Luiz Junior: From U-17 World Cup with Brazil to SPL with Jaguars
Jaguars forward Junior was in the same Brazil youth teams as Oscar, Rafael; he also played against Neymar
He has scored at an Under-17 World Cup for Brazil, is mates with Oscar, has played against a teenage Neymar and speaks passable Malay.
And from Feb 29, when the new Singapore Premier League (SPL) season kicks off, you can judge Luiz Junior's samba pedigree for yourself at Tanjong Pagar United's games.
The 29-year-old forward cut an unassuming figure when he spoke to The New Paper at Bukit Gombak Stadium yesterday, never mentioning his impressive age-group credentials until he was probed about it.
In 2007, Junior was part of Brazil's team for the Under-17 World Cup in South Korea, scoring in the group stage against New Zealand, before the team were knocked out in the last 16 by fourth-placed Ghana.
That Brazil side featured former Manchester United fullbacks Rafael and Fabio - who went on to represent the Selecao at senior level - and Alex Teixeira, who was heavily linked with Liverpool before moving to Jiangsu Suning for a then-Chinese Super League record fee of 50 million euros (S$75.3m) in 2016.
Junior progressed to Brazil's Under-20s, where he played alongside former Chelsea playmaker Oscar and Juventus left-back Alex Sandro. He told TNP he still keeps in touch with Oscar and Teixeira.
Three years ago, he even played in a charity match in Rio de Janeiro with Rafael, Fabio and Teixeira.
On his U-17 World Cup campaign, Junior said: "I remember it was a very good experience, playing in a tournament with players like Germany's Toni Kroos."
The Real Madrid midfielder announced himself at that tournament, winning the Golden Ball.
Two years later, while at Botafogo, Junior played against a teenage Neymar during his debut season at Santos.
Calling the Paris Saint-Germain attacker the best player he has ever played against, Junior added: "It was a special day, although he was new at the time, he was already a very good player and expected to be an icon in world football."
Since then, Junior has played in North Africa and the Middle East, as well as Indonesia and Malaysia - where he picked up Malay.
Asked if his new teammates at Tanjong Pagar knew about the star names he played alongside in Brazil's youth ranks, Junior said he had never mentioned it, before laughing and adding: "But, after this interview, they will know."
Jaguars captain Faritz Hameed was aware of his former teammate's past, but testified that "he's just a chill guy".
The 30-year-old defender added: "He's a quality player... He'll be a handful for some defenders in the league."
Tanjong Pagar coach Hairi Su'ap was more convinced, saying it took less than five minutes of footage for him to be sold on Junior, who played for Sabah FA last year.
He said: "When I saw him in videos, it didn't take me too long to decide... less than five minutes.
"His style is totally different from what we usually get in the SPL, usually you get a very big centre forward, who is aggressive and wins all the high balls.
"Junior is totally different, he knows how to handle it when he's in two-versus-one or three-versus-one situations.
"And he's quite smart... Junior is more of a thinking player who can create not only for himself, but also for his teammates. To me, I got a good one."
Despite this, Hairi's first SPL coaching stint has been an uphill task. He and team manager Noh Alam Shah have had to build a team from scratch, after the Jaguars' participation in the SPL was confirmed last month.
Despite Tanjong Pagar last featuring in the top flight in 2014, Hairi believes mid-table is a realistic target.
Faritz added: "Of course we are at a disadvantage, but we can't use that as an excuse... We may lose, but we will go down fighting."
TANJONG PAGAR UNITED
Coach: Hairi Su'ap
Homeground: Jurong East Stadium
Major signings: Luiz Junior (FW, from Sabah FA), Faritz Hameed (DF, Home United), Delwinder Singh (DF, Warriors FC), Raihan Rahman (MF, Balestier Khalsa)
Outlook: With a squad assembled much later than the rest of the league, the Jaguars could have a tough season back, given their lack of depth. Their only salvation could come in the form of former Brazil youth striker Luiz Junior and midfielder Shodai Nishikawa.
March 6 (7.45pm)
- v Lion City Sailors (home)
March 15 (5.30pm)
- v Tampines Rovers (away)
March 18 (7.45pm)
- v Albirex Niigata (home)