Lovely article about Sandro in the athletic his love of spurs is palpable.
The former Tottenham midfielder Sandro on his love for English football, Harry Redknapp and the pain and repercussions of his ACL injury
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Any chance of a cut and paste ?Lovely article about Sandro in the athletic his love of spurs is palpable.
The former Tottenham midfielder Sandro on his love for English football, Harry Redknapp and the pain and repercussions of his ACL injurytheathletic.com
You cheap bastard.Any chance of a cut and paste ?
God I love this bloke
what a great interview.You cheap bastard.
Sandro lets out a sigh. His gaze leaves the screen of his telephone, drifting into the middle distance. He strokes his beard as if it were a magic lamp that could take him back to the afternoon when everything changed.
“Ah, mate,” he says. “Even today, I think about it and get frustrated, honestly.”
Eight years have passed, but there is a good chance you still remember the photo. Sandro is lying on the turf at Loftus Road, receiving attention from Tottenham Hotspur’s medical team. He is looking down at his right knee. He is screaming.
At that precise moment, Sandro could not have known the extent to which that injury — a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament — would shape the remainder of his career. He could not have imagined the domino effect it would trigger in his leg muscles, the psychological aftershocks, or the manner in which it would undermine his vast potential, yanking the arc of his trajectory downward.
(Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Yet twisted into the pain of the days that followed was some kind of grim, existential hunch. Sandro grasped how big this could be, the danger it posed.
“I knew it was serious,” he says. “Even before the doctor saw me, I was worried that it was the cruciate. When he confirmed it, I got really down. It absolutely crushed me.
“I understood that I had been experiencing a really magical moment. I was at the peak of my career, man, the top of the top. Think about it: I was 23; I was already settled in England; I had won the fans over; I knew the league; I felt like a key player at a massive, massive club.
“The hard part was over; the only way was up. Then I got the injury.
“I knew that life had landed a real punch on me. And I knew it could destroy me.”
Given the anguish of those memories, it is tempting to frame this as a sob story. Throw in the fact that Sandro today finds himself without a club — he left Brazilian outfit Goias at the start of December — and considering retirement at just 31, and he would surely be forgiven for having a moan.
Yet there is no trace of self-pity. Over the course of an hour-long video call, Sandro appears entirely at peace with his lot in life. He is thoughtful, articulate, chatty. Above all, he seems very, very relaxed.
The bucolic setting probably helps: he is hunkered down at his family farm in Minas Gerais, just a stone’s throw from the house he grew up in. Birds chirp away in the trees; the only brief interruptions come when Sandro’s baby son wakes up and when his mother brings a coffee out to his deckchair. When, later that evening, he sends a voice memo to thank The Athletic for the interview, someone is playing an accordion and singing in the background.
Sandro himself looks ridiculously healthy. Happy, too, particularly when given the opportunity to wax lyrical about the favourite chapter of his career. He may only have spent four seasons at White Hart Lane, but as he recalls the highlights — his relationship with Harry Redknapp, a standout performance against AC Milan at San Siro, the connection he felt with the fans — it quickly becomes clear that Spurs left an indelible mark upon him. And this is before he shows off his Tottenham dartboard (“Signed by Bobby George!”) and the framed Scott Parker jersey that has pride of place on the wall above his barbecue.
“I just loved playing for Tottenham,” he says. “Loved it. The people there… mate, it was sensational. I get goosebumps just talking about it. It was an inexplicable thing. I felt this special feeling inside. You don’t get that at every club, but I did there.
“I just found everything so beautiful. White Hart Lane: I loved that place so much. I would have played for free if they had asked me to.”
It helped that Redknapp took to him from the outset, comparing him, somewhat frivolously, to Brazil great Socrates — “He was really crazy, Harry,” laughs Sandro — and telling him that he would give him time to settle. Sandro didn’t always understand everything his manager said, but he was drawn to his no-nonsense approach.
“I had the impression I was playing for a legend,” he explains. “When he was on the touchline, you could feel his influence on a game. He had this special way about him — this way of talking, of making decisions. Sometimes he would do something that stopped me in my tracks, or made me think, ‘What is this? You can’t do that’.
“If he had to take a player off after 10 minutes of a game, he would, without a second’s thought. Most coaches would wait in that situation, but with Harry it was simple. ‘You were playing badly, so I took you off. Ciao!’ He wasn’t afraid to chop and change when a player wasn’t working in the system. He’d drop one of the senior players and just say, ‘Sorry, son, but I have a lot of good players. You can get angry if you want, but it’s your turn’.
“He did have a tactical side, but it wasn’t his biggest strength. He was a good talker, he knew how to get everything from the squad. I gained so much experience just from being around him, just sharing the changing room with him.”
Sandro celebrates a goal against Chelsea with Redknapp and his Spurs team-mates (Photo: Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)
Sandro quickly fell for English football. He adored the packed stadiums and the slick surfaces. He found his game was suited to the physicality of matches in England: “Every player is as powerful as a tractor, so you always feel you are in a real individual battle. It’s just enchanting.”
Even the style of training impressed him. “I was bowled over by it,” he says. “The intensity is different. You do things in short bursts: bam, bam, bam, bam. It’s hard, but then it’s over. The idea is to coach players, not just tire them out. It’s non-stop. They crack the whip but then it’s done.
“At the start, I thought sessions ended too quickly. I was young and had a lot of energy to burn. I didn’t understand it. I was used to the long training sessions I had in Brazil. I wanted more. But after six months, I saw the light. When I showed up at the game on Saturday afternoon, I wanted the ball so much that I was almost drooling. ‘Give me that ball! I want to play!’
“I have played in a few different countries, but nowhere is the same as England. It was perfect.”
Sandro showed flashes of his talent in the early months of his Tottenham career. But true affirmation came in February 2011, when Redknapp’s side visited AC Milan in the Champions League. Another young player may have felt overawed by the prospect of facing Gennaro Gattuso and Clarence Seedorf in midfield. Sandro, whose big-game senses had already been sharpened by a successful Copa Libertadores campaign with Internacional, attacked the game with gusto.
“That was exactly what I needed,” Sandro recalls of his European debut. “I was just waiting for a massive game. I always relished big, decisive matches. I wanted to show people who Sandro was. I was a back-up player at that time. I needed a performance that said, ‘I’ve arrived. I’m here. You can count on me’.
“That game at San Siro was a line in the sand for my career. Everyone said, ‘What on earth was that?'”
Sandro tackles Milan’s Alexandre Pato at San Siro (Photo: Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
He keeps a memento from the time: a framed photo of him beating Zlatan Ibrahimovic in a 50-50. “I think I got that from a supporter, actually,” he laughs. “I stopped to pose for some photos and sign some autographs for the fans, and someone asked me to sign that photo. I said, ‘No, no, no; I’m keeping this! I have to take this home’.”
The next two years passed in a sugary blur. Sandro cemented his place in the Tottenham midfield, then worked his way into the Brazil squad. There were rumours of interest from Europe’s top clubs, including Real Madrid, and a lucrative offer from Manchester City. Yet Sandro felt confident that he was already in the right place. It felt like everything was clicking.
“People told me I would earn so much more at City,” he says. “But I felt that I would be betraying the Tottenham fans. I thought, ‘Why would I move to another team now? Sorry, guys, but I’m not going’.
“I loved it at Spurs. I was a starter in the team and playing well. The Premier League was already starting to seem easy. I just wanted to keep developing. It felt like my time had arrived.”
It had. Then his right knee buckled under him against Queens Park Rangers. He didn’t play again for seven months, all that momentum gone like petals in the wind. Sandro is an ebullient man, but even he was plunged into darkness.
“I remember speaking to my mum in the days after it happened,” he says. “I told her I didn’t understand. I would ask myself, ‘Why me? Why me?’
“I sometimes watch the interviews I gave during that time. I look at myself and think, ‘You’re depressed, mate’. It was a real mixture of anger and sadness.
“I believe in God’s will. Today, I know it had to be that way. But it took time to see it like that.”
The physical legacy was equally profound. Sandro could not seem to shake the injuries, no matter what he did or how he trained. In his final season at Spurs, then at QPR and on loan to West Bromwich Albion, his name was more likely to prompt an eye roll than a swoon. He has started just 109 football matches since that first injury — an average of 17 per year.
“On the pitch, I didn’t feel weaker,” he says. “If anything, I felt stronger. I came back well. But it changed my physiology. My gait was different when I ran. Everyone used to moan about me getting calf injuries. What people didn’t know is that the injury shortened my right leg. That meant my calf had to work harder. From that point, I had to take real care. The workload had to be calibrated carefully because any extra strain would result in a new injury.
“Today, I know how to look after it. But not at that time. I didn’t even know that my leg had shortened, and it’s not something you would have noticed if you had watched me run. I only found out years later.
“Tottenham knew how to take care of me, but other clubs didn’t. In England, they knew my knee needed special care. At other clubs, they’d ask me to do two days of high-intensity training, and I would really feel it in my knee. It wasn’t the same. Anyone who has injured their cruciate will tell you that. If the knee isn’t super-strong, it just swells up.”
Now, we are in a golden era for Brazilian defensive midfielders in the Premier League. Fred, Fabinho, Allan and Douglas Luiz have all been excellent this season. Fernandinho is still going strong at 35. It is not too hard to imagine a parallel universe in which Sandro, at 31, is still doing his thing, settling comfortably into legend status. All of which begs the question: does he look at those players and think it should be him?
“No, no,” he insists. “I’m pleased for them. I used to play against Allan in Italy, and I was so happy when he moved (to Everton). I thought, ‘Allan is going to see how fucking great the Premier League is’. Whenever I speak to a player I rate, I tell them to go to England. The other leagues I’ve played in can’t hold a candle to the Premier League. I feel privileged to have played in a league like that, so I don’t look at it in a negative way.”
If he does harbour wistful thoughts, they relate not to the injuries, but to his impatience. He rates the decision to leave Tottenham in summer 2014 as his biggest regret, but he also wishes he had remained in England when he left QPR two and a half years later. He enjoyed the subsequent adventures in Turkey and Italy but found them comparatively unfulfilling.
Sandro spent a couple of seasons in Serie A towards the end of the decade, including a spell at Genoa (Photo: Marco Canoniero/LightRocket via Getty Images)
“Every now and then I do think I could have done more, or stayed longer,” he says. “I put it down to inexperience, but I think I left England too soon. I didn’t have my head screwed on.
“I would never advise anyone to leave the Premier League now. Even the Championship… it’s a different style of football, more physical, but it’s still a beautiful league. But you just can’t leave England.”
Conversation turns to Sandro’s own future. He has not yet called time on his playing days — apparent interest from a handful of clubs has thus far turned out to be “a whole lot of blah, blah, blah” — but he says he’s warming to the idea of going into management. As Brazil suffers under the weight of the pandemic, he is using the time at home to plan for the future.
“I’m prepared for retirement,” he says. “I’ve already come to terms with the idea of my career coming to an end a bit early. I’m remembering experiences I’ve had with different coaches, trying to take the good things from them. I have been making notes on the kinds of training sessions I like, getting it all down on paper. It’s a time to reflect on those things. I’m enjoying it.”
Today, he is even able to look back on his ACL injury — that sickening sucker-punch — and see it as a catalyst for better things to come. “It made me a better professional and it improved me as a person, too,” Sandro concludes. “I think that’s why I feel the need to help other players. I’ve been through a lot, on and off the pitch. I have so much to pass on to others.
“I don’t feel like it’s something I have chosen; it’s like coaching has chosen me. I’m looking forward to my second chapter.”
I feel sad when I think about how the injury set him back. He would have stayed the central part of our team. He was incredible at his best. Fantastic character as well. What more can you ask for?
I know what - that he would be able to play guitar and hold the team spirit up.
Oh wait, he did that as well!
Not from Spurs camp, but the lad made Neymar sing his tunes.
Massive respect for the fella, wish he stayed with us longer! It at least feels good that the love between club and him is mutual <3 !!
I hope his coaching career takes off and one day he is reunited with us.
I have a theory that DM's usually have limited window where they seem to peak & then injuries take over. That position seems to take a toll on players. Wanyama & sandro for us. Peaked then very quickly injuries took over. I was actually saying about a year ago that kante seems to have avoided that. But fast forward, he keeps getting injuries & doesn't look quite as good as he did the previous few years. Rather than just peak & regress like other positions. It seems to be peak then injuries take there toll.Injury ruined him.
Was the best DM I ever saw at Spurs.
Is roy Keane the exception has a long career but was he really a classical defensive midfield.I have a theory that DM's usually have limited window where they seem to peak & then injuries take over. That position seems to take a toll on players. Wanyama & sandro for us. Peaked then very quickly injuries took over. I was actually saying about a year ago that kante seems to have avoided that. But fast forward, he keeps getting injuries & doesn't look quite as good as he did the previous few years. Rather than just peak & regress like other positions. It seems to be peak then injuries take there toll.
I am trying to remember but I think Keane could play a bit too. & I am sure he had at least 1 real bad injury but that could be after he peaked anyway. Whoever the best classic DMs are now? See if they manage to stay fit.Is roy Keane the exception has a long career but was he really a classical defensive midfield.
Did he do his cruciate trying to take out Haaland vs City?I am trying to remember but I think Keane could play a bit too. & I am sure he had at least 1 real bad injury but that could be after he peaked anyway. Whoever the best classic DMs are now? See if they manage to stay fit.