Gilberto da Silva Melo just happy to be remembered after dismal Spurs stint
It's late June on the day of Brazil's final group-stage game against Serbia at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Gilberto da Silva Melo has just appeared on Fox Sports and is rushing over to the Brazilian Football Confederation in Rio de Janeiro for his second media stint of the day. Having retired in 2012 after almost two decades of playing, Melo is understandably in demand. He played for the national squad in two World Cups, won the Copa America and the Confederations Cup and can easily raise a smile even when he recalls a particular brutal headline that read, "Brazil finally produce rubbish footballer."
"It's true, I had a nightmare at Spurs. But I'd done well in Germany. I played for my country, and I'd won stuff in Brazil," the 42-year-old Melo said.
The left-back made just six official appearances for Tottenham in 2008, but fans have long memories. In a TalkSport poll last year, Spurs supporters voted him the club's worst winter signing ever.
"In a way, it's nice to be remembered, and I also kind of half-agree with what they said," he joked. "But footballers have to get used to this sort of thing. I've talked about it on Instagram because I wanted to show how hard it can be."
Melo had it tough growing up. He was born in Villa Isabel -- what he calls a "less favoured" area of Rio. His mother was a maid and worked in the more affluent regions of the city. His father was a policeman who was gunned down two months before Melo was born. He has seven brothers, but he's the only one who never knew his father.
As a youngster, he played both football and futsal. In 1992, Melo was spotted by America Football Club, and just four years later, he signed for Brazilian club giants Flamengo. There, he played alongside Brazil legend Romario, which Melo maintains was the most enjoyable time in his 18-year career. Inter Milan stepped in for him in 1999. The Italian side was full of greats such as Roberto Baggio and Ronaldo but were going through a sticky patch. After making just two appearances, Melo was back in Brazil.
Melo won trophies with Vasco da Gama and Sao Caetano before finding himself at Hertha Berlin in 2004. The move was a success, and bigger clubs began to take an interest. Spurs made an offer of £2 million in 2008. The wage wasn't fantastic, and in any event, Melo says he didn't go to London for the money.
"I'd had four happy years in Germany, but Brazilians are competitive," Melo said. "Hertha were good but didn't have the resources to compete for a title. This bothered me a lot because many of my Brazil teammates were playing in big tournaments like the Champions League and I never had the opportunity with Hertha. Tottenham came in, and I saw it as a chance to have a proper crack at some silverware."
Melo was the first Brazilian to play for Tottenham's senior side, and expectations were sky high. He arrived in January 2008, but injuries kept him out until March. From the very beginning, things went wrong.
"I remember my debut against PSV in the UEFA Cup. I tried to dribble past Jefferson Farfan. He nicked the ball from me and scored. Even though I was a Brazil international, I found it tough to recover, and I felt it was my fault we were losing 1-0," Melo said. "I picked up a calf injury and was subbed at half-time. We went out of the competition after the second leg, and I felt personally responsible.
"From that moment, it was all downhill. I tried my best at training and hoped that things would turn around. I liked London and the life there, but my confidence was shot. Then, Juande Ramos got the boot. Harry Redknapp came in, and he put me in the B-team at 32 years of age. That was embarrassing, playing with the U20s in empty stadiums. It was a tough time."
Heurelho Gomes was Melo's teammate at Tottenham. Gomes, who is now a goalkeeper at Watford, has spent 10 years in the country and is the longest-serving Brazilian in English football. Gomes has his take on why things didn't click with Melo and Redknapp.
"Harry's strict. He'll tell you things that perhaps you don't want to hear," Gomes said. "He's not the type who encourages players away from the game. He's a motivator during the match, but I don't think he's a coach who has close relationships with his player. ... Brazilians aren't used to this. I think we need more of a relationship with coaches. I'm not saying we need to be their friend. But for us, the one-to-one relationship is very important. And maybe Harry's not that type."
Gomes is now a British-passport-holder and says he and his family love England.
"English football is not easy. Not everyone who comes here will be a success," Gomes said. "At the time Gilberto came, [the style of football] was very different. I believe that if he had arrived in the present day, he would have been amazing. Back then, there were still lots of long balls. It wasn't something that suited him. ... It's a shame because he was a great player. Very technical. But sometimes that's not enough. There are so many things that have to come together.
"Nowadays, it's much easier for foreign players to adapt to the English game. But you have to be determined. It's easy to say, 'I haven't adapted, so I'm leaving.' But I've always said don't give up, and I never did. That's probably why I've been here so long."
Gomes says getting immersed in the culture is vital.
"I believe Brazilian players are a little bit shy. We're happy. We like to joke. But for us, it's not easy to get involved in different things. There are so many good things to do here away from football. Brazilians come to England, but we still want to eat rice and beans. That's OK, but you need to try different stuff. Curry's great!"
While Melo might not share Gomes' idea of a good night out, he does go along with the rest of the advice.
"Try to adapt as quickly as possible to the new environment, but be prepared for the physical side of things," Melo said. "I don't think I was ready physically for that type of game then."
Melo remains distraught when he looks back. "I want to say sorry with all my heart to the Tottenham fans. I'm gutted that it didn't work. I would have loved to have stayed, but I got branded very quickly. There were some great people at the club, but it was a bad time for me personally."
The 42-year-old's connection with Spurs might not be over completely. Melo has plans to open a football academy in Rio de Janeiro and wants to team up with a European club.
"Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, Inter Milan and Roma all have football schools in Brazil. Why not Tottenham?"