The worldÃ¢ÂÂs greatest ball boy
Bernardo Gandulla was an Argentinian midfielder who landed in Rio de Janeiro in 1939, to play for Vasco da Gama.
Despite being a much hyped player South of the border, he didnÃ¢ÂÂt live up to his name in Brazil Ã¢ÂÂ in fact, his stint here would be short of unremarkable if it wasnÃ¢ÂÂt for his one distinctive characteristic: every time the ball went out of play, Gandulla rushed to get it and deliver it back to the pitch, no matter which team had the possession.
Call it a high standard of sportsmanship or just plain nonsense, the fact is that the Argentinian was immortalised in Brazil by christening the role of the ball boy: the word gandula made the dictionaries and itÃ¢ÂÂs the only term used to refer to the duty in the land of the beautiful game.
A little history just to say that us Brazilians discovered this week that, besides having both Fifa World Best Players, male and female, we also have the worldÃ¢ÂÂs greatest gandula. At least itÃ¢ÂÂs the smarty opinion of 28-year-old Leandro Augusto Ribeiro, ball boy for the small squad of Rio Preto, who claims the title to himself.
Despite being at the touchlines of the Anisio Haddad stadium since 1999, Leandro was introduced to the national audience only this week, when the recently promoted Rio Preto faced Corinthians in a SÃÂ£o Paulo State Championship match. In full kit, wearing goalkeeper gloves, the ball boy put on indeed a formidable show, running and diving for the lost balls Ã¢ÂÂ breaking more sweat than much big name players on the pitch.
When heÃ¢ÂÂs not performing his art, Leandro works as a motorcycle delivery boy. But his days as a blue collar might be near the end, since the media exposition has led him to fancy a millionaire signing. Ã¢ÂÂI donÃ¢ÂÂt know which championship Rio Preto will play in the second semester, so I can hear offers from big clubsÃ¢ÂÂ, he says. Ã¢ÂÂI earn around R$ 30 per match [ÃÂ£ 8.50], if someone pays me R$ 40 [ÃÂ£ 10], IÃ¢ÂÂll accept. But if itÃ¢ÂÂs in SÃÂ£o Paulo, theyÃ¢ÂÂll have to pay also the plane ticket.Ã¢ÂÂ
LeandroÃ¢ÂÂs dream is to be a ball boy at Real Madrid. But even if it doesnÃ¢ÂÂt happen Ã¢ÂÂ the signing-happy fellas at Santiago Bernabeu might well be considering him by now Ã¢ÂÂ he feels heÃ¢ÂÂs satisfied for accomplishing the mission of being a good example to the ball boys around the world.
(Which he undisputable is, especially when we remember what some of his fellow Brazilian gandulas have done in the past Ã¢ÂÂ the Commercial ball boy swinging an iron bar at BotafogoÃ¢ÂÂs goalkeeper is the nadir of the office.)
Ã¢ÂÂThe gandulas have a reputation of troublemakers, who hide balls, who are sent off... Before me, the gandulas only made the headlines for messing things up. I wanted to change that. I hope others adopt my style, since good things should be copiedÃ¢ÂÂ, says another happy graduated of Muhammad AliÃ¢ÂÂs School of Modesty. One canÃ¢ÂÂt say heÃ¢ÂÂs not in the right path...