- Bruno Henrique raves about a euphoric night for Flamengo in Lima
- He relishes facing Liverpool and Trent Alexander-Arnold
- He discusses Jorge Jesus, Zico and the Seleção
It was a day beyond space-opera fantasies for someone who, as a 21-year-old, had never even been on the books of a football club and was a minimum-wage receptionist in a Belo Horizonte office. Here Bruno Henrique was, in Lima, at 3pm local time on the penultimate Saturday of November, walking out amid Star Wars Stormtroopers as the balletically-footed, Bugatti Veyron-paced hope of 40 million-plus fanatics.
At 4:49pm local time, the left-lying attacker glared into the face of devastation. At 4:56pm, following cosmic drama in which he was mightily involved – he mercurially helped set up Gabigol’s equaliser and drew the foul for which River Plate’s Exequiel Palacios was red-carded – Bruno Henrique was a Copa Libertadores champion. A few minutes later the 28-year-old was collecting a luxurious, gold ring for being elected the competition’s best player.
It was a transfiguration reminiscent of both Bruno Henrique’s career and year. He didn’t play in the Brazilian top flight till he was 24, yet nine months later was eclipsing Cristiano Ronaldo in a UEFA Champions League showdown.
He joined Flamengo for merely €5 million in January having scored just one goal in 28 appearances for Santos in the Brasileirao 2018, and suffered five separate injuries to his right eye (he narrowly escaped detaching a retina, which caused Tostao to quit football at the age of just 26). His annus mirabilis has seen him register 34 goals, make herculean contributions to Flamengo conquering the state, national and continental crowns, and break into the Brazil team.
FIFA.com caught up with Bruno Henrique to discuss that paradisaical day amid the Chillon valleys, the upcoming FIFA Club World Cup Qatar 2019™, and potential showdowns with Liverpool and Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Bruno, can you describe how it felt to win the Libertadores?
It takes time to sink in, even more so because of how everything happened. It’s a dream that we’re all living. After 38 years we’ve managed to put the name of Flamengo on top of South America again, and this gives us tremendous pride. Winning the Libertadores is inexplicable, and becoming Brazilian champions the next day made us even happier.
What were the celebrations like in the dressing room in Lima?
It was absolute euphoria. We managed to turn the game around at the death and it was an explosion of happiness. We didn’t stop celebrating from the final whistle till the Monday because we worked so, so hard for this moment. Everyone is really satisfied and proud here.
With only a few minutes remaining, did you still believe you could tun it round like that?
Without any doubt – we didn’t stop believing for a second. We know what football is like and that the course of history can change at any moment. Thank God that’s what happened. We simply couldn’t stop believing and fighting till the end.
Can you describe the support of the Flamenguistas?
‘The Nation’ is extraordinary. I had never felt anything like this. The love and dedication of the Flamengo fans is something else. You can be sure that if it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t have come this far. As I always say, they are our 12th player.
How is working under Jorge Jesus?
‘Mister’ is a guy who has added so much since he arrived. He helped enormously to put our team on this path. He helped me so much individually too. It’s a pleasure and a great learning curve for the whole squad to work with him here at Flamengo.
Internacional and Atletico Mineiro lost in the Club World Cup semi-finals in 2010 and 2013 respectively. Does this serve as a positive warning?
Without doubt, it makes us even more aware. But our coaching staff are making sure to study the two teams we could face in the semi-finals, and we’ll work hard to take one step at a time. Football nowadays is really balanced, and we’ll have a tough game ahead.
How big of a dream would playing Liverpool be?
Our goal is to become world champions. Like us, Liverpool aren’t guaranteed a place in the final, despite their favouritism. We’re thinking about the semi-final first. But without doubt it would be amazing to face a team as good as Liverpool.
What do you think of that Flamengo team of 1981?
That Flamengo team was spectacular, with so many quality players, Brazilian national team players, ones renowned internationally. It was Flamengo’s most successful generation and it inspired us so much. We want to emulate the achievements of Zico and Co.
What do you think of this Liverpool team?
The Liverpool team is even better than people think, in my opinion. They have a squad filled with talent and one of the best coaches in the world in charge. The attacking trio of Salah, Firmino and Mane barely draw a blank. It’s not for nothing that they lead the Premier League.
Another attacking threat of Liverpool’s is Trent Alexander-Arnold. As a left-sided attacker, would you be excited to compete against him?
Despite his youth, Arnold is already one of the best right-backs in the world. He’s been playing at an exceptionally high level, as has [Andy] Robertson, and it would be undoubtedly a very interesting confrontation if we face one another.
European clubs have won the last six editions of the FIFA Club World Cup and 11 of the last 12. Are you confident Flamengo can stop this hegemony?
We know that European clubs, in comparison with South American ones, have more financial power, structure and renowned players. But our team is also very strong. We signed players like Rafinha and Filipe Luis who, until recently, were playing at the highest level in Europe. Our thinking is to play a great tournament and come home with the world title.
You arrived at Flamengo as an excellent player, but you have taken your game to new heights this year, become a goalscorer. How have you managed this?
I never stopped working for a second. I always believed in my football and my potential. I arrived here at Flamengo and was greeted by a great structure and a very talented squad. I quickly got in synch with my team-mates, learnt what it meant to play for Flamengo, and things started to happen naturally.
How was your experience with the Seleção?
It was a unique experience. It’s the dream of every [Brazilian] player to wear the colours of the Brazilian national team. I’m working hard here at my club, giving my all for coach Tite to remember me at other opportunities and, who knows, go to the World Cup in 2022.