When Legia Warsaw’s in-house media sat down for an interview with Portugal international Josué earlier this week, the Polish outlet were no doubt unaware of the depth of conversation ahead with the former Porto man.
In a fascinating and honest discussion, Josué spoke about a difficult childhood which still has a residual impact, his struggles with outside perception and how his wife and daughter changed his life. Josué also emphasised the influence of Paulo Fonseca on his football journey, stemming from their time together at Paços de Ferreira.
The 31-year-old is a new signing at Legia, having joined from Israeli side Hapoel Beer-Sheva in the summer following several years previously playing in Turkish football. Josué’s time in Israel was successful on the pitch, but negative stories surrounding his public image had followed him to Poland and this week’s conversation began with the interviewer reminding the Portuguese of a quote attributed to him.
“If I wanted to be nice at work, I’d sell Ice Cream? I know what you’re referring to,” Josué replied. “I said it because I was once accused of inappropriate behaviour towards someone, which I didn't really care about because it was not about what kind of person I am, but about something that I did during the match. So, I said: if I wanted to be nice and liked while working, I'd go to work in an ice cream parlour.
“Everyone in the club knows that I love to joke, I laugh a lot and I treat people well who treat me well. On the pitch - no matter if during a match or training - I turn off my sympathies and focus only on doing this job of mine the best I can. But then I come back to life, where, like every human being, I have my emotions, sympathies and principles that guide me.
“I am nice yes, but the truth is also that I can't open up to everyone and be a nice friend to everyone. There are people I trust with whom I feel safe and easy for me to tell them about everything. People like that will say I'm really okay with them.”
It was put to Josué that there were mixed sentiments regarding him in Israel during his two-year spell, despite his success on the pitch including winning the domestic up, but the Seleção man dismissed the notion. “Certain websites were very fond of knowing what was going on inside the club,” he said. “I really understand they just wanted to do their job. Some players shared this information, and they were of course the nice guys, while those who were silent were angry. It started with one article, then another came out, and that's how it went.
“But strangely I still have contact with people from the club, because they got to know me as a human being. They congratulated me when I signed the contact with Legia, when I left, I heard from them that they will miss me. You don't say such things to someone you don't want to have anything to do with.
“It was the biggest problem I had in Israel, but also in my previous clubs. If you say anything to me that I don't like, I'll let you know right away. In Israel, some people had a problem with that - when they talked about someone, it was cool, but if someone talked about them, it was definitely not.”
Losing contact with family
Josué's candour led the conversation to quickly stray away from football and into to his background. Growing up in Valongo, Porto, Josué joined the Dragons as a child and rose through the club ranks, but his ascent within one of Portugal’s biggest clubs was little escape from a troubled childhood which he recalls stripped him of happiness.
“You know, when I was a child, I grew up in a rather difficult environment and the situation around me was not normal,” he remembers. “I was born in a poor place, my dad worked outside Portugal all the time, so we didn't have much contact. I lived with three brothers and my mother, food, hmm ... well, there wasn't much of it. Sometimes I didn't eat a single meal, sometimes I went through the days without anything in my mouth.
“This is how I grew up; the situation definitely had a big impact on me. When I was 20 and I started earning money, I also started building a wall around myself - no one was allowed to come inside. When someone tried to attack me, I attacked him. Sometimes not because I wanted to, but it was just because of my personality.
“Football was my only chance not to be with the wrong people. When I went to training, I knew that there are just good people around me. Being with them, I knew that I had to behave well, follow the rules and work diligently, because only then would I be able to play this sport. Because if I fail and stop coming to training, I will be sucked in by very bad company.
“I have no contact with my family. We haven't spoken to each other since I was 20 and now I'm 31. It's a long story, a lot of bad things happened, and the effect is that I haven't talked to my brothers and my mother for over a decade. It is not easy to explain to my daughter either. She is 9 years old and it is difficult to explain to her why she does not know her grandmother or uncles. Now, however, she is slowly beginning to understand.
“Everything that I have learned in my life I have learned on my own. I had no one to show me how to do things, how to behave in particular situations, which path to follow in life. All my experience, everything I have today - I worked for everything alone. Because I was alone for a long time in my life.
“In fact, I was alone until I met my wife. Loneliness was over, but the problems were not, it was still very difficult. My wife fell ill, my father died, and then my wife's dad passed away. Recent years have not been kind to us, but sometimes it just has to be that way. Each of us has a story, mine is not easy, but it’s mine..
“Today I will not tell my daughter that we have no food. Now, when the little girl wants to eat ice cream, I don't have to wonder how to explain to her that we don't have the money for it. I did not have such comfort. I was stealing. I would go to the supermarket and pick up chocolate, candy, sometimes just food from the shelves. Sometimes I stole because I was hungry, and sometimes I just wanted to be like other children and hold a candy bar in my hand.
“Often, when I give my daughter something, I tell her: listen, at your age I didn't have a phone, sometimes I didn't even have food. I would like her to appreciate that her childhood is happy. I did not have such an opportunity, but life also gave me these experiences. And I think those lessons were very valuable.
“I want to give my daughter everything that my family did not give me. Not only love, but also certain rules. I was born without rules, so I made my own. Nobody told me what is right and what is wrong. I watch kids here and see teens that have a very specific system of rules in place. I grew up in FC Porto, but the rules were only about football, we had no role models for how to simply behave in life. I think many children are affected by such a problem. “
Asked if this period of his life was the toughest he has endured, Josué responded by saying life has been complicated with further turmoil in adulthood. As well as dealing with the loss of family members, his wife, whom he met when playing for Portugal’s U21 side, has faced ongoing health issues in recent years.
“My wife's illness was the worst. She suffered from cancer, she’s still struggling with some health problems, so the situation is not 100% comfortable yet, but everything is going well. Anyway, it was absolutely the most painful thing in my life. You hear about it, you read it, you know it's happening somewhere, but you don't consider that it's going to happen to your family.
“And then suddenly it just happens and then your world collapses. As for the family - yes, it hurts too, it's difficult, and I don't really talk about it much. But when I bring it up, I tell everyone - sure, you'd just like to pick up the phone, dial the number and say "hello mom", "hello bro". I don't have a father anymore, so it's impossible even hypothetically. People who are in a similar situation to me know how hard it is to live like this.
“In Israel, I often went to meetings with children and told them: listen, you have mothers, you have fathers - this is really great happiness. The ball is joy, passion for you, and even if you don't have a permanent relationship with it, it's okay, nothing will happen at all, you have a lot of possibilities to fulfil yourself in life. Enjoy it, because not everyone has such a privilege.
"Even if it was a little different for me. If it weren't for football, I'd be in jail. Seriously, the people I was around as a child are now serving sentences. I couldn't enjoy the life of an ordinary kid; I didn't have a normal childhood. In fact, I learned how to enjoy life only after meeting my wife and our daughter.”
If Josué’s wife is the biggest influence on his personal life, there appears little doubt that Paulo Fonseca has played a vital role in his development as a footballer. The pair spent a year together at Paços de Ferreira during the 2012-13 season, during which Josué credits Fonseca with instilling a belief and determination he had previously been lacking.
“Before and after I met him, are completely different people,” he says. “I even talked about it recently with our goalkeeping coach Ricardo Pereira. In Paços de Ferreira I had a lot of problems until one day Paulo Fonseca came to me and said: listen, we play a game on the weekend, I will let you play, but until then you must do this and this - and then he mentioned a few seemingly small things.
“I said: okay, I will, but during the training I did not show him anything more than the minimum. He came back and asked again if I wanted to play. I say that I want to, but with the impudence I had then, I replied: if you want me in your squad, it's cool, and if it's not, tough. I also weighed a few kilos too much then; I didn't care much for nutrition and a healthy lifestyle. Arrogant kid who doesn't seem to care about anything - that's how I was.
“Nevertheless, the coach approached me very calmly and told me the words that I remember forever: Do you want to quit, throw it away? I believe in you, I'm not going to give up on you, and I'm not going to let you go. And when I heard, "I believe in you," it was like a button in my brain was pressed. I then realised that I had never heard anything like this from my own family. And from the moment he said those words, I changed completely. In football, in everything. Paulo Fonseca has changed my life. It sounds pathetic, but it is so.
“When he believed in me, I learned to believe in myself and now I believe in myself more than anyone does. I know what I am capable of, I know what kind of person I am. A few days ago, we joked about the pressure, I laughed that I have pressure when I play Call of Duty with the boys, not on the pitch. Because even during these big clashes, where the pressure is enormous, I sometimes even believe in myself too much. From zero self-esteem, I jumped to the level of tremendous confidence in myself. It's all thanks to [Fonseca] the coach.”
Learning to ignore media
One problem Josué is only recently learning to overcome is ignoring wider perceptions of his personality, particularly after the spell in Israel. For the 4-time Portugal international, changes come from better understanding his own character, but also affording less of his attention on media coverage now he is in Poland.
“Those who really know me, know what I am, are aware that the general perception of me is slightly different from the actual state. But I built this wall so that no one could attack me. Because before that, if someone was attacking me, I was attacking him back right away. Why? Because I am sensitive.
“Often, this is why my emotions take over and there have been situations in which I did something without thinking, and then, reflecting on my behaviour, I thought: what was it for, I am not like that.
“I don't read any media here, I read it in Israel and that was a mistake. I was reading the internet sitting at home alone and wondering: what am I even doing in this country? After all, this is not my homeland, I do not play in a club that I have been supporting since I was a child.
“As a footballer, you cannot respond to every taunt. Someone wrote something, someone said something, and you won't go to the newspaper and say: hey, please don't insult me, because I'm actually a nice guy. So, if you are reading all of this with nothing you can do, then it is exhausting. Someone insults you, you keep quiet - I couldn't do it. It was a huge problem for me, actually it still is, because I'm working on myself all the time.
“Sometimes it's better to grit your teeth and not say words that can get you into trouble. I'm still learning this - my heart is way too close to my mouth. However, since I came to Poland, it is much better. Not only because of the people in the club - though of course them also - but also because of the people around it. Fans are fans here, no one is looking for sensations by forcing it.
“So far, I have mentioned the worst sides of my stay there, but Israel was also beautiful. I fell in love with this country, I even told my family that maybe I would like to end my career there. The country is like Miami - beautiful weather, sun, it's warm all the time, and in the club, apart from the incidents mentioned, I really liked it.
“Oh, another thing coach Paulo Fonseca taught me. Whether it’s good or bad, be glad they are talking about you. After all, journalists do not write about everyone. There are a lot of cool, decent guys in football that nobody talks about. If someone is in the spotlight, it means that he is important. In Israel, you could also talk about everyone. And yet, for some reason, it was my topic that was the most talked about.”
"My wife changed me"
Josué demonstrates his playful and humorous side throughout the interview, including his colleagues saying he resembles Diego Maradona (“because I’m a bit fat!”) and long-time friend and Legia teammate André Martins’ fear of riding in any car Josue drives, but it is clear that his homelife is the biggest influence in keeping him content as he settles into new surroundings.
“My wife and daughter are the most important to me, I care a lot about the women of my life. My wife completely changed me - since I met her, I calmed down and matured. Whenever I talk about her, I repeat one thing: when a storm comes towards me, I call her and the sky becomes clear in an instant - happiness immediately returns. She knows me like no one else, she knows what I am, she also knows how to calm down any situation. She is great at reaching me as a human being, but also has a big impact on my game of football and always understands perfectly, whether I play well or badly, what I feel. This is the person who has had the greatest impact on my life.
“When we met, we had a large group of mutual friends. I was playing for the U21 national team back then with André Martins, so he knows her well too. A couple of my friends who had contact with both of us went to her and started asking if she was crazy that she really was going to hook up with me. She said she might be crazy, but she wants to be with me.
“It was the first of many times that I found that when no one believes, she will always believe. In football I had it with Paulo Fonseca - everyone crossed me, he was the only one not to. Sometimes they are trivial situations, small gestures, but I believe that big things are made of small ones. And it is that which can change our lives.
“Because she's just like me. If she has anything to say, she will say it. In fact, she's even crazier than I am, so imagine what kind of woman this is. The two of us complete each other like a puzzle, and for the last few years we have been complemented by one more little puzzle. The best thing is that our daughter is completely different from us - she is calm, quiet, she is such a cute little girl.”
By Sean Gillen