How much time do you have off after the season finishes?
When I played in Brazil I barely had 20 days off because the state leagues start very early. In Europe I normally have 30 days, but it depends on what’s happening that summer. You can have up to 45 days off if you’re not playing in international games.
How do you relax after a long, hard season?
I’m actually obligated to do something because my wife doesn’t like to stay at home – she loves travelling – whereas I like to visit my home city, Rio [right] to enjoy the beach. But we compromise. Normally we travel for a week then we go back to Rio, to recharge the batteries. For me there’s nothing like staying at home to help me recover quickly.
More after the break
Do you enjoy a good Brazilian BBQ in the off-season?
Now more than ever because in Paris we haven’t found a Brazilian rodizio steakhouse. When we are in Brazil we go almost every day!
Does the rest of your diet go out the window?
I spend the whole season having a balanced diet with lots of salad and fruit, so for the first two weeks of my holiday I eat what I want, and then I start my preparation. When I’m on holiday I’m crazy about sweets and I can’t give them up – that’s why I normally put on weight easily. As I’ve got older I’ve realised that I need to be stricter and my wife helps keep me in line. Today I am more conscious about what I eat than when I was younger.
Do you work with a personal trainer when you go back to Brazil during the summer?
Yes, always. Marcelo Costa, the Milan physiotherapist, helps me a lot. I had the opportunity to work with him for three years at Fluminense and last year I recommended him to AC Milan. After two weeks of relaxing, my muscles have weakened. As soon as that fortnight is over I start on my cardio, doing weight training and performing exercises in the sand. This helps me to return to pre-season ready.
How long before the itch to play football kicks in?
I love football, but during the first week of my holiday I try not to do anything related to it – I just watch it on TV. During the third week I start having kickarounds and playing foot-volley. Even at home I play ball with my kids, because football is in my blood – I can’t be without it for long.
Are you excited about the first day of pre-season or dreading the pain?
When the season is over and you’re on the plane home, you feel relieved. There’s nothing better than winning a title and going on holiday with the feeling of accomplishment. When you are about to come back you think, ‘Damn, here we go again!’, because time goes by really fast and you know it’s not going to be easy.
Are there any killer exercises the players dread?
When we get back to training everything is dreadful. We normally start running, doing the physical preparation, and to a footballer there’s nothing worse, although we know it is important to get us prepared for the whole season. But it is boring, and on the first day you get home with the whole body in pain, hating all the drills and exercises. Unless you’re playing ball – then it’s normal.
Do the players get competitive during pre-season? The first to drop from exhaustion must get laughed at by the others, right?
I wouldn’t say competitive, but if it happens to someone he’ll certainly get laughed at. If you haven’t done anything during the pre-season, you will suffer a lot. When I played at Fluminense I didn’t do anything during my days off. Today I see how important it is to me. Also, now I’m captain of PSG and Brazil... if the captain is not doing well, he can’t demand it from the others.
How is pre-season broken up? Do you only work on fitness at the start and then move on to ball work?
It depends on the coach, the club’s mentality and also the country. At AC Milan, the first day of pre-season we played a match with 12 in each side, open to the fans. It was good, because they rarely have access to training sessions. Then we started the physical preparation. At Fluminense, the first day was all about doing medical exams, running on a treadmill with electrodes on your chest... I hated it! It also depends on the coach. I haven’t seen it at PSG yet, because last season I arrived after the Olympics, injured.
What player would you predict to be an absolute beast during pre-season – training the hardest and relishing the challenge?
At Milan, I’d say Pato was impressive. I thought, damn, how fast is this kid?! There was a 30-metre sprint exercise in which he was by far the best. If I’m not mistaken, his time was the second best ever in Milan, only losing to [former Brazil winger] Serginho.
How do you prepare mentally?
If you have won the league, you don’t think a lot about it; you’re just happy that it’s over and you have accomplished your mission. But if the season hasn’t been a success you can’t stop thinking about it, trying to find out what went wrong. At least, that’s how I am. There’s nothing I hate more than losing.
If you had to give FFT readers one essential piece of advice for getting through their pre-season training, what would it be?
I think they should adapt their training according to their needs. Defenders and strikers, who run almost the same during a match, should focus on power, sprinting, working out on the sand. Midfielders and full-backs, who cover long distances, should focus on running. I think this is essential.