THE Perak football team needed to shore up its back line and they found that Thiago Junior Aquino was the man for the job. On the pitch, Thiago was known as a ferocious defender who gives his all but off it, he was just like any Brazilian.
The 33-year-old loves to samba, play the ukulele and eat churrasco (Brazilian barbecue).
His hometown may be Belo Horizonte but after three years of playing with the Perak team, he had found a second home in Ipoh.
“This is the longest I have stayed in one country apart from Brazil. When I was offered to play for Perak, I researched the team and people.
“Before Perak, I played for Dong Nai FC in Vietnam and my teammates had good things to say about Malaysia. That’s when I told myself I should say yes to the opportunity,” he said.
Thiago caught the attention of former Perak coach Abu Bakar Fadzim in 2015 when Perak played against his former club, Dong Nai.
Abu Bakar, fondly known as Burn, convinced the Brazilian that the state and its team would be a good fit for him.
When Thiago arrived in Malaysia and played in his first match for Perak, he fell in love with the atmosphere and fans.
“My first season was a little tough because Malaysia was totally different from Vietnam. However, I gritted my teeth and managed to impress the management to keep me for another two years.
“I’ve been here for almost three years now and if given a choice, I would want to end my career here,” he said.
His hometown may be 15,855km away from Ipoh but he is always reminded of home whenever he meets his Brazilian counterparts, who play for other clubs in Malaysia.
“During my days off, I go to Penang because I love the beach. If I feel like having churrasco, I will go to Kuala Lumpur to have barbecue with Sandro Mendonca (Kedah) and Guilherme De Paula (Kuala Lumpur).
“In Perak, I like to hang out at Ipoh Parade and spend time in the Lost World of Tambun. At times, I will go to Pulau Pangkor to unwind. But I only do this when I have free time,” he added.
He said 80% of Brazilians were crazy about football and many of them wanted to become professional footballers.
Thiago said he had travelled to many countries since he was 16, when he signed his first professional contract with Atletico Mineiro in Brazil.
He had played for more than 10 clubs throughout his career.
Thiago, who is single, said he meets his family twice a year.
He added that his family always supported him since young and he was very close to them.
“My parents are my world and they are managing my restaurant, Aquinos, in Belo Horizonte.
“I have tattooed an image of my father on my left arm. For me, football too is like family. Sometimes I can’t live without it,” he said.
“When I’m in Brazil, the first three days, I will be with my parents and friends but after that, I want to go out and play football,” he added.
Thiago also said he would call his parents everyday.
“When I lose a game, I take it badly at times. I would cry and wish my parents were with me but it is only for a short while.
“After that, I will play my ukulele or play video games. People think I am physically and mentally strong but at times, I can be emotional too.” He was so distraught after the team’s recent 2-0 FA Cup defeat that he immediately called one of his friends from Brazil and she came down to meet him.
“I’m glad that I have good friends. They always listen to me and I feel good after talking to them.
“In Perak, Acer (Mohd Nasir Basharuddin, Perak player) helped me to adapt to the surroundings here and he is always there to help me.
“Other players like Hafizul (Hakim), Kenny (Pallraj) and Amirul (Azhan) are also close to me. In life, you need friends,” he said.
Thiago also loved to read motivational books written by Brazilian authors as it helps him to stay motivated and focused on his game.
When asked what is his favourite food in Malaysia, the Brazilian said he loves nasi lemak and local seafood but only takes them once in a while.
“As a professional player, you have to watch what you eat. I always have a balanced meal and I follow a regime set by my fitness instructor,” he added.
Thiago made sure he worked out three times a week to stay fit and strong.
He attributed his present physique to coach Sam Pakiaraj, who was also Perak’s fitness coach.
“He taught me how to take care of my body and he is the reason why my game is improving every season.
“You have to keep your body in good shape to ensure that you stay in the game for a long time,” he said.
He appreciated the support he received from the people in the state.
“But at the end of the day, the management decides if they want to renew my contract. This is my last year and we have not discussed contract renewal.
“Right now, I just want to focus on my football and help Perak win something. I don’t want to leave the club without winning anything.
“If that doesn’t happen, I can consider my stint here a failed mission,” adding that he had received offers from many clubs in the past but his mind and heart was set on Perak.