After 10 years in Europe that took in seven clubs, a lot of ups and more than his fair share of downs, Sandro is back in Brazil. Still only 31, he has fuel left to burn. The coronavirus crisis has given him time to mull over his time on the other side of the Atlantic, bask in what was and ruminate on what might have been. Having spent lockdown at his parents’ farm – where he was busy looking after his young children, riding his horse and strumming his guitar – he is in a reflective mood.
Now back at his home in Goiânia, where he plays for Série A club Goiás, he describes Tottenham and English football in glowing terms, calling the club “sensational” and the Premier League “the best in the world”. He laughs as he recalls the good times under Harry Redknapp and André Villas-Boas. Yet there is discernible melancholy in his voice as he discusses the injuries – psychological blows as much as physical ones, he says – and the move to QPR, which he calls the “biggest regret” of his career.
In 2010, Sandro had just won the Copa Libertadores with Internacional and was already a full Brazil international. Daniel Levy, the Tottenham chairman, made a huge effort to sign him, flying to the south of Brazil twice to convince Internacional directors to accept a £10m offer. When Sandro arrived in London, he found a group of players who had qualified for the Champions League. “That team was sensational,” he says. It is an adjective he uses a lot to describe Spurs. “You had Bale, Modric, Van der Vaart. Aaron Lennon, Peter Crouch, Gallas, Gomes in goal. They were players who really made the difference.”
As a 21-year-old who spoke no English, he was not expected to excel immediately. But after a few months and a helping hand from Heurelho Gomes – a fellow Brazilian who he cites as a mentor – Sandro took off. “I was destroying it,” he remembers. “I scored against Chelsea and stood out in the Champions League.” His positive personality helped. “I’m a happy guy, spontaneous. Even without being able to speak English, I joked and laughed with everyone.”
Being thrown into the Premier League with a hands-off manager such as Redknapp could have come as a culture shock. Apparently not. “’Arry Redknapp”, Sandro says with a chuckle in his best cockney accent. “It was incredible working with him. Regardless of a player’s reputation, he would take them off at the start of the second half. He’d make the three substitutions early, change things if he saw the team was playing badly. He was a big character. At the start he’d talk to me: ‘Sandro, calm. Take your time. Get used to it.’ Then I started playing regularly. And he really loved me.”
The fondness is genuine and he laughs more as he recalls one of the first big Premier League games Redknapp he started, against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. “He was talking a lot about his nephew. ‘Sandro, you have to be careful with Lampard, be careful with…