Online exclusive: Grafite speaks to The Independent

The performances of Wolfsburg’s greedy goal getter Grafite could not prevent the axe falling on Steve McClaren. In this exclusive interview, the Brazilian international tells Tim Sturtridge how to get the best out of Edin Dzeko, what next for Neymar and how he keeps the lead in his pencil...


After a poor run of results Steve McClaren was sacked as your head coach at Wolfsburg. What was your impression of his coaching techniques?

I have to say I found Steve to be a good coach, he is extremely knowledgeable about game and is a good teacher. Unfortunately the results just didn’t happen for Steve and ultimately this is how a coach is judged. Personally I didn’t have any compliments with how he ran things. He always showed great confidence in me, showed me respect and supported me when I needed it.



You have enjoyed some prolific partnerships in your career, most notably with Edin Dzeko at Wolfsburg but also with Dimba and Araujo at Goias in Brazil. What is the key to developing these partnerships?



First and foremost to get something started you need a group of good players. When the group is in place it’s important to exchange ideas. You must learn how your partner thinks and what he likes to do on the pitch. The best relationships go beyond the training ground because talking together is as important as playing together. This is the biggest secret behind forming good pairs or triplets within a team.



Early in your career you played at a number of clubs in Brazil as well as spending a short spell in South Korea. At any moment did you doubt your own abilities?



It’s common for a young player in Brazil to move through several clubs in search of a place where he feels comfortable. Too many clubs are after the quick fix of buying in established professionals and not giving their youth players a chance. This is not only happening in the first division but all the way down the leagues. Breaking through is one of the most difficult things a player will do in his career and requires a high level of dedication.



You traveled with Brazil to the last World Cup in South Africa, how do you intend to regain your place in time for 2014?



I can’t do much else apart from continue to work hard at club level. It’s up to me to make sure that my efforts will be enough to get me noticed by the national selection and earn a recall. Before the last World Cup I was given 15 minutes to impress and in this short time I managed to persuade Dunga to take me to South Africa. I hope to have more time than this to prove my worth to the new head coach Mano Menezes. The next World Cup is taking place in Brazil and it’s difficult to put into words what this means to my country. The love of football in Brazil is at times overpowering and everybody is aware what it means to host the biggest event our sport has to offer. The expectation on the Brazilian team to make amends for the failure in 1950 is already apparent. There is already great anxiety in the country that the current team will be able to vanquish the past and win the World Cup in Brazil.



As well as playing in the World Cup you have also starred in the Champions League. How did it feel to score a hat-trick on your debut in the competition?



The Champions League is a very special competition and scoring three goals in my first game is a memory I treasure. I was nervous the night before the game and hardly slept because I was thinking so much about how I wanted to perform. The Champions League is a tournament that provides extra motivation to every player involved, competing against the best in the world is a pleasure for me personally.



How is your relationship with the other South Americans at Wolfsburg, such as fellow Brazilian international Diego?



I have a very good relationship with all of them. We are always together and having fun over at each other’s houses. The level of friendship we have is a sign of how important we are to each other. Having familiar faces around helps players coming from abroad to settle quickly. Unfortunately I have to say that none of the Brazilians we have at Wolfsburg are very good at keeping up the traditions of good dancing and singing.



Are you looking forward to welcoming the young Venezuelan Yohandry Orozco to Germany?



Orozco is a very promising talent and we look forward to helping him develop his game here at Wolfsburg. I’m not sure what languages he has other than Spanish but we’ll be talking to him to make sure he feels at home. It’s the job of myself and the other South Americans to help him adapt to life in Germany as quickly as possible. The quicker he adapts the quicker we’ll see the best of him on the pitch.



Neymar’s performances for Santos have made him the hottest property in Brazil right now but the transfer speculation has cooled off. What advice do you have for Neymar?



I have no doubt it’s important for some players to ripen before coming to Europe. Often players come too soon and then find they have problems adjusting to the life. Things in Brazil also seem to be changing to allow young players to stay at home for longer. These days clubs pay so much attention to promising young players; they work with the families, give advice on marketing as well as making sure not to burn out a teenager with too many games. Also, the financial climate in Brazil is changing and this makes staying in Brazil a more attractive proposal for players.



This year Ronaldinho and Rivaldo are playing in Brazil. Is the fact that these superstars are playing in Brazil another sign that the league is getting stronger?



From what I’ve seen of Brazilian football there’s been a significant growth of investment. Clubs have more money than ever to attract great players and pay them a competitive salary. This means two things are happening, players are playing at home for longer before moving and it’s also increasing the number of players coming home. It’s not just good Brazilian players playing in Brazil but the league is also attracting the best from all over South America. It all comes down to a shift in attitudes, the business side of football is now becoming properly recognized in Brazil.



Grafite was speaking to Tim Sturtridge, host of The South American Football Show in association with The Independent.

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