For 10 whole years, Afonso Alves went almost unnoticed in Brazilian football. As a junior he had to contend with unpaid salaries, he faced a daily struggle to achieve his dream and a patient wait to make his debut for Atlético Mineiro. All in all, it was a tough start.
Afonso was a tall, ungainly youngster, but with an impressive eye for goal, He got his first chance under Atlético head coach Levir Culpi, but his opportunities in the first team were few and far between.
“Levir gave me my first chance with the professional team at Atlético. But I played only six games and I never scored a goal,” Afonso confirmed.
During those few games in the first team he might have failed to open his account, but at youth level it was a quite different story. He really stood out. During the São Paulo Juniors Cup, Afonso helped Atlético reach the semi finals and his displays attracted attention from several European scouts.
“We lost to Kaka’s São Paulo. But I scored seven times and was second top goalscorer in the tournament. That was enough to interest Swedish club Örgryte.”
He refused to be disenchanted by his quiet exit through the Atlético back door. Instead, it served to motivate him and pushed him to go all out to achieve that much desired success in Europe and to win over the doubters among the Atlético and Brazil fans.
“I played very few professional matches for Atlético. I didn’t get much chance because the club had excellent players like Ramon, Rodrigo, Djair, Guilherme and Marques to name just a few. But it was an important experience for me. Later, I established myself in European football and I managed to excel last season playing for Heerenveen and then Brazil.”
And the few chances he got with Galo [the Rooster], as Atlético are known, made Afonso sure of one thing: He has no doubt about which team he wants to play for when, one day, he returns home.
“I will play for Galo again,” he says. “The fans are wonderful and as Galoucura [Atlético’s main supporter’s club] say: ‘The Rooster is crazy!’ In addition to that, I am an Atlético fan, and it would mean I would be in my home city and close to my family.”