In the first of a two-part interview with Ilkeston goalkeeper Evandro Rachoni, the Advertiser’s Mark Duffy finds out about his career prior to moving to England.
Sao Paolo to Ilkeston via Angola and the Ukraine - it’s not your average route to football stardom.
But it’s one that Evandro Rachoni De Lima has chosen as he tries to make it big in the game he loves.
The 25-year-old Brazilian is currently endearing himself to the fans of Ilkeston FC, who affectionately refer to him as ‘Bob’, with several eye-catching displays having impressed many since he arrived in Derbyshire during the summer.
His dedication to a sport synonymous with the country he grew up in has seen him clock up more than his fair share of air miles.
But his tale starts back home, in the city of Sao Pedro in Sao Paolo state.
“I played football from the age of six,” says Rachoni.
“My uncle was a defender and I used to watch him play for local teams. He inspired me to play. I actually started off as a striker but one day both of the available goalkeepers in my team were injured and because I was tall the coach told me to go in goal. I had a good game and that was it.
“I played all the time and eventually landed the chance to join up with Fluminense, one of the big Brazilian teams based in Rio de Janiero.”
Rachoni spent his latter teenage years in the Fluminense youth setup, idolising stars such as AC Milan goalkeeper Dida as they plied their trade in foreign climes.
And that would be a route Rachoni would eventually take himself.
Offered the chance by his agent to head across the South Atlantic to Angola, Rachoni left his home country for the first time to pursue a career in Africa.
“I had put a compliation video on YouTube of some of my best moments and I was approached by Interclube, one of the big Angolan clubs,” he said.
“I decided to make the move. It was a strange experience at first because the teams there pay well and I suddenly had quite a lot of money and wasn’t sure what to do with it. I was used to living away from home as I’d done so since 13 -years-old, but I’d find myself regularly getting on planes for the eight-hour flight back to Brazil when I had a few days off, just because I could and I missed my family. It was crazy.
“But I enjoyed my time there and we won the league title and also played in the African Champions League.”
The opportunity to stay in Angola was tempting to Rachoni but Europe was where he wanted to be.
“In Brazil, the place all players aspire to be is Europe because that’s where the big stars are and if you work hard you can earn really big money,” he added.
“My brother-in-law was playing at Arsenal Kyiv in the Ukraine and after a discussion with him and my agent I travelled there.
“My grandfather is Italian and I had a period of time in Italy while I gained my passport and citizenship, but was then able to go back to the Ukraine and play football.”
Times were tough in what would soon become a war-torn country. It soon made travelling around a hazardous experience and, during a spell with lower league side Retro FC, Rachoni claims armed rebels would board his team’s bus and demand evidence as to who they were and why they were travelling in certain areas.
He adds: “It was a difficult place to be. Arsenal Kyiv were eventually liquidated, my brother-in-law went to play in Russia and apart from the spell with Retro, I wasn’t playing many games. I was the only Brazilian there and although I managed to speak the language fairly well, the uncertainty and atmosphere in the country meant I felt it was time to move on.”
Agents had played a big part in Rachoni’s movements so far but he didn’t always see eye-to-eye with them.
“They are really only interested in money and whilst it helped me get the move to Angola in the first place, the agent I had there wanted me to stay and earn more but I didn’t want to and we parted ways,” he said.
“Then the agent I had in Europe also made things difficult. I had two offers to go and play in the North American Soccer League but it was September and the season would only be running for another month and I’d probably end up just in training for a few months ahead of the new season.
“I didn’t want to do that even though the financial offer was quite good. My agent wanted me to go but I didn’t, so I eventually ended up without an agent at all and wondering what my next move would be.”
Rachoni was determined to remain in Europe, a situation made easier by the Italian passport he now possessed. Having a girlfriend in Germany meant he had somewhere to base himself and stay fit, but last summer he decided to travel to London with no agent and no contacts to see what would materialise.
He adds: “It was risky but I knew that there were so many clubs at good levels in England that I had a chance of getting somewhere.
“I knew nobody and couldn’t even get on the internet for a few days, but eventually I just ended up going to clubs and introducing myself to try and get a game.”
*For the second part of the interview with Evandro Rachoni on his time in English football, see next week’s Advertiser.