At 43, Formiga is getting ready to embark on his seventh Olympics. More than longevity, what is surprising is the way the midfielder faces a new participation in the Games.
“As if I were going to the first one”, says Formiga to leaf, by videoconference, at the Morumbi stadium, and wearing a mask – necessary precautions so that a possible infection with Covid-19 does not mean goodbye to Tokyo-2020.
“I need to control my anxiety and this butterflies in my stomach. If you don’t have this chill, it’s because the flame has ended.”
In Japan, the player will join Robert Scheidt as the Brazilians with more Olympic participation. Formiga seeks an unprecedented gold, now under the command of the Pia Sundhage technique, which led the United States to win two gold medals and Sweden to a bronze.
In addition to the anxiety about her seventh edition of the Games, she says she will represent in Tokyo her former teammate Cristiane, who was not called up, and former coach Vadão, who died in 2020 and was decisive for the return of the midfielder to the national team.
The player, who will reinforce São Paulo after the Games, also tells what were her motivations to become a professional and continue in activity until today. Prejudice was one of them.
“My neighbors were telling my mom to take me out of soccer, because I wasn’t going to do anything, that I’d end up getting pregnant fast, because I was among the boys, and so on, right? They called me a macho woman, who in a little while I was going to be stealing… These are things that really became fuel for me.”
Formiga, you were born in 1978, a year before the ban on women’s football in Brazil ended. How was your childhood in Salvador and how did you start playing ball? I started when I was seven, on the street, sometimes with my brothers, sometimes with friends. It was quite difficult, because when I played with my brothers, I didn’t get hit, but when I played without, I got hit. I started to be beaten from the field to inside the house. Today I laugh, but it was hard.
I think I was born with this gift, because my mother used to say that all the dolls I got, I pulled their heads off and played with a ball. My brothers won soccer and I cried because I wanted to too. They didn’t accept it, they said it was ‘a man thing’. I had to face this big prejudice at home, the real machismo. Many neighbors criticized me for being the only woman among the boys and this bothered my brothers a lot. But my mother was always supportive.
Do you feel a symbol of this female trajectory that conquered the right to play ball? I can say yes, for continuing the work of those who could not [jogar] on account of the ban. Someone had to insist that women’s football have its chance, right? Not only in Brazil, I think worldwide. I am very grateful to them [que vieram antes] for having endured so much, for giving me this chance. I read many stories, I didn’t experience the situation, but I know it was difficult. So I feel that way, and not out of ego. But for all they’ve been through. A lot of people don’t really know what happened to women’s football back then, I think even these girls today, the young ones, need to be aware of what the girls suffered back there, so that they can take responsibility.
You played for São Paulo at the end of the 1990s and you were São Paulo and national champion. Why have you decided to return to the club now? I couldn’t imagine staying at PSG for four years, but with the issue of the pandemic, my mother is far away… And I saw that women’s football in Brazil is evolving. And from a distance, we can even help with something, but being present, even more. I think that little by little we will have this security so that everyone can be close to their family, the people they like, our fans. A lot of people support women’s football, and those out there want to feel that heat in the country.
How important is Vadão in your career? I had him for a father. Everyone knows the affection, the love I had for him. I remember the last time, in Campinas, at his house, he said that I had a lot to contribute to women’s football outside the four lines. He was a fantastic guy, not only as a coach, but as a human being, a friend, almost a father. Many criticized him, but we are all partly to blame for what happened to the national team at the time, we were always losing. They massacred him and it hurt me. My return to the national team I only owe to him, because he was a guy who believed I could help the national team, because I myself didn’t feel like going back for so many injustices with women’s football in our country.
Do you see this Olympics as a kind of tribute to him? Yes. I had already thought about it, he was a very important guy for us. In my heart, he is together. If we win this medal, he will be one of the people honored by me.
After Vadão, came Pia Sundhage, who already has two gold and one silver in Games. What is the great merit of her work in the Brazilian team? Today our defense behaves much better, our midfield plays together, even though we have freedom of movement. This is something she didn’t take away from us, on the contrary, she says that we have to be bold, yes, but with a little more tactical discipline. She made a mix, made sure we didn’t lose our quality, but added the tactical part that we need to have. What was really cool was that she arrived and made us continue to believe in our football, that we can reach the level of European teams, what quality we have for that.
How was it for you to see Cristiane out of the squad? I was super surprised, because we know her quality, the opponents respect only to say the name Cristiane, top scorer of the Olympics (14 goals in total). We have to understand the criteria, it’s a private thing for the coach. We get very sad, but I was with her. Cristiane and I have the same thinking, which is the evolution of women’s football in the country. We know the importance of winning this gold, how much it can improve the sport. I told her, “I’m coming, but you can be sure I’ll be fighting for you.”
The national team players opted to file a banner against sexual harassment after the complaints against the president of the CBF, Rogério Caboclo, while the men’s team did not mention the case. How did you get this news? We women are against any harassment. I was particularly scared because I didn’t think that could happen to him. Also because he is a president who joined the CBF and helped women’s football a lot. I had been saying that he really changed a lot of things, he gave decent support for a team that goes to the Olympics. So I got scared. I hope that everything is resolved and whoever has to pay, pays.
In 2020, after the postponement, you said you were feeling good about playing the Games. Now that you turned 43, how are you on the eve of your seventh Olympics? I’m very calm and looking forward to getting started soon. I need to control my anxiety and this butterflies in my stomach, which is normal. If you don’t have this chill, it’s because the flame is over. I’m taking all precautions because there are only a few days left and we can’t relax. If you get Covid, you don’t participate. My biggest concern is in relation to this.
This butterflies in your stomach now, is it different or is it the same as the others? As if going to the first [Olimpíada]. We know the responsibility, how important this medal is. Hit the crossbar in Rio de Janeiro, indoors. In my first Olympics, even though I don’t have the visibility that you have today, just the fact that you know you’re going to an Olympics, representing thousands of Brazilians, your family, made your stomach flutter. And like I said, if you go to a competition like this and you don’t feel it, it doesn’t make sense.
We know you can no longer stand being asked about the day you will stop. So let’s not talk about that. But the day you stop, do you have any idea what you’re going to do? At first, I thought about being a coach. I still think. Also take the CBF course. And there is also the management part, right? I have to figure out where I fit in. I intend to take courses and let’s see what happens. My wish, and I hope everything works out, is that I can continue helping women’s football, because outside of the sport I don’t see myself.
What motivates you to keep playing? Mainly the criticisms. My neighbors were telling my mom to take me out of soccer, because I wouldn’t do anything, that I’d end up getting pregnant fast, because I was among the boys, and so on. These things, they called me a macho woman, who in a little while I was going to be stealing… These are things that really became fuel for me, you know? Go out there and show people that I wasn’t wrong in what I wanted. And thank God my mother didn’t listen to these people and continues to give me strength. Sometimes it’s better to slap or kick me in the shin than to utter those kind of words, which hurt a lot. I keep that, and my answer is there for these people.