Raul Meireles has been fashioning a name for himself on Merseyside with his goals and his dress sense. The Portuguese midfielder talks to Duncan Castles.
Unusual Meireles not out of place at Liverpool
In his hometown of Oporto, Portugal, Raul Meireles once owned, managed and chose the gear for a high-end fashion store by the name of Metropolis. You sense there would have been a problem persuading his Liverpool teammates to shop there.
"What is this for?" Pepe Reina asked as Meireles posed for photographs by the Melwood training ground boot room. A newspaper interview, comes the reply, prompting the goalkeeper to respond: "And this shirt is allowed?"
Meireles was kitted out in tight-fitting French sailor shirt, blue-and-white hoops ending mid-arm to expose intricately interlaced tattoos that include an image of wife Ivone. The faded jeans are drainpipe, the footwear battered canvas. The 27-year-old midfielder would not look out of place at university studying a postgraduate arts degree, but he does at Liverpool Football Club.
"I like English fashion, but the fashion of the university students," Meireles said. "But I come to the dressing room and nobody dresses like me. The players look at me and it's: 'What?'
"But I don't change. If I'm a player why can't I dress in the British style? I think this is the British style. Maybe I'm wrong."
Unusual and unpredicted; just like the Portugal international's recent feats on the football field. When Meireles arrived at Liverpool last summer in a €13 million (Dh65m) move from Porto he had constructed a reputation for himself as one of Europe's finest box-to-box midfielders, winning four league titles and a World Cup starter's shirt with an intelligent, high-energy game.
A sweeper in his youth-international days, what nobody had seen in his game were the fundamentals of a prodigious scorer. Then Kenny Dalglish returned as Liverpool manager, examined his squad for an individual capable of playing behind a striker, and decided that Meireles's ability to pick a pass and the right position to run into was worth a risk.
What followed was a run of five goals in six unbeaten games, earning Liverpool 14 points from 18 and including a memorable winner at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea. So readily had Meireles adapted to the new role that he had established himself as Liverpool's leading league scorer, with more goals in those six matches than he had managed in an entire club season before.
A natural finisher perhaps, yet Meireles refuses to adopt the trappings of one. He credits the hard work of his teammates and the success of a three-centre-back formation that confused Premier League opponents accustomed to regulation flat-back fours.
Meireles said: "It's not my job. People say 'Hey you, you are scoring goals, you are …' No, I'm not Stevie Gerrard. OK, Stevie is a midfield player but he scored a lot of goals, these are his qualities. Not me, I'm not this player."
His enthusiasm for the city of Liverpool is similarly effusive. He lives centrally, enjoys exploring its streets on foot, and though the goals have removed the relaxing anonymity of his early months on Merseyside, he appreciates the politeness with which supporters request pictures and autographs. He even likes the dialect that six-year-old Lara is making her own.
"My daughter started to speak like a little Scouser - with the accent, really nice," he said. "And I love Liverpool; this is a really big club .
"You know I always dreamed of playing in the Premier League, but I didn't dream of playing in Liverpool or Manchester or Chelsea. No, I just wanted to play in Premier League. But in Liverpool is the best. Every game that you play the supporters are … well, it's unbelievable. I really enjoy playing here."
When he joined during the troubled final summer of Tom Hicks and George Gillett’s ownership there was an informal agreement to extend Meireles’ contract if the first season went well. He’d be delighted to see the new regime honour it. “If I had this opportunity I’d sign a new contract today. Ten, 20 years. Yeah, for sure.”
There’s been just one negative to Meireles’ move to Merseyside. He has been unable to add to the corporeal gallery of tattoos that opened when he and Ivone visited the same Porto artist as 18-year-old partners and is now so detailed Meireles cannot number the designs.
“I really miss it,” he exclaims. “It’s like I’m hungry to do a tattoo, like it’s a vice. Some people have vices, addictions. My wife has been one week in Portugal, did tattoos, and came home and teased me: ‘Hey, do you like it?!’ I need to do it.”
And Liverpool need Meireles.
Luis Suarez v Wes Brown
Two season’s ago, Wes Brown was England’s first-choice right-back, now he’s United’s fifth-choice centre-back. Despite his diminished reputation, Brown can be a solid defender on his day and he’ll have his hands full alongside Chris Smalling with the lively Uruguayan striker Suarez, below, and possibly the towering Andy Carroll as well, to deal with.
Kenny Dalglish has gone back to the 1990s with his 5-3-2 formation. United usually play 4-5-1 in big away games, which would see Liverpool’s three centre-halves marking one striker – and result in a packed midfield.
Between 2004 and 2009, United were unbeaten at Liverpool, winning five of six, but they have lost their last two games at Anfield. In the all-time tally between the two, United lead with 60 league wins to 52, from 155 games.
Liverpool (5-3-2): Reina; Johnson, Carragher, Kyrgiakos, Skrtel, Aurelio; Lucas, Gerrard, Meireles; Kuyt, Suarez
Man United (4-5-1); Van der Saar; O’Shea, Smalling, Brown, Evra; Scholes, Carrick, Fletcher, Giggs, Nani; Rooney
• This is the 20th league match between managers Kenny Dalglish and Sir Alex Ferguson. “King Kenny” has four wins, “Fergie” has seven
• Two goals for Wayne Rooney today would take him to 100 league strikes for United