Endrick and the unfulfilled dream of a father who cleaned football stadiums

In the space of four days, the Brazilian scored at Wembley and then at the Bernabéu, where he embraced his father, just four months before his move to Real Madrid

Endrick celebra su gol a España con Brasil
Endrick celebrates his goal against Spain for Brazil on Tuesday at the Bernabéu.Juan Medina (REUTERS)
David Álvarez

When Endrick scored his first goal at the Bernabéu for Brazil on Tuesday, he celebrated briefly before heading to the north end of the stadium to look for someone. He followed the directions of several people until he came across a man who he then hugged warmly. The man was his father, Douglas. The goal marked the end of an amazing journey. Having traversed the most inhospitable of football’s catacombs, and even hunger, it had landed them there, in that blissful moment of absolute happiness. It was a goal at the most glorious stadium in the world, just four days after he had found the back of the net at Wembley, another shrine of world football, against England.

Four months away from turning 18 and therefore being able to finally move to Real Madrid, who signed him in December 2022, he wrote the first chapter of his new trajectory barely five minutes after replacing Raphinha in the match against Spain. The youngster, who the club paid around €60 million for, is one of the Real Madrid’s most daring gambles in its policy of capturing up-and-coming talent, after Vinicius and Rodrygo, who have soared, and Reinier, currently at Frosinone, who has not met expectations at the top level.

Reinier never enjoyed a sweet moment at Madrid anywhere near Endrick’s jubilation at the Bernabéu, the ultimate footballing pinnacle, that distant horizon towards which the family has been striving for at least two decades. Endrick’s father, who the player embraced after his goal, had tried his luck when he was 15 years old, the footballer told The Players Tribune (TPT) a few days ago: “He left home and hitchhiked from Brasilia to São Paulo. Half of the journey was done walking along the highway,” he said. “His plan was to try out for all the major clubs in the city. It took him a whole week to get there.” But his dream failed to materialize. When he arrived in São Paulo he was so tired that he missed the Nacional AC trials because he overslept. He had so little money that he spent one rainy night sheltering under the roof of the turnstiles of the Palmeiras stadium, the club where his son is still playing.

He headed home and somehow football still mapped out the path that guided them to the north end of the Bernabéu on Tuesday. Douglas met Endrick’s mother when they were both working cleaning the floors of the Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha in Brasilia, as Thiago Freitas, director of operations for Roc Nation, the player’s representative agency, remembers: “It’s a really nice story,” he says.

Freitas met Endrick in July 2020, five days before the boy’s 14th birthday, a younger age than when his father embarked on his adventure to São Paulo. By that point, he had already been on their list of promising talents for a few months: “At the age of 13, he played in under-14s and under-15s competitions and we’d seen him on video. In January 2020, we saw him in an under-15s tournament, the Copa EFIPAN, in Rio Grande do Sul, and we ranked him as an extra class, a truly generational player,” he recalls. A few months later, a family acquaintance took them to Freitas’ office.

Nights of hunger

At that time, the fortunes of the family, which had endured extremely hard moments, were beginning to improve. “We were always getting by with the bare minimum,” the footballer told TPT. “Dad says I’d sit on the couch and tell him, ‘Don’t worry. I’m going to be a footballer, and I’m going to make a better life for us.” A few weeks later, Endrick traveled with his mother to São Paulo, the scene of his father’s unsuccessful journey, to join the Palmeiras academy. They were living on the edge: “I’d ask my mother if she had anything to eat, and she’d say: ‘Go to sleep Endrick. Sleep will take away your hunger’.”

A few months later, they were joined by his father, who got a job as a cleaner at the Palmeiras stadium, where he had taken shelter from the rain under the turnstiles that night many years before.

However, Freitas had identified a special talent that could get them out of there: “Illusionists say: ‘Every trick is simple.’ But we say that trick is magic because we don’t know how he does it. These players are like illusionists. That’s why Endrick is such a special footballer,” he explains. “When I saw Endrick, I told Frederico Pena [Vinicius’s agent], that I had found a guy with two hearts: one beating at 180 beats per minute and one beating at 40. He’s explosive, he’s strong, he’s got Ronaldo Nazario’s bursts of energy. Like a rhinoceros. But when he goes to shoot, he shoots like Hugo Sánchez, like Romario, with coolness and subtlety.”

The goals he netted at Wembley and at the Bernabéu are a reflection of those two hearts. For the first, he sprinted to keep up with Vinicius on the run when his teammate was through on goal, something no teammate usually does. Endrick ran alongside him and when the goalkeeper parried Vinicius’s effort, he turned the rebound into the net. For his goal against Spain, Endrick clinically volleyed in a first-time strike from a corner kick.

When he returns to play at the Bernabéu in the white of Real Madrid, Freitas believes Endrick will need to make some adjustments: “In Brazil, the spaces are bigger, the game is more predictable,” he says. “Endrick is going to have to play more with his head and not just his strength and body.” But he is not worried that competition from Vinicius, Rodrygo, Bellingham and the highly anticipated arrival of Mbappé could see him on the sidelines: “So far, when he has been up against a challenge, he has overcome it. We have to wait and see what happens. We don’t know what Endrick is capable of because he hasn’t been fully put through the paces yet.”

In the meantime, the agency is trying to seize the moment to develop the footballer’s commercial image, which is handled by Fábio Wolff, who was convinced to work for the teenager when he was shown a video of a goal he had scored from the halfway line. In the process, he was not driven by the examples of other Brazilian footballers: “There are many sad stories, such as Robinho going to jail.” He was inspired by other sports: “Rafa Nadal. He’s one of the best players of all time, and off the court he’s a lord. I looked at Rafa, Roger Federer and Cristiano Ronaldo, who Endrick likes. Nadal has one contract with Nike and another eight with other brands. It’s organic. With this in mind, we began to develop Endrick’s strategic plan.”

While that development is underway, on Tuesday he began to build something even more substantial at the Bernabéu, where Madrid president Florentino Pérez later came to greet him: “We’ll be waiting here for you,” the club president said before asking Rodrygo for his match shirt.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition

More information

Archived In

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS