The world’s greatest ball boy

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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 didn’t live up to his name in Brazil – in fact, his stint here would be short of unremarkable if it wasn’t 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 it’s 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 world’s greatest gandula. At least it’s 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 São 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 – breaking more sweat than much big name players on the pitch.

When he’s 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. “I don’t know which championship Rio Preto will play in the second semester, so I can hear offers from big clubs”, he says. “I earn around R$ 30 per match [£ 8.50], if someone pays me R$ 40 [£ 10], I’ll accept. But if it’s in São Paulo, they’ll have to pay also the plane ticket.”

Leandro’s dream is to be a ball boy at Real Madrid. But even if it doesn’t happen – the signing-happy fellas at Santiago Bernabeu might well be considering him by now – he feels he’s 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 – the Commercial ball boy swinging an iron bar at Botafogo’s goalkeeper is the nadir of the office.)

“The 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 copied”, says another happy graduated of Muhammad Ali’s School of Modesty. One can’t say he’s not in the right path...