Arsenal old boy Edu-cated in the Corinthian spirit and ready to take on Chelsea
23:12 GMT, 14 December 2012
Among the bustle of the Corinthians camp here is a familiar figure. Tall, lean and tanned with an easy smile and elegant style is a man who played more than a hundred times for Arsenal.
Edu Gaspar spent four years at Highbury, winning the Premier League title twice and the FA Cup three times. His final game for the Gunners came as they collected their last trophy in the 2005 FA Cup final.
Though still only 34, he is director of football at Corinthians, the South American champions who will contest the world title with Chelsea on Sunday. It is a powerful role at Brazil’s richest club with huge power and he is in charge of highly desirable footballers; his phone is alive with interest in Paulinho.
On the ball: Edu Gaspar is now director of football at Corinthians
Arsenal old boy Edu
BIG MATCH ESSENTIAL
Corinthians ended their long wait for a first South American title in July this year, beating Boca Juniors of Argentina 3-1 in the two-legged Copa Libertadores final. They were the first team since Boca in 1978 to win it without losing a game.
Managed by Tite, they are an industrious team who reflect their working-class heritage and rely upon mental toughness and organisation. Paulinho is the star attraction, but even he is renowned for his work ethic.
The Sao Paulo team — formed in 1910 and named after the English club Corinthians who travelled to Brazil that year — did win the inaugural FIFA Club World Cup in 2000 when they qualified as Brazilian champions. They beat Vasco da Gama in the final.
Corinthians fans are known as the Fiel — the Faithful — and revel in a Crazy Gang reputation. Up to 20,000 have travelled and there are 200,000 Brazilians living in Japan. ‘They’re not here to put pressure on us, they’re here to rejoice,’ said Tite.
They may contest the title of most popular club in Brazil with Rio’s Flamengo, but Corinthians have overtaken Flamengo and Sao Paulo to boast football’s most valuable brand in Brazil, valued at 310million by Forbes this year.
Sunday’s referee is Turkey’s Cuneyt Cakir, who was in charge when Chelsea lost 3-0 at Juventus — Roberto Di Matteo’s final game. He is also the ref who sent off John Terry in Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final second leg and booked Branislav Ivanovic, Ramires and Raul Meireles, getting all four banned from the final in Munich.
‘When a player says he wants to join another club or have another experience, I have to respect that,’ said Edu. ‘But if I see they are happy, it is easy to keep them.
‘Paulinho is happy, his family is happy, he is enjoying it and he is one of the most important footballers in Brazil, along with Neymar.
‘Brazilian football is strong and the economy is getting better. Our club is one of the richest in Brazil. We can keep good players like Paulinho. We can buy good players. That makes it an exciting time to be in Corinthians.’
Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea are among those linked with the 24-year-old Brazil star.
‘He is a modern midfielder,’ said Edu. ‘He scores a lot of goals, plays box-to-box and is never injured. He has a Brazilian way of playing but is also strong and plays hard, like you need in the Premier League.’
Edu is proud of the Corinthians fans, famed in Brazil football for their devotion. Some 20,000 have travelled to Japan, selling cars and quitting jobs to pay their way.
‘I was born in Corinthians,’ said Edu. ‘I started playing for Corinthians at five, I went to the first team, won important titles, was sold and then I came back and finished my career here and now I’m a director.
‘Corinthians is a club like no other in the world. Now, it is a rich club but it came from the poor people. Corinthians fans sell cars to come here, borrow money from the bank and lose jobs to take money from the government to come here.’
Once Edu was robbed at gunpoint at home in Sao Paulo and the intruders asked him to sign autographs. These days, he can smile about it as he mimes scribbling his name with a quaking hand. Recently, he stopped his car outside the club’s Pacaembu ground to pose with a supporter, who asked him for five Brazilian reals, worth about 1.50.
‘He was borrowing money from everybody and writing down exactly what he owed,’ said Edu.
‘He would write, “From Edu, I borrowed 10 reals; from another guy, I borrow five reals”. When he put the money all together, it was like that, a pile more than three centimetres high. He said, “This is not money for other things. This is money to go to Japan.”
‘I gave him some money, of course. I said, “You go there”. I haven’t seen him. That’s a shame. It would be fantastic to see this guy.’
Talent: Paulinho is highly-rated and sought after by teams including Sunday's opponents Chelsea
Another Corinthians fan suffered a motorbike accident and was confined to a wheelchair. None of his friends could afford to be his helper, so he went to the club president and help came his way.
Others were invited to lodge for free with Japan-based fans. ‘They have opened their houses and Corinthians fans are sleeping on the floors,’ said Edu. ‘They sleep like sardines, 10 to a room.
‘We have to give something to the fans. We like to have open training so they can be next to the stars. Our gift to them. And, most importantly, play a good match.’
Determined: Edu wants his team to play a good match against Chelsea's stars, for the sake of the fans