‘Any Flamengo victory is worth 10 times more than one of the national team’
Rio-born Flamengo fan Felipe Ribeiro on winning the Copa Libertadores title, Rio’s new Jesus and how good Gabigol actually is
That's an easy one. For sure, Flamengo means much more to me than the national team. Any Flamengo victory is worth 10 times more than one of the national team.
They say Flamengo are supported by more than 40m Brazilians (given the current overall population of your country is 208m). Is this true? How huge are they in and outside Rio?
It is true. Flamengo are not a regional team in Brazil, they’re big across the whole country. To give you an idea how big exactly, Flamengo are the club with most fans in 25 out of the 27 states in the country. Only in São Paulo and Rio Grande do Sul Flamengo are not supported by the majority of fans, but still have a very large fan base there. Every stadium we play in and airport we land at across the country, it feels as we are playing at home.
How did you become a Flamengo fan, is it a family thing?
Not really. My father is a Fluminense fan but he’s not really into football. I became a Flamengo fan because, especially living in Rio, it's like a religion that brings people together, it makes you feel part of something much larger than life and you simply want to become part of it all.
Ahead of the Libertadores final against River Plate you were telling me how good this Flamengo side actually was. What’s the secret behind their success?
A couple of factors. Our squad has improved a lot this season. Arrascaeta, Bruno Henrique, Pablo Marí, Gabigol, Gerson and others have taken us to another level. But what has actually made our team capable of breaking all the records is our new coach Jorge Jesus. He arrived five months ago right after the last Copa America and has since completely changed the paradigm in terms of tactics and mentality, bringing us closer to a European performance level. I can easily say that in my lifetime I’ve never seen any Brazilian team play the way we have since Jesus took over. This has created a huge debate within the country about how far behind our coaches are compared with the best practices in the football world. Jesus has definitely raised the bar for the local coaches.
After the final I joked Rio might have just found its new Jesus in coach Jorge Jesus but you told me ‘The guy is now God!’. Will he get his own statue outside Maracana?
I don't know if he will get it, but he certainly deserves one. In those five months he’s cemented his name for ever in Flamengo's history. My grandsons will certainly know who Jorge Jesus was and what he accomplished while he was here.
How come Gabriel Barbosa, also known as Gabigol, was such a flop at Inter and is now a living legend at Flamengo?
Many factors can influence a player's performance. Looking back, you will remember that even an amazing player like Riquelme didn't perform well at Barcelona either. The age, the coach, the city, the teammates, family support... all that counts a lot, and for Gabigol one or many of those things didn't work out properly and he wasn’t successful, while in Europe. But above all, he simply didn't have much time and opportunities to build his confidence and play more often. I believe he didn't play more than five full games over the course of the year he stayed abroad switching from Italy to Portugal. And for a striker like him the continuity is fundamental in order to improve his performance.
Barbosa is still only 23. Can he make it in Europe after all?
Easily, even though I hope he stays with us for many more years to come. Rodrygo, who is now a big hit at Real Madrid, never had half of the success Gabigol has enjoyed over the last two seasons (last year at Santos and this year with Flamengo), where he’s been the league’s top scorer for two years in a row.
On a scale from one to Zico – where do you rank Gabigol in Flamengo’s history?
So far he’s played only one season, even though it’s been a historical campaign, it’s just one single year. But his name will remain forever in our history. Nothing close to Zico, but probably no one will ever be.
What’s the best ever Flamengo game you’ve seen in person?
Flamengo battering Gremio 5-0 in this year’s Copa Libertadores semifinals. I can't even describe how great that game actually was.
You’ve already booked your trip to Doha for next month’s Club World Cup. How afraid of Flamengo should Klopp’s Liverpool be?
Liverpool are an amazing team and we know how big this challenge will be. Klopp is an incredible coach and players like Salah, Mané, Firmino, Van Dijk must be respected.
But I witnessed back in 2006 the amazing Barcelona side of Ronaldinho, Deco, Puyol, Eto’o, Iniesta, Xavi and others in their prime losing to Internacional, whose team wasn’t even close to Flamengo’s current level. If I were in Liverpool’s place, I would be very careful and show Flamengo some respect because we are playing on the same level all the big clubs in the world currently are.
And, finally, tell us a few words of your favourite Flamengo chant, please…
"In December of ’81, we put the British to dance.*
3-0 vs Liverpool, it was marked in history.
And in Rio there is no one like us. Only Flamengo is a World Champion.
And now its people, ask for the world again
Da-le Da-le Da-le mengoooooo, go after them Flamengo!"
* Ironically, back in 1981, when Flamengo won their previous Copa Libertadores, they beat Liverpool 3-0 in what was then the Intercontinental Cup. Now the two clubs can meet again in this year’s Club World Cup final in Qatar