something back to my family and I have managed to achieve something good in my career." While at Santos, Robinho himself had to endure trauma when his mother, Marina da Silva Souza, was kidnapped by gunmen and held for six weeks until a ransom was paid.
And the quietly-spoken Elano adds: "Unfortunately in Brazil it's very tough to reach the levels that Robinho and myself have reached. You have to work so hard and I am so happy for Robinho too that he has become a success. "I am not surprised by anything Robinho does. I know what he is capable of doing. He is a wonderful charismatic player and has wonderful presence. He is someone who everyone is looking at and wants to watch because of what he can do."
That talent may not spread to singing, as Elano reveals. "He has got worse over the years," he laughs. "I had been playing for Santos for two years before he made his debut in the first team and we became roommates after that. He was always so lively, had so much joy. He used to always be singing in the shower - badly. "Our families are friends which is great and now he has become a father he has just got worse - he never stops.
"We are quite similar in some ways that we like to joke around, mess around and have a laugh. "But we are also a little bit different, especially when I am working. Like when I'm giving an interview, I am a bit more serious and shy even, whereas Robinho is always lively, always in your face, whatever he's doing." Elano, 27, might be a shy guy off the pitch, but he is not afraid to show his ability on it.
He is a creative midfielder and free-kick specialist, but few had heard of him when City paid Shakhtar Donetsk £8million (Dh47m) for him last season. He had made an impression in the Ukraine, where the colder climes did not always suit someone used to playing in the sun. A training camp in Dubai back in 2006 was most welcome. Many would have gone back to Brazil after a difficult first season where he did not play much, but Elano, aware his family's financial future was more secure with him in Europe, was made of sterner stuff and worked even harder to earn a dream move to the Premier League.
At Eastlands he is keen to show the form which made him such a stand-out at Santos, helping them to league titles in 2002 and 2004. The former England and City manager, Sven-Goran Eriksson, was a big admirer. The Swede, who is now Mexico's coach, said he was one of the best players he had ever coached at club level, putting him in the same bracket as Ruud Gullit, Roberto Baggio and Roberto Mancini.
High praise indeed, yet Elano is well aware the next generation of talent in his homeland is ready to break through. One tipped for great things is Douglas Costa, 18, an attacking midfielder at Gremio. He could also be heading to Manchester if United pursue their interest, although Real Madrid are also in the hunt for his signature. "He has got the quality to play here, but the key thing for any player is adapting - to life in this country and the football," said Elano.
"Now there are a few Brazilians here, if someone like that did come along, we would be able to help him settle and to enjoy it. "I still watch a lot of Brazilian football and I know Douglas is a good player, but there are a lot of good young players coming through. What I can say about Brazilian football is that it is so unpredictable. Every day, a new great player is born in Brazil and that's why we have won the World Cup five times."