Léo Baptistão, our new No. 21 — in my opinion, the best signing we have made this summer — sat down recently with Javier Matallanas for a little one-on-one. The 21-year-old Brazilian recounted his earliest memories of football, and discussed how his career has developed since his arrival in Spain.
Léo described his beginnings in football: at the tender age of four, his grandfather gave him his first ball for his birthday, a purple beach football. When asked about his first footballing memory, he was quick to respond with: “My dad taking me to the indoor football court, him on his knees in front of the goal blocking all of my shots, he was always there for me.”
On his first idol, he immediately said, “Ronaldo.” When asked why, the answer was simply: “It was the first World Cup in which Brazil won that I could experience, that I could actually watch. I don’t remember the 1994 World Cup, as I was only two. Ronaldo in 2002 was phenomenal.”
Like many other Brazilian players — Deco, Robinho, Ronaldinho, Neymar, … — Léo began to play football ‘sala’. He stated that he had never played an 11-on-11 football match before he came to Spain, that in Brazil, it was all indoor football.
Léo arrived in Spain at the age of 15, after Rayo Vallecano had signed him for their youth academy, with his best friend — his father. The two slowly but surely began to adapt to Iberian life, and nowadays Léo feels like a Spaniard.
“It would be a dream for me to be able to play for the Spanish national team. The truth is that I was born in Brazil, but I learned to play football here in Spain.”
Léo even has some Spanish blood, as his great-great-grandfather is from Valladolid, and his great-grandfather is ‘Murciano’.
On his time at Rayo Vallecano, Léo had nothing but praise for his former team: “Rayo does an amazing job with their youth system. From the time you are a ‘juvenil’ they make you feel as if you are a professional. They treat you with such care, and really bring the best out of you.”
Léo’s yet short, but fruitful, footballing career hasn’t been without its hardships, including contracting hepatitis not long after his arrival in Spain. Rayo offered their full support, and helped him travel back to Brazil to get treatment. Once over, he returned to Spain and Rayo’s open arms.
However, the Spanish Football Federation did not allow him to play for Rayo, and he had to be loaned for a season. Upon his return, things took another ill turn when, in his senior side debut, he broke his clavicle.
Recounting these unfortunate events did nothing to dampen our forward’s spirits: “With high hopes, and a lot of patience you can get anywhere.
“I don’t rush my life, it is best to live your life calmly, with patience.”
With that outlook, it is easy to understand how he overcame his adversities.