By Robbie Blakeley, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The close to sub-zero temperatures of Chigwell, North London, is a far cry from the mild climate of southern Brazil this time of year. But Sandro Ranieri has just swapped teams from Porto Alegre to Tottenham Hotspur, and this new challenge in his career has his blood pumping.
In August, the 21-year-old was proudly hoisting the Copa Libertadores trophy, the South American equivalent of the Champions League, as previous club Internacional defeated Mexican side Guadalajara.
Now settling into life in England, the midfielder admits this new phase of his career is as daunting as it is exciting. “I’m still adapting to life here and getting to grips with the language. I’m having English lessons three times a week, but it’s still very difficult. The words are so different!”
It is not just a language barrier that is proving tough. For the first time, Sandro finds himself separated from friends and family as he finds his feet in English football. A product of Internacional’s youth academy, he had found a place he always felt at home. Now he must start all over again.
His team-mates are lending a helping hand, none more so than fellow Brazilian and Spurs goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes. “Gomes is helping me so much. He knows everything about the area and has been here for three years. He helps me out with my English phrases in training too,” he laughs.
It is with Gomes that the youngster will spend his first Christmas away from home with. This time of year is particularly difficult when everyone is surrounded by friends and loved ones. “My family are staying in Brazil for Christmas but they will come here in January. I miss them and my friends very much. It will be great to see everyone again.”
On a footballing front, Sandro comes with a huge reputation. Captain of the Brazil U-20 side that won the South American championship in 2009, he made his full debut under Dunga later that year in a World Cup qualifier against Chile. He was unlucky to miss out on the final 23 that went to South Africa for the World Cup in June, but has played in two of the four games since Mano Menezes’ arrival.
He takes the line of diplomacy when asked to compare the two coaches. “Mano and Dunga are two great coaches. It is difficult to say if one is better than the other. Where Dunga preferred a more defensive approach, Mano plays a more open game, which the fans love.”
Despite making his international bow at such an early age, it his club achievements that rank highest to date, namely the Libertadores success earlier this year.
“That was the proudest moment of my career,” Sandro beams broadly. “It is the most important title in South America, and was my best moment. All the fans went crazy. I was so happy because I helped the team’s success. I knew I would be leaving after the final and wanted to show them I was thinking of them and playing for them. Thank God we won!”
Now he can turn his attention to the Premiership and Champions League, where he is determined to make his mark. Two of the most competitive tournaments in Europe, Sandro is well prepared having come up against some of the world’s finest in Brazil.
When asked who is the best he has ever come up against? “Seba Veron,” he answers without hesitation. “He is an intelligent player, and always uses the ball well. His movement is smart, and it’s difficult to keep track of him during a game.”
Champions League football does not restart until February, and the busy Christmas period in England will go some way to determining whether Tottenham can maintain a push for the title as well as a grueling European campaign. Sandro’s short term aim? “To win the title for Tottenham.” He grins once again at the prospect.