Brazil star Rafinha interested in Tottenham switch

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A series of headline grabbing performances by Genoa’s buccaneering Brazilian right-back Rafinha has awoken the interest of Tottenham Hotspur. Rafinha talks to The South American Football Show in association with The Independent about his dream to someday soon be playing in the English Premier League.

Your last couple of games for Genoa have been real crackers. First up you scored the winner against Sampdoria in the Derby della Lanterna and then there was the epic comeback against Roma that eventually cost Claudio Ranieri his job. What can you tell about these games?

The Roma game was massive for us, it’s a result that will stay with the team and our fans for a long time. Roma scored three goals in the first half and we were 3-0 down at half-time. Then we came out for the second half and scored four times without reply to win it. While defending our lead I picked up a second yellow card in the match late on. The red card took a bit of the shine off the result for me personally but not too much because it didn’t cost the team any points.

Scoring the winning goal in the Derby della Lanterna made me very, very happy. It was a very important goal. When you score a winner in a derby match you make history for the fans. It was a pleasure to score and give all the Genoa fans in the stadium the chance to celebrate. I also took the chance to celebrate myself with a Brazilian dance by the corner flag. I like to pull it out when I score, it’s how I celebrated when I scored goals in derby matches in Brazil and Germany as well. It’s a great feeling to celebrate important goals with the fans.

You scored your fantastic strike against Sampdoria the same week that Tottenham Hotspur were in Italy to play AC Milan. Tottenham is one of the clubs showing an interest in buying you. Does playing in England interest you?

Without a doubt playing in England is something that interests me a lot. England is a country that has a special and unique football tradition, the matches are always played with power and pace. Of course I’d love to play in England so I’m glad to hear about Tottenham showing an interest in me. I watch Tottenham’s games and they look like a great team, they also have two Brazilian players there already. It would be a pleasure for me to play there. However, I’m also happy here in Genoa. If a concrete offer came through from Tottenham I’d be glad, but I’m also happy here. In the end it shows I’m playing well if an important team like I Tottenham is interested so that’s a great feeling.

It looked like a sealed deal when Liverpool tried to buy you from Schalke 04 back in 2009. It seemed like you were interested but the German club did not want to lose you, is this what happened?

I had an offer from Liverpool a year ago but Schalke asked for too much money, the value was set too high and negotiations came to an end. Again, I was very glad to know my performances had brought interest from a famous team like Liverpool. Now Tottenham, Bayern Munich and Atlético Madrid are talking about me and this makes me very happy. I have to work hard and who knows, in the future maybe I will be playing in the Premier League, a competition I love and I follow. I always watch the games from England so this recent interest from Tottenham makes me very happy.

What are the strengths in your game that would help you succeed in English football?

I am a speedy player, very quick and I like to provide the forwards with crosses, very good crosses. I played in the Bundesliga for five years, alongside some great players that scored lots of goals such as Kevin Kuranyi, Jefferson Farfán and Raúl. Mostly I would feed them crosses so they could finish with headers. My crosses are tailor made for strikers to head because I always try to deliver a ball with pace and at a good height. In England there are lots of powerful, tall strikers. I would enjoy playing with these guys and providing them with service. I think the result would be lots of goals.

What parts of your game would you have to improve if you came to the English Premier League?

I’m always trying to improve my game, always working hard, so every day I become a little bit better. There’s nothing specific I’m trying to improve, there’s always scope for improvement in every aspect of the game. I am a young player, still only 25, but I got to Europe at a very young age, arriving at Schalke when I was 18. Arriving in Europe so young has helped me a lot and given me valuable experience. I use this experience to help me improve, in football you need to constantly improve to remain at the top level.

Your team-mate at Genoa, Argentine striker Rodrigo Palacio, is also in a rich vain of form. What can you tell us about the former Boca Juniors player?

Rodrigo is a fantastic player. He has faced up to the difficulties of making the switch from Argentina to Italy and is now showing some great form. A striker does not get the same amount of opportunities in Italy as they get in Argentina and its a challenge not every player can rise above. Personally, I think Rodrigo will provide plenty more opportunities for the Genoa fans to celebrate his goals.

Let’s take a look back at the very start of your career, as a kid you played a lot of futsal (an intense skill based game similar to indoor five-a-side). Is this kind of coaching the key to producing skillful players in Brazil?

For sure, in Brazil futsal is played everywhere. We play on small courts, sometimes with a small football and usually it’s a five-a-side game. It prepares us for when we play on a full size football field. We are quicker with our use of the ball thanks to the focus of futsal on the technical side of the game. In Brazil this is fundamental, every kid that wants to play professional football must go through the futsal schools so they can become quick and technically gifted players.

How do training methods around the world differ in your opinion?

They change a lot. In Brazil you don’t have many training sessions focused just on physical preparation. In Brazil you train much more with the ball. In Germany things are very different from Brazil. Trainings sessions are very hard and physically demanding. There’s plenty of physical contact, lots of running. Very different from Brazil. Here in Italy you get physical training sessions but there’s also a great focus on one-touch football. I’m happy to have experienced all these different types of training because I believe it has made me a better player.

You got your big break in Brazil with Coritiba where you won the State Championship, played in the Copa Libertadores and got selected for Brazilian youth teams. How do you compare playing in the Copa Libertadores and playing in the Champions League?

The Copa Libertadores is our version of the Champions League in South America. Matches in Copa Libertadores are the most important games you can play in South American club football. But, of course, the Champions League in Europe is way ahead of the Copa Libertadores in terms of organization, stadiums and the level of the players. That is why players from all over the world want to play in the Champions League.

After leaving Brazil you joined Schalke 04. During your five seasons in Germany you were part of a strong team that challenged for European and Bundesliga honours. What are your favourite memories of your time in Germany?

My first year in Germany is the one that I remember the most. I left Coritiba on the Thursday and the next Wednesday I started against AC Milan in the Champions League. The game finished 2-2 and after the final whistle I was in shock about what had just happened. In 2007 we reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League and that cup run holds plenty of great memories. It was also an honour to named the best right-back in the Bundesliga for four seasons.

There was also some difficult times for you in Germany. You had to fight your club to be able to represent Brazil at the 2008 Olympics and things seemed to end on a sour note with Felix Magath. What can you tell us these things?

There was a bit of a mess because Schalke had already agreed to release me for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Then when we finished third in the Bundesliga it meant we had to play the qualification round for the Champions League. Then they changed their mind and told me to stay in Germany but I was already determined to represent my country at the Olympics. In regards to Magath, he had a way of working that just didn’t work for me. I like to play with happiness and with him this kind of atmosphere does not exist.

How do you intend to get ahead of the likes Maicon and Dani Alves in time to represent Brazil on home soil at the 2014 World Cup?

I will keep working hard and doing the best job I can for my club side. I’m sure Brazilian head coach Mano Menezes is watching my performances. I’m always ready to take my chance with the national team.

What’s your opinion on the retirement of Ronaldo. What are your memories of this great Brazilian striker and did you ever play with him or against him?

Ronaldo was the best and his retirement is a great loss to football. He gave colour to the game. For me, he was the best striker I have ever seen and gave us Brazilians so much happiness. I only played friendly games against him but I’m still glad to have those memories.

Do you think that one day you will follow in the footsteps of Ronaldo and finish your playing career in Brazil? Do you have a team in mind you would like to play for?

Of course, when my career in Europe comes to end I will go back home. But this won’t be happening for many more years yet. I would like to go back and play for Coritiba, the club that gave me my first big break.

Rafinha was speaking to Alejandro Pérez and Tim Sturtridge, hosts of The South American Football Show in association with The Independent. Click here for more details.