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Magno Mundial – Non-league to New Zealand for ex-Fleetwood star Magno Vieira

Fleetwood Town FC

It is a tale of flights, Fleets, Football League, single-minded ambition, and most crucially of all, getting familiar with the unexpected. From Brasília beginnings, Magno Vieira’s futebol adventure has seen tens of thousands of miles, with non-league claiming one of the lead roles along the way.

Brazil’s capital to his current home of Wellington is a sizeable jump in itself, but add in Rio de Janeiro, Wigan, London, China and plenty more in between, and you can start to get a truer understanding. As a teenage forward talent at Wigan Athletic, he was seen as a prize prospect alongside future England full-back Leighton Baines, though it was on loan at Carlisle United that he started to put that promise into motion.

In a 2004/05 campaign that he began as a 19-year-old, Magno would reach double figures in front of goal, as the Cumbrians went on to win the Conference play-off final against Stevenage Borough (as they were still known). His participation in that Britannia Stadium final was as a late substitute, with Peter Murphy having already scored the winner, but the losing manager clearly remembered his capabilities further down the line, as Magno recalls.

“I remember Graham Westley called me, because he wanted to sign me for Rushden & Diamonds. I thought it was a friend of mine outside the Brazilian bar I was in, and I just remember answering the phone to this random number, and saying ‘just come in, man, we’re inside, by the bar!’

“I put the phone down and got this text message saying ‘Hi Magno, this is Graham Westley, please give me a call when you’re not clubbing.’ Needless to say, that move didn’t happen.”

It was at a time when he was enjoying life in London, and rightly so, given the obstacles he had encountered to get there. Playing back home in a free academy run by legendary Brazil winger and 1970 World Cup winner Jairzinho, scouts would come from various countries to see the talent they had.

It led to Magno and his friend Thiago Cunha heading to England, with that classic ‘suitcase full of dreams’, and the equivalent of about £10.

“The guy that took us wasn’t really a football agent; he was just someone who said he’d help. We were just hoping for an opportunity to go, so we didn’t ask any questions!

“It was like the blind leading the blind, I suppose. Before then, I left Brasília to go to Rio and try to find a club, so I travelled 17 hours on a bus.

“I went to my uncle in Rio and asked if he could lend me some money to go buy some vitamin C – I thought England was gonna be very cold – and he just gave me £10, well, 50 real. My parents signed the papers because I was a minor at the time; looking back now, I’m thinking that was the craziest thing ever, I wouldn’t let my kids do it!

“I’m thankful that they had that trust in me. I just remember going to the airport and meeting this guy, his wife was Brazilian so she was translating, and he lived in Wigan.

“He was a Liverpool supporter so I think he wanted to take us for trials at Liverpool, but he took us to Wigan while he was talking to some people to try to organise a trial.”

Wigan’s Premier League era was still a couple of years away at the time, but Paul Jewell was two years into his managerial reign, while former Latics and Bolton Wanderers midfielder David Lee was Magno’s youth-team coach.

“The trial really went well for me; unfortunately for my friend, they didn’t wanna sign him, so he went back to Brazil after around ten days. He ended up playing for Vasco and Palmeiras, and he finished his career in Thailand and was the top scorer there for three years in a row.

“I wanted to stay, I didn’t wanna go back to Brazil; I saw it as an opportunity to have a better life. We started to understand everything behind signing a player from abroad, work permits and all that.

“I trained with the youth team and trained with the first team when I could. When they had in-house friendlies, I used to play, but I wasn’t allowed to play in stadiums where people paid to watch, so for that period of two years, I couldn’t really play.”

He reflects on that prolonged spell without competitive action as possibly quite detrimental to his development. Consider as well a teenager 5000+ miles from home and with barely a shred of English, before the days of easily-accessible Google Translate and smartphones.

“Oh man, it was tough,” says Magno. “That was one of the reasons why Thiago couldn’t really cope with it.”

“I remember us going back to the house we stayed in, he’s crying, and we’d only been in the country for a week. We were both 16, we couldn’t understand fuck all, man!

“But my mind was set. Even to the person who took me over, I said ‘if football doesn’t work, I’ll look for a job, but my return ticket, you can just rip it up.’”

His glamorous footballer’s wheels came first in the form of ‘a really old white Fiesta’. When his first loan spell away from Wigan arrived later on, a smooth trip down a motorway it wasn’t quite.

“I remember my brother came to stay with me, and we went to Northampton, he was my co-pilot. We didn’t have sat nav at that time, so I printed the map to go to Northampton and I gave it to my brother to tell me the directions from Wigan.

“Colin Calderwood was the coach at Northampton (Town), and John Deehan, and they kept calling and we said ‘we must be close’. Then it went dark and we were somewhere in Wales.”

Magno had found the people in England warm and hospitable, ‘especially Scousers,’ but it was a fair bit further into the North West that he first flourished on the pitch.

“My English was much better but I didn’t know anything about Carlisle. Paul Simpson wanted to play football which suited me, and he gave me freedom.

“I just enjoyed playing in front of a big crowd; there was always a few thousand so I was just loving the experience there. We finished the season getting promoted to the Football League.”

After their aforementioned play-off success that season, work permit issues meant Magno had to wait some time for the green light to resume playing in England. He would join up with Paul Cook’s Southport for pre-season, with clubs like Accrington Stanley, Morecambe, and Carlisle again, interested, though with no guarantee of a contract.

He recalls it as a time where he was ‘just scrambling with no money’ and staying for free at a friend’s house. Then came Paul Fairclough and League Two Barnet with what could certainly be described as a modest contract, but a contract nonetheless.

It also brought a change of pace entirely from the surroundings he had become accustomed to in the North West.

“The north I loved, it was all family-orientated, and it was good for me to keep my focus on football, but I went to London and it was just different. There were people from all over the world and I was really enjoying life outside football.

“We had some really good players at Barnet, but I think at that stage, I was just arriving and I needed to hit the ground running. I was trying to catch up with the speed of things and I wasn’t performing as well as I should.

“I was one year off football, unfit, but I was just enjoying life. I’d been through this whole process of stress before so I thought ‘I wanna let myself loose for a bit here.’”

His five goals in Barnet colours included one at Elland Road against Leeds United in the League Cup. Next to the stage, though, were Steve Evans and Crawley Town.

Magno hit impressive form in the now-defunct Setanta Shield (Conference League Cup) but feels he never found his rhythm at the Reds. With Crawley mid-table in the fifth tier, and with play-off contenders Cambridge United, Exeter City and Burton Albion wanting to take him on loan, Cambridge was his next port of call for the final two months of 2007/08.

Featuring once again in a Conference play-off final, this time at the new Wembley in front of 42,511, the pain was U’s-shaped that day, as Exeter City won by a goal to nil. That summer, United would offer Magno a more attractive deal than he was on at Crawley, but he ended up taking less to play in League Two for Wycombe Wanderers and a former top-flight manager.

“I thought ‘Wycombe’s a good club’, and Peter Taylor was one of the top coaches that wanted to sign me, so I thought I’d take the hit here and go for the League instead of the money.”

With the benefit of hindsight, he believes Cambridge may well have been the better option. He was on the move again for 2009/10, to play for former Republic of Ireland international Liam Daish at Ebbsfleet United.

It proved one of his most productive spells, with Magno in amongst the leading marksmen in the Conference, but he would end the season experiencing relegation from a league he was used to tasting promotion from. While his new life in New Zealand was still a few years from coming to fruition, it had already moved to the forefront of the conversation.

“My wife is from New Zealand, and when I signed for Ebbsfleet, we were already planning to move to New Zealand. The clubs that were interested were Mansfield and Wrexham.

“The day that I was meant to go to Wrexham, me and my wife found out she was pregnant. (Wrexham boss) Dean Saunders had spoke to me, they had a hotel booked for me, so I drove all the way up, trained one day with Wrexham and went back to the hotel room.

“I called Dean and just said ‘sorry, I just can’t do it.’ I drove back and told my agent ‘I can’t go anywhere other than London.’

“He said ‘but there’s no clubs in for you.’ Then Ebbsfleet came and I took an even bigger pay cut to stay down there.”

Perhaps the biggest curveball to the story yet was to blow in from the east – the Far East.

“I had an offer from China and I went to a team in the second division. I think they were gonna offer me 20,000 dollars net a month, so I thought ‘I’m gonna go for this.’

“I arrived there and it was the middle of nowhere – I’m talking nowhere. I arrived there and they said ‘we won’t be able to offer you the 20 but we will be able to offer you eight, and then next year we can offer you more.’

“I was like ‘no, I’m not moving my family here for eight’. My wife was in New Zealand already at that time, with her family waiting for me to sort this stuff in China.

“Then Paul Ifill got in contact and the option was to trial for Wellington Phoenix. Our plan was always to move to New Zealand after we had our first child.”

While a limit on foreign players contributed to that A-League move not happening, Mansfield Town, his old club Cambridge, and Fleetwood Town were in for him. The latter were newly promoted to the National League and it was to be a North West return for Magno.

Crawley would win the title in a season where Matt Tubbs was the league’s goal king, but Magno was right up there too, plundering 22. Although Micky Mellon’s Fleetwood made the play-offs, they were beaten emphatically (8-1 on aggregate) by eventual winners AFC Wimbledon in the semi-final.

Next year, though, was all theirs. Their 103-point haul to win the 2011/12 title was aided in no small part by a signing from FC Halifax Town who seemed to have a bit of raw ability to him.

“I remember when they said we’d signed him and I thought ‘Vardy? Who the fuck is Vardy?’” Magno recalls. “He was a skinny, small guy, he didn’t even train, just went into the first game.”

“He was aggressive, he’d tackle people, chase lost causes, he was good in the air, and I’d never played with someone with that much endurance and speed in my life. Finishing as well, the guy was just a machine.”

Does he remember the Leicester City star’s not-so-elite nutritional plan at the time, including a liking for energy drinks that probably didn’t follow him to the Champions League and World Cup?!

“Yeah, he was on the Monsters all the time. He used to have shots of even more stuff as well, before and half-time of games, more energy stuff – stuff where you probably wouldn’t go to sleep until 3 in the morning!

“I’m sure he changed his lifestyle now but sport science should do a study on him! People say ‘you’ve got to eat this, eat that’, he just did whatever and I’ve never seen someone with so much energy.”

Besides his scoring exploits that were catching attention from all over, Vardy was just one of the very many colourful personalities in the ranks at the time.

“(Micky Mellon) knew how to get the best out of players who had some reputations. We had a really good group of players – Steve McNulty was a big figure there, (Jamie) McGuire – but you had some loose cannons in there!

“You had fucking Lee Fowler, Andy Mangan, Richard Brodie, the list goes on! I think Fleetwood was the best that I’ve done for goal ratio but it was the whole vibe of the club.

“The chairman Andy Pilley, he’s a top guy, and when I went there, it was a lot of the players I used to play against at youth-team level; Paul Linwood, McGuire, Anthony Barry, Mangan. I was living in Preston but at that stage I had kids.”

Magno would ultimately not make the climb into League football with them, signing for Forest Green Rovers on a three-year deal. There was a loan at Nuneaton Borough in the third season before a parting of ways in February 2015, but it had been a time where he had seen the harsher side of the ‘business’ that surrounds the game.

“Fleetwood offered me a one-year deal after we got promoted, but Forest Green really wanted to sign me, and they offered me a really good deal. So I just took the safe option and went for the money.

“Things didn’t really work out there on the pitch but we lived in the Cotswolds, beautiful part of the country. The club eventually wanted to sell me but I just said ‘I’m moving to New Zealand, we can terminate the contract but I’m not gonna be moving around again.’

“They didn’t wanna terminate the contract; they thought I was gonna go and sign for someone else. They ended up paying me up the last six months of my contract in 2015 and I moved here (to New Zealand).

“It was difficult because they did the thing they do in football where they try to force you out and they make you train by yourself. My mind was set on what I was gonna do and I wasn’t gonna let them break me, but it was really tough.

“I think the PFA could do more to support players going through periods like that, because clubs should not be allowed to treat players like that in this day and age.”

During that spell, he had done his UEFA B licence, though he actually made the New Zealand move ‘without a thought of football’.

“I thought ‘I’m just gonna find myself a normal job.’ We bought a house here and (Paul) Ifill said ‘I’ve left the Phoenix, I’m coaching a team, do you wanna come and play?’

“I’d just fell out of love with the game because of the experience at Forest Green. I ended up playing and scoring I think 18 goals in 20 games for his team, and I ended up signing for Team Wellington and winning the national league.

“I thought ‘this is a great ending for me here.’”

A final fast-forward to 2020 and he can currently be found coaching, as well as offering his experience as a consultant for an agency. It is true that nobody can quite claim the same path Magno Vieira took, and though unexpected, he is thankful for his footballing rebirth in New Zealand.

“I got offered to coach a team that’s ten minutes from my house. I coach North Wellington and we play in the top division in Wellington in a winter league; here the leagues are divided into a summer league and winter league.

“I don’t play now; I played at my previous club Kapiti Coast United, where I was coaching, when I first arrived. Although I didn’t want anything to do with football when I first moved here, I’m in love with the game again, and I really love coaching.”

Interview/article by @chris_brookes

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