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Daniel Fernandes: “You have to invest in yourself emotionally to be stable”

The Portuguese national team goalkeeper Daniel Fernandes is a real globetrotter, having experienced 9 different countries during his long career in the elite of world football, and speaks languages such as Greek, German, English, Spanish, and Portuguese fluently. In this first part of an informal conversation led by Nuno Milheiro, the current Birkirkara FC (Malta) player talks about his departure from Canada to Portugal to pursue his dream, analyzes some of his international adventures, and reflects on the importance of keeping the right mindset for his professional success.

Despite not having any family members related to football, his particular taste for football was aroused by the Portuguese national team, the UEFA Champions League competition, and socializing with his multicultural friends in Vancouver. “We were all crazy about football. I was a big dreamer, an out-of-the-box kind of guy, and knew with persistence and hard work everything was possible. I always loved Portugal, and I used to go on holiday there. One day I said «Dad, can I give it a shot?». «You? Football? Forget about it. It is better to do construction. Football is only for the Portuguese there», he told me. Later, I have met a Bosnian coach in Canada. He trained me for six months, and I just trusted the process.

I went to Porto then with my father. Back in the day, there were no fences. You could easily watch and connect with the directors through eye contact and hand signals. Today, you cannot do that with any club, not even third division clubs.

“FC Porto’s head coach [U19] was Ilídio Vale, the current assistant coach of Fernando Santos [in the Portuguese national team]. I have talked to him and Luís Gonçalves. «Come tomorrow to train», they said. From there, I have stayed. Also, I am a fan of FC Porto, so it was special. From a guy that started football at 17 years old, a late-career, without formation (….). My dream was complete already there”, he said.

Although Daniel has tried snowboarding in Canada, he started to be sure he wanted to become a goalkeeper at 15. “You can decide what you want to become, no matter what. There will be hard times in anything you start to build, but you will get there if you reflect on yourself and have the qualities to make it there. That part of the time, when I was young, taught me a lot”.

His childhood idol was the former goalkeeper of FC Barcelona and FC Porto Vítor Baía, even though he appreciated players who occupied other positions on the pitch. “When I was a kid, my room had a collage of photos. The walls were almost full of photos of Vítor Baía, Pauleta, Paulo Sousa, etc. Baía was my idol. I even tried to get his shirt, but I did not have money back then, and my father did not want to spend money on that. You have to see what you dream and your room has to be what you want. All these pictures were important for me as a young guy. Sometimes you start changing, your life gets more comfortable, and you take them away, but my room was my church”.

The 38-year-old goalkeeper’s initial experience with an agent at an early phase of his career has negatively affected his journey. “When you want to do something, you have to know how-to and all the tools needed. I have left FC Porto, went to RC Celta de Vigo [2002-03], and then left spontaneously there because I was on the second team. There was an agent that promised me to go to Eintracht Frankfurt. He said «just come», so I thought he had everything coordinated with Celta. I even remember talking to Benni McCarthy, who said «you cannot go like that!». I was just 19, went to Frankfurt, and no one was there. That guy picked up the phone and said: «you should go back to Canada, and we can talk later on because I can do nothing». This is a true story. Then, I got a contact from a friend of mine, and he hooked me up with a well-known agent in Germany that helped me a lot. He signed me to Jahn Regensburg [2003-04]. The coach loved me, the first goalkeepers had a good relationship with me, but I signed for the second team again. Then I wanted to go on traveling, that agent has organized everything, and it was story after story. In some places, they said «we do not want you». I went to FC St. Pauli on trial, to some regional teams for one day, two days, etc. I also went to the Netherlands, they said yes, but some other things happened. «I am coming from FC Porto, RC Celta de Vigo, and I cannot make it in these teams? Something is wrong. Other things are going on here». The agent put me off track, and I finally met a Greek guy, who helped me get into PAOK and there I stayed for five years [2003-2008]”.

To make the long story short, I did not have an agent for me and that was an issue. If you do not have one, you need someone that understands what is going on in this job. Nowadays, agents are people that understand what you need to have stability, focus, and the right mindset to make an enjoyable career

After experiencing multiple cultures and competitive contexts, it was in Norway, when he moved to Lillestrøm SK in 2017, that he faced greater adaptation difficulties.“We trained all the time indoors. In Lillestrøm SK, the team walked to the training grounds every morning, and there was a lot of ice and cold. I was not used to that kind of culture. The first two months were strange, and the adaptation was hard. Other than that, it is a great country, and they are fanatics”.

Especially these days, being a football player means to be prepared to move constantly to another country or continent, and sometimes it gets difficult to settle down. Daniel emphasizes that the mental factor can be the key to the sporting success of any athlete. “If you do not have support, you have to invest in yourself emotionally to be stable. If you have family support, that will help you, but still, you have to keep yourself in the right mindset. You have to prepare your mental game, where do you want to go, and specifically where do you want to be in the next 10 or 20 years. If you do not have something strategizing in your mind, you will hit. There are going to be tough times in football. There is always going to be a player better than you. There is always going to be a new coach. To not let that disturb you, you have to have everything settled in your mind”.

 

 

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