Manchester United star Antony has given a fascinating insight into his upbringing in Brazil and how football helped him to escape ‘little hell.’
The Brazilian has impressed since joining United from Ajax in the summer for £85m, with him managing to marry silky samba skills with a real intensity about his game.
Now, he revealed his incredible story to shed some light on the often-harrowing upbringing that made him.
“I was born in hell,” Antony said, telling his story to The Players’ Tribune. “That’s not a joke. For my European friends who don’t know, the favela where I grew up in São Paulo is actually called Inferninho – ‘little hell.’
“We were so used to seeing guns that it was not even scary. They were just a part of everyday life. We were more scared of the police knocking down our door.
“One time, they invaded our house looking for someone and they came running in screaming. They found nothing, of course. But when you’re so young, those moments mark you.
“On my walk to school one morning, when I was maybe eight or nine years old, I came across a man laying in the alley. He was not moving. When I got closer, I realised he was dead.
“In the favela, you become kind of numb to these things. There was no other way to go, and I had to get to school. So I just closed my eyes and jumped over the dead body.”
Antony has been criticised at times this season in the media for what many seem to consider overly extravagant and flamboyant tricks.
He showcased the ‘Antony spin’ in the 3-0 Europa League win over Sheriff Tiraspol in October, only for United legend Paul Scholes to comment that he needs it ‘knocking out of him’
Antony, though, says using football to express himself was his liberation from the knocks his upbringing gave him.
“I was very lucky as a child, because despite all of our struggles, I was given a gift from heaven,” he said. “The ball was my saviour. At 14, I got my chance at Sao Paulo. Every day after school, I would travel to the academy on an empty stomach. Inside of me, there was an intensity – maybe you could say an anger. I had some problems with my emotions.
“I was so skinny, but I always played with ‘blood in my eyes’. This is the kind of intensity that comes from the streets. You cannot fake it. People think I am lying when I tell them this, but even after I made my professional debut for Sao Paulo, I was still living in the favela.
“This is the truth. At 18, I was still sleeping in the bed with my dad. It was either that or the couch! We had no other choice. Even in 2019 when I scored the goal against Corinthians in the Paulista Final, I was right back in the neighbourhood that night. People were pointing at me on the street.
“One year later, I was at Ajax, playing in the Champions League. That’s how fast things changed.”