When Romeu Romão was growing up in a favela in Brazil he had two toy options – a gun or a football. And after playing for multiple clubs and starting his own football school, he is thankful he chose the latter.

The professional Brazilian footballer has been living in Malta since 2015 when he was signed to Valletta Football Club. The year he was signed Valletta won their 23rd Premier League.

But the then 25-year-old had one big problem. He couldn’t speak a word of English.

“I remember going to my first training and rubbing my tummy to signal to the trainers that I am hungry but they thought I meant that I love Maltese food (he laughed). I went to bed hungry that night because I couldn’t even ask for help.”

He promised himself that day that he would learn English, having understood that if he really wanted to become a coach one day he needed to be a good communicator.

Romão’s love affair with the beautiful game began at five years old in Minas Gerais, Brazil. “My dad was my first coach. And I wanted to follow in his footsteps. Not only be a good football coach but also show the kids how to believe in themselves,” said Romão.

He said his father was a figure within their community who helped steer children away from the rampant drugs and violence around them by encouraging them to take up the sport. “It was a dangerous place to grow up. As kids we would play football right next to people openly taking drugs,” he said.

Romão as a child (squatting, first from left) with his father who was coaching him at the time.Romão as a child (squatting, first from left) with his father who was coaching him at the time.

 Romão signed first contract at 18

Thanks, he says, to his father’s persistence and diligence, Romão signed his first contract at the age of 18 and went on to play with various clubs in Brazil until he was transferred to the Budapest-based team, Vasas FC.

This transfer was the first time he went abroad. He was trepidatious about the transfer because he couldn’t speak Hungarian or English but was lucky enough to find several other players on the team who could do the talking for him.

After Valletta, he played with Mosta, Sirens, Qrendi and Msida and has learned enough English to make his dream come true and become a coach, just like his father.

He got started coaching with Mosta FC in 2018 and has also coached for the National Sports School and Kick Football School. But one of his proudest achievements in life was starting R90, his own co-ed football school that is open to students aged between five and 13.

“In our first year, we only had 30 students but, three years later, I am proud to say we have well over 100,” said Romão.

Besides being a player and a coach, Romão, now 34, is also a father of two sons, Enzo and Theo. Even though, he said, raising a family as a foreigner in Malta can be challenging, due to lack of support as well as the bureaucratic hassles he faces, he is proud of what he has achieved here.

Romão said: “I feel like I did it. I grew up having to count my pennies to buy bread but now I count my money to buy my children and my students footballs, just like my dad.”

Romão with some of the children in R90, his football school.Romão with some of the children in R90, his football school.

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