During every World Cup, almost every street in West Bengal is adorned in either the Verde-Amarela (the Brazilian green and yellow) or the Albiceleste (the white and sky blue of Argentina). Lifesize cut-outs of Lionel Messi and Neymar Jr. dominate the walls of tea-stalls and the various community clubs. Heated debates over who is the greatest, Maradona or Pele, has now become a part of the folklore as a few silver-haired men still throng to watch 'bishwo cup' (World Cup) at a street corner, leaving the comforts of home.
Growing up in this cultural milieu, it was no surprise that Pronay Halder ended up being a Selecao fan. He distinctly remembers how Ronaldo made Oliver Kahn pay for a mistake and Brazil ultimately lifted the World Cup for the fifth time back in 2002. But not even in his wildest dreams, he ever dreamt that one day he would share the same dressing room and get to take the pitch with one of the members of that Brazil team.
Lucimar Ferreira da Silva or simply Lucio joined Indian Super League (ISL) side FC Goa in 2015 with compatriot Zico in-charge. Coincidentally, in the same season, Halder joined the Gaurs on loan from Dempo Sports Club.
"I am extremely fortunate to play alongside him (Lucio). He has won the treble with Inter Milan, played in three World Cups, a great player and even a better human being. We had our pre-season in UAE in 2015. During that time he was a very reserved person and did not talk much. But once we came back to India, he was a completely different person. With time, he started opening up and any player could go up to him and ask for help. Towards the end, it was like interacting with any other player. Even when I made mistakes, he never shouted or scolded publicly," reminisced the ATK midfielder to Goal.
Halder was making a comeback from a serious knee injury and just when he was almost match-fit, he once again suffered a knock in the meniscus following a challenge with Joaquim Abranches in training. And it was Lucio who helped him with a special fitness regime to make a quick comeback.
"He had the experience of watching closely what should be the ideal rehab for a player coming back from a meniscus injury from his time in Europe and the Brazilian national team. He advised me to follow a certain plan and that really helped me recover faster."
One of the best defenders of his generation, he has several accolades to his name. Apart from bagging the World Cup with Brazil and all possible honours in Italy with Inter, his tenure with Bayern Munich in Germany was also trophy-laden, as he won the Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal three times each.
Zico knew the vast reservoirs of experience that Lucio brought on the table and hence, did not hesitate to hand over the armband to him. He not only marshalled the backline with elan but also guided youngsters like Halder, Bikramjit Singh and others with nuggets of advice during games.
"I used to play with more confidence as we knew that Lucio was there behind me. He helped me immensely on the pitch to read the game better. His leadership quality was unparalleled. Against Delhi (Dynamos), we lost the first leg of the semi-final. We came back to Goa and he called for a team meeting. There was no one else except the players. He said we cannot let them go away with a spot in the final. The final will be in our home and we deserve to play. After that fiery talk by him, the players got so motivated that we thrashed them 3-0."
But the final did not go according to Goa's script as they threw away a 2-1 lead and subsequently, went on to lose the trophy to Chennaiyin FC with two injury-time goals by Stiven Mendoza turning the tables.
"Immediately after the final whistle, I headed for the dressing room as I was disgusted and heart-broken. I thought I was the first one to enter. As I entered the washroom, I was completely shocked to see that Lucio, holding the door of the washroom, was sobbing like a child. He was crying inconsolably. That day I understood what should be the attitude of a winner. He has won everything and still, he was crying for losing the ISL title.
"I always wanted to avenge that loss. Seeing one of your idols and someone whom you have admired since childhood cry was very difficult. I am happy that this season we won the title by defeating Chennaiyin and by God's grace, I even assisted the third goal," expressed Halder.
After spending two years in India, Lucio went back home and signed for Gama, a club in his native district. After spending six months, he joined rivals Brasiliense and continued playing there until he retired in January, 2020.
Halder believes that he has matured immensely as a 'professional' after spending time with the Brazilian legend. His career soared and in the next season he went on to win the Federation Cup with Mohun Bagan in 2016. He became a regular in the senior national team under Stephen Constantine and is currently a vital cog in the ATK midfield under Antonio Habas.
He learnt that it is of paramount importance to take care of oneself in order to play for a longer period of time. If the 27-year-old is able to keep himself free from injury then he definitely has a long road ahead of him both at the club level and in national colours.