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Flávio Aurélio Silva, the ‘Ceguim’, is the only visually impaired coach in Brazilian football. Rafael Luis Azevedo of Verminosos por Futebol tells his story.
Silva’s life totally changed at 20-years-old. A founding member of Juventude Esporte Clube, the team from Fortaleza, the fifth largest city in Brazil, the defender-midfielder lost the sight in his right eye after being on the end of a severely mistimed tackle in a game in 1989. A year later, blindness affected the other eye. His world fell, but football brought him back to life.
Passionate about the team, Flávio Aurelio Silva did not resign from Juventude. Instead he started working with the board, as a kind of handyman. He scheduled matches, prepared the uniforms and motivated players. But, in 2005, the team coach retired. Who would be the right man to take charge? The one nicknamed ‘Ceguim’ – little blind man. And thus began his curious story, unique in Brazil.
Juventude’s jersey is inspired by Esporte Clube Juventude, from Caxias do Sul, South of Brazil, who compete in the 3rd division of the Brazilian Championship. Even the foundation year of the “original” Juventude (1913) is embroidered on the shirt, while the amateur side were established seven decades later, in 1985.
Officially, football arrived in Brazil through the Brazilian son of Scottish man. After studying in Southampton, Charles Miller organised the first match in 1895, in São Paulo. He played for São Paulo Athletic Club (not to be confused with São Paulo F.C.) as a striker until retirement, at age 36, in 1910.
A century later, Brazil has only four national divisions with 100 clubs. In addition, there are 27 state tournaments, which have up to four divisions themselves. This regional structure works as a qualifying route for the 4th national division. Overall, in 2015 there were about 650 professional clubs in different regional leagues.
This is different to European structures of football, but amateur football in Brazil is similar to the non-league set-up in England. All the 5,570 towns around the country have their own championships, and the big cities have dozens of them. Fortaleza, the city of the blind coach, for example, has 56 leagues across many neighbourhoods, with more than 2,000 teams.
There is no accurate survey, but it is easy to assume that Brazil, a country with 204 million inhabitants, has several thousand football teams and millions of players. “Football is much more important for the Brazilian culture than for English culture. The English are very passionate for football, but the game itself does not touch in the same way”, compares Alex Bellos, British journalist, and author of “Futebol: The Brazilian of Life”.
Proud are the descendants of Charles Miller, the man of British blood who helped to make the sport the most significant feature of Brazilian identity.
Flávio Aurélio Silva is the only visually impaired coach in Brazilian football and he leads the most traditional amateur team in Bom Jardim, one of the most violent neighbourhoods of Fortaleza. They hold five titles in 30 years of the local league, the most of any other club. “I am proud that I was founder, player and, nowadays, even blind, I am the big boss of the team of my heart”, says the 46-year-old coach.
Silva focuses on hearing. Standing on the team’s defensive side of the field, he listens for the movement of the ball and the players to make his decisions. “Firstly, I reinforce marking, and then worry about the attack,” said the coach, who is not ashamed to hear tips from players and fans. “I have no assistant, but everybody helps me.”
This perseverance pushes the players. More than a coach, Flávio is an inspiration. “Every single player works hard for him. We come to the matches because of him”, says midfielder André Barbosa “Piaba”, a 35-year-old servant. Meanwhile, the centre forward newcomer even gets emotional when speaking about the boss.
praises the electrician Deone Lopes, 33, with tears in his eyes.
When some of the players feel lazy about going to the club, they only have to remember Ceguim’s journey to Bom Jardim. He was born in the neighborhood, but now lives 20 kilometres away. To get to the ground, he takes three buses in a 1 hour 30min trip. And alone.
“I am a Flavio fan,” remarks supporter Francisco Moreira, 50. Quickly spoken about in the neighborhood, the fame of the blind coach spread among residents. “The history of Juventude is intertwined with the history of the Bom Jardim League. Throughout this course, Flavio has always been present, with his captivating way”, says José Lisboa, president of league. “It’s funny when he complains to the players even when seeing nothing.”
After two and a half decades of disability, it seems the coach does see some things. The distance between Juventude’s headquarters and the training field is 30 blocks. The club has no bus and on the way to the training field, close to reaching the destination, Ceguim warns: “In two streets, turn right.” On the corner, there it is.
Though retired on disability allowance, Flávio Aurélio Silva works as a seller of leather belts. Every fortnight, he puts Juventude to one side to travel around the country with his products in his backpack. In Belo Horizonte he met his wife, with whom he has two daughters. “It was a clash of walking sticks. She is also blind”, he says.
Flavio is an idol especially for his wife. Every day he teaches that there is no barrier for life. “I do everything for Juventude. I will only leave from here when I am dead”, says Flávio. The fans, proud of the five trophies, are thankful for his devotion.
Rafael Luis Azevedo is a Brazilian journalist and editor of the football culture webiste, Verminosos por Futebol. Follow on Twitter: @Verminosos