Leonardo Pimenta Faria, a Brazilian who came through the ranks in Portugal is currently a Persian Gulf Pro League player with Gostaresh Foolad after enduring a journeyman career which saw him most notably playing in FC Porto B, Boavista and Teraktor Sazi Tabriz. Also having stints in the lower leagues of Brazil and the UAE, Sina Saemian talks to Leonardo and asks him about how he has adapted to the culture, challenges and fan base of the Middle East.
1) This is your third stint in Iran, after previously playing for Sanat Naft and Teraktor sazi, tell me more about your time in Iran. Were you surprised by the popularity of football when you first moved to the country?
It was a positive surprise, I am very proud to have played in clubs with a good fan base, full stadiums, requests for me to stay, screaming my name, they all have a place in my heart. Gostaresh Foolad is my third Club in Iran, before I play in Sanat Naft and Tractor Sazi. I have alot of respect for these two clubs, I found friends for the rest of my life. Now I’m working in Gostaresh Foolad, in the city of Tabriz, the same of Tractor Sazi. This was a reason to why I accepted this challenge. I love this City, and this club is like a young borther of Tractor Sazi.
Another reason is the level of football in Iran is evolving thanks to Carlos Queiroz, Iranian players have improved as they all want to be part of the national team. Carlos Queiroz has very high demands and this has caused the level of the league to improve slowly over the past few years. Me and my family are very happy here, and I love playing football in Iran.
2) How does your current challenge at Gostaresh differ from the other two?
It is a very similar situation to the one I faced at Sanat Naft. The difference is in the fan base, because Sanat Naft is a cultural club, and Gostaresh is a new club. The challenge is stay in first division. I’m sure next year we can make a better team and fight for better position in the League. I remember we had a similar project in Tractor Sazi, the club had just been promoted to the top division after 8 years and we did some great work and managed to finish in a great position in the league. We built on that and year after year the club became stronger and right now, Tractor are one of the best teams in Iran. This is our goal in Gostaresh, and in time we will show our potential.
3) You’ve previously played for two of the most supported clubs outside of Tehran, Tractor Sazi in Tabriz and Sanat Naft in Abadan, how do you see the passion of the fans in those two clubs?
Very special, I have no words, I love the fans of these clubs. I was idolised by the two clubs and I haven’t seen anything like that in my career before. They were magical, in Sanat Naft because they are like a piece of Brazil and in Tabriz, because this city is my home in Iran. If I close my eyes and remember the good times, friends, fans and all I did, I will weep for joy.
4) Do you think there’s more pressure on you to perform when you’re a foreign player in a club with many local players?
Interesting question, this kind of pressure is nothing new to me as I have spent 12 years playing football abroad. This pressure raises my performance, people have high expectations of me and it makes me train more and more to become better every day. In Iran, UAE or Portugal, I always gave my best, and now those kind of experiences help me perform better in different situations right now.
5) You’re one of three Brazilians currently playing for Gostaresh, is having your compatriots and players who speak your language important for you? Does it help you perform better?
Of course it helps me, on and off the field. I also have some fun times with them. I can talk to them about various issues and this helps and takes away homesickness and the feeling of missing home. This all helps Gostaresh, in Asia it is important for foreign players to get along and become friends.
6) Having played the majority of your career in Portugal, what would you pick as the biggest difference between training methods in iran and Portugal? And what do you think Iran can do to improve the standards of their football?
When I was 17 till 24, I had the privilege of working in a wonderful country like Portugal, I still have many good friends there. My family has many memories of Portugal, and I hope one day to go back to Portugal, that country helped me become the athlete I am today. I work with José Mourinho for one season, the great difference is in the mentality of players and coaches. Carlos Queiroz is trying to turn the situation around, it all starts in the football schools and grassroots.
Of course Portugal now has a better quality of football, the best coaches and some of the best football players are from Portugal. But if Iran accepts that it needs to change for better, they can improve significantly, because they have good players, good coaches, a good league and clubs that have a very special fanbase. This is a good base and foundation but it needs to be built upon.
7) You’ve played in various countries in your career, but what was the biggest culture shock when you first moved to Iran?
I have to respect it, but here freedom is different, the biggest sacrifice I have to make is that my wife and daughters can not come to stadiums and support me. We also had to adapt to the language and food. But I’ll always have respect for Iran for everything. I love Iran and I’m enjoying life over here.
8) And finally, what are your plans for the future? Are you planning on staying in Iran until the end of your career?
I do not think about it for now, I’m focused on football. Whatever happens, God will be with me. Now I am just focused on helping Gostaresh and improve our position in the league table. I’ll be able to answer this question better at the end of the season (laughing). Tomorrow is a new day, a new challenge, this is my mentality. I feel in great shape and I look forward to the future.