The kidnapping of a national football star’s mother shows the dark underbelly of Brazil’s beautiful game and its ransom-fuelled snatch squads.
This should have been the happiest of weeks for Dona Marina. Her footballer star son – dubbed the new Pele by many – was on the verge of a multi-million pound transfer to Real Madrid, and she was set for a long period of celebration.
But now police are investigating her kidnapping, piecing together photo-fits of the two men who stormed a Saturday barbecue on the Sao Paulo coast and abducted the 43-year-old Marina Lima de Souza, taking her to an unknown location.
According to witnesses the men – one of whom was armed with a pistol – jumped into the back garden of the house in Praia Grande. ‘Who’s Dona Marina, Robinho’s mum?’ demanded one before locking the guests in an upstairs bedroom and bundling their target into a silver Mercedes. By Monday morning, when police found the abandoned car nearby, there was still no word from the assailants.
Kidnaps are nothing new to Sao Paulo. According to the Department of Public Security there were 83 such cases between January and September of this year. But this time the story has hit the headlines. After all, it involves Brazil’s new ‘rei’ (king) of football: a superstar set to become one of the country’s richest players. More established Brazilian players routinely hire private security guards, wary of the attention their pay packets can draw. Santos striker Robinho himself had one and was known to be worried about his family being robbed.
“In Rio, just as much as Sao Paulo, kidnap is a really worrying thing for players,” said sports journalist Angelo Herrera.
“It isn’t the first time something like this has happened with a football player,” he explained, pointing to the kidnappings of Viola and Paulo Nunes, two other prominent Brazilian players.
“You’d think that because he was from a poorer background the kidnappers might not have done something like this, but they obviously knew exactly what they were doing and that he was going to be sold for all this money,” he added.
Robinho’s signing would have marked the highpoint in a remarkable career for the 20-year-old prodigy. Born into a poor community in Sao Paulo, Robinho’s rise to fame has been as mesmerizing as the step-overs for which he was known. A descendent of slaves from Brazil’s northeast, his salary is thought to be around 180,000 reais (£30,000) an astronomical amount in a country where 30 per cent live on the minimum wage. In recent months European giants like PSV Eindhoven, Benfica and Chelsea had all been linked with the baby-faced Brazilian. Sources say he would have commanded a fee of at least $14m.
“Robinho was a nice guy from a humble family,” said Herrera. “His mum was a maid.”
The kidnapping closed a traumatic week for Brazilian futebol. On Friday a player for the Minas Gerais team America was shot dead at a nightclub in Belo Horizonte. He had been enjoying the samba with friends when drug traffickers stormed the venue, one of whom was carrying a machine gun. The defender Claudinei Dutra Resende, 25, was shot in the back of the head, and five others were injured. A week earlier another player, Serginho, had a heart attack and died on the pitch whilst playing for Sao Caetano.
For all its beauty Brazilian football has never been a simple business. As in many walks of Brazilian life, corruption is widespread. After the 1998 World Cup a Parliamentary Inquiry was launched to probe the darker side of the beautiful game. “There are many truths,” said Ronaldo at the inquiry.
There is also a great deal of calamity. Last year World Cup star Romario lost his temper after an irate fan threw six chickens at him during a training session in Rio de Janeiro. “You’re going to give me a bollocking in my own home?’ he shouted before attacking the fan. Both Romario and his assailant were put up on charges after one of the chickens died en route to the pitch, incurring the wrath of animal rights activists.
As Robinho’s family wait to hear from the kidnappers, police are now focusing their investigation on the Baixada Santista, a middle class area outside of Sao Paulo. Yesterday police chief Alberto Corazza told press: “All I can say is that people who achieve success so quickly should be extremely careful… to avoid this kind of incident.”
Herrera said Robinho’s friends and family were in a state of shock but expected the case to be resolved soon. “No-one knows where she’s gone at the moment,” he said. “Things are complicated.”