Almost three years ago, a 19-year-old footballer from Fluminense made the trip many of his fellow Brazilians have dreamed of over the years, crossing the Atlantic to work in Europe. But his was a special case.
The bulk of South Americans making their way to the Old World go under the radar to join clubs in the lower ranks of the continent, hoping one day to make the jump upwards to stability and in 0.01% of the cases, stardom. Kenedy however took a shortcut, joining one of the world’s biggest clubs in Chelsea at the very start of his European journey.
Life at his new club, in a new country, and often having to play a new position, was made easier thanks to support from key figures at the club, especially Diego Costa and then David Luiz.
“I am like a big brother to him.”
“I try to help him. He was always with Diego Costa but, since he left, I have taken on that role of looking out for him.”
“You see his tattoos and the ripped jeans and you think he is a crazy boy, but he is shy. His past was not easy, he is from the street. But he is a great boy with a big heart.”
“I try to watch all of Newcastle’s games and he calls me to ask about his performance. But he should not worry, he has been amazing. I am cheering all the goals.”
-David Luiz; source: Daily Mail
Hardships are something the now 22-year-old Kenedy has grown used to at an early age, as is the case with many in Brazil. The period between 2002 and 2014 saw economic growth lifting millions of people from absolute poverty, with others making the jump from lower to middle class. Even then, life for these people had no luxuries.
One thing that helps Brazilians disconnect and distract from the struggle of daily life is football. In a country with 200 million people, where the available focus and resources are almost 100 per cent funneled onto one sport, it’s no wonder they produce so many great ones. For the next generation, like Kenedy, these superstars serve as inspiration, fueling dreams of front page covers and a great life.
“[My father and I] couldn’t afford pictures so I used to make newspaper cuttings of my idols — Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Adriano — and put them all over the walls. My sister did not say too much, because my dad loved football just as much as me!”
While Kenedy and his father were “partners in crime” when it came to loving football, his mother was otherwise. Desperation was a common feeling for someone who often saw his son disappear in their poor neighbourhood of Santa Rita do Sapucaí, just to emerge at night bruised up and dirtied by the entire day of football played on the streets of the city.
“She did not want me playing all day. I once escaped the house and she locked the door to leave me outside. When I was finally allowed back in, she screamed all night!”
Kenedy has been one of the lucky ones. For him, so far anyway, those incidents have been proven worthwhile. One could go even as far as to say that the days of playing barefoot on the cobblestone streets, and fighting over a bottle of Coca-Cola as the prize each and every day is what drives Kenedy and so many others with a similar background to do their best on the lush, immaculate green pitches of Europe.
“I did not have shoes or football boot. We played in bare feet. We didn’t have a doctor, so if you broke a toe or cut your foot, you just carried on until the game finished. Then you went home and put it in ice!”
“Whoever won the game got a bottle of Coca-Cola from the losers... and I always won. We used two big stones as goalposts and played all day and night, or at least until the owner of the ball wanted to go home, and that was that.”
This was also what prepared Kenedy for a life outside his parents’ nest. At the age of 11, he left home and moved across states, from Minas Gerais to Rio de Janeiro, to join a small local club in Friburgense.
His talents were quickly noticed by big clubs. Vasco da Gama and Atlético Mineiro were the clubs who took him in before he settled at the legendary Xerém training grounds of Fluminense, where talents such as Real Madrid’s Marcelo, Monaco’s Fabinho and Paris Saint-Germain’s Thiago Silva honed their skills as youth players.
However, it took six years after his first trip to Rio to get his first paycheck. Before that, food and accommodations were all provided by the clubs he was in. Life was football and the training ground. Not much else could fill the space.
So when your first wage as a footballer arrives, temptations to spend lavishly are grand. Yet Kenedy did otherwise, investing his first and several other paychecks on his family.
“I sent that straight to my dad. The house was collapsing and he did not want to move, it was owned by his father before him. So I paid to have the house repaired and I have also been able to pay for a house for my mother.”
Despite the “bad boy” image, accentuated by his body full of tattoos, family is a special thing for Kenedy. He is now building his own base in England, with his wife Lohaine, a baby daughter in Lorena and another child on the way
“It was the best thing that happened to me in my life, the arrival of my daughter. It has changed the way I am, the way I think. And I do it all — change the nappies, get her to sleep, wake up in the middle of the night. I can’t wait for the new baby, a little boy I hope, a little footballer.”
In addition to settling well in the country, Kenedy’s professional roots are starting to take hold in England as well. As after 2.5 years of struggling to affirm his place at Chelsea and Watford, Kenedy is finding great success on his loan deal at Newcastle — in no small part thanks to playing in a position which suits his skills much better than the left flank of the defence.
“I never imagined it would have gone so well. They have amazing fans, they are crazy for the team — fanatical, beautiful, I feel privileged to be around them. My first goal was an amazing sensation. When I saw the celebration in the stand, that gives you the energy to do whatever it takes.”
His instant success conquering the hearts of Newcastle fans had Kenedy open for a definitive stay in the city.
“I am enjoying my time at Newcastle, but obviously I have a contract at Chelsea. If something occurs then I will be more than happy, it is a good place for me. I like it.”
Especially one that gave him the opportunity to snow for the first time in his life.
“It was the first time I’d ever seen snow! I was very, very excited. I spent two hours playing in the garden. My French Bulldog, Hercules, he loved it too.”
“I was doing everything — throwing snowballs, I built a snowman, I kicked the snow, I lay down in the snow, I wanted to sleep in the snow! It was a beautiful week, it was so nice to see that for the first time. I want more snow!”
-Kenedy; Source: Daily Mail
We would advise against sleeping in the snow.
Things are going so well at the Magpies that Kenedy is now in the rumor mills of clubs as big as Bayern Munich. As his current manager, Rafael Benítez admits, that makes another loan stint Newcastle’s best chance of keeping the Brazilian in their ranks for next season.
“I know his agent, so the point with him is that he’s doing well.”
“I am happy because we’ve been winning and he’s been scoring goals and that’s fantastic for us and really good news for him.”
“The situation is that Chelsea need to know where they will finish and we need to know where we will finish. There is plenty of time to talk.”
“But if you’re asking me [if loan is perhaps the best option], I’d say yes, you’d have to ask them as well.”
“It wasn’t easy to bring him here and it won’t be easy to bring him here again.”
-Rafael Benítez; source: Daily Mail
In the meantime, Kenedy will keep his head focused on maintaining his form and collecting more praise for his good work, and, of course, first and foremost, taking care of his family.
“[The holidays] was the first time [for my parents] out of Brazil, and the first time on an aeroplane. It was so nice to have them here, to show them my life. They are so proud.”
-Kenedy; source: Daily Mail