Football: One Brazilian who is happy here

Andrew Baker discovers Gloucester has an attraction Middlesbrough lacks
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The Independent Online
Not all Brazilian footballing imports are expensive and temperamental. There is a Premiership striker who arrived on a free transfer, plays for nothing and scored a hat-trick on his debut. The only reason that Bartolomeu Neto de Souza Araujo, or "Neto" to his club-mates, has failed to make the headlines before now is that the Premier Division he illuminates is that of the Hellenic League, in which his team, Tuffley Rovers, at present occupy seventh spot.

Andrea Emerson, the wife of Middlesbrough's troubled Brazilian midfielder, infamously described her new home town as a "strange, terrible place". One wonders what she would make of Tuffley, on the outskirts of Gloucester.

The Rovers' ground at Lower Tuffley Lane is neat and well-tended, but bounded on one side by a lorry depot and on another by a hissing gas works. Players' wives can amuse themselves in the adjacent pub, the Jet and Whittle, which has a skittle alley, or at the McDonald's drive-in close by. Otherwise, the opportunities for shopping are limited. But Neto is happy. "It is wonderful here," he said.

Neto, a sort of cross between Juninho and Emerson in that he is slight and dark with curly black hair and a neat moustache, was recommended to Doug Foxwell, Rovers' manager, by a friend. "I thought at first that it was a joke," Foxwell recalled after training last Wednesday night. "I agreed to meet the lad but when I got there I expected someone to leap out of the bushes shouting 'Ha! Fooled you!' But I liked what I saw and we arranged for a friendly match against Bishop's Cleeve to try him out - and he scored a hat-trick."

That was at the end of last month, and since then Neto has been employed as a super-sub while Foxwell attempts to combine his exotic skills with the more straightforward approach of his team-mates. The little Brazilian has already scored the winner in a local cup-tie after coming off the bench.

The method employed on Wednesday night was a one-touch five-a-side game in the shadow of the gas-works. Neto restrained himself for a few minutes but then his willpower gave out and he indulged in six or seven touches at once - all successively in different directions, as he walked the ball into the opposition's goal.

"He's got quick feet, and he seems to be willing to learn," Foxwell said. "It's just a case of blending in his South American skills with our style of playing." Neto himself, who played for Salvador and Remanso in Brazil, seems to enjoy the English game. "It is very good," he said before the training match. "But there is a lot of running."

What, though, of the emotional side of things, the sensitive area which has caused so much trouble in Middlesbrough? Has Tuffley's star shown any signs of being temperamental? "None whatsoever," according to his manager.

This could be because when he is not playing Neto has his mind on higher things, as a theology student at the Redcliffe Missionary Training Centre in Gloucester, where he is, in a most un-Emersonian way, delighted with the accommodation and the night-life. "The college rooms are very nice, and there is plenty to do in the evenings," he said. "We have film-shows and things." Bryan Robson, please note.

The only aspect of life in Gloucester that Neto seems to find remotely troubling is all the interest that his arrival at Tuffley has stirred up in the local media. "All these reporters... it is a bit, um, nervousing. And I think it is quite difficult for the other players. They are good footballers and just because I am the one Brazilian I get all the attention. But they are very nice and very funny and I want to be good friends with them."

His colleagues actually take all the fuss in their stride, only lamenting that their visitors are gentlemen from the Independent on Sunday rather than lovelies from the Daily Sport. And Doug Foxwell noted that the publicity can hardly do his little-trumpeted outfit any harm.

Sadly, the hoo-ha is unlikely to last. Neto, who is 26, will be at college for three more years, but asked if he intended to play for Tuffley all that time he was elusive. "I don't think so," he said in the end. "I hope to have trials, I hope that one day my chance will arise." Would he turn down a move to the Riverside Stadium? He laughed. "Here I have none of the problems that Emerson has. I am very happy to live in Gloucester. But would I rather play for Middlesbrough or Tuffley Rovers? That is difficult."

Wherever he ends up, Neto will not forget his dynamic debut against Bishop's Cleeve. He just needs to work a little harder on his English football vernacular. "It is amazing to think of it," he recalled. "I played my first game, and I got a hot-trick."