Hi Phil. You’re pretty nifty at beating defenders, so tell us: how do you do it?
Hi. I always try to be quick in possession, whether that’s running with the ball, playing a quick pass or trying a trick. I often use my body to hide the ball and this is one of the things that I enjoy doing the most when I’m playing. I really like to dribble and that’s my role in the team. I try to find spaces for my team-mates.
You have a very fluid dribbling style; do you know where this comes from?
Brazilian football has a unique style; we have happiness in our game. If you look the style of Brazilian players, they always want to dribble. This style is something that I always want to be part of my game. These are our natural movements from Brazil and I guess I developed it as a child when I was learning how to play the game.
With Brazil having produced so many great creative players – who did you love watching when you were young?
There are so many to mention but the best player I have ever seen is Ronaldinho. I would have loved to have played with him. He could do incredible things with the ball and always played with such freedom on the pitch. He was such an unpredictable player - defenders hate facing those players.
You often use your studs to control the ball with your first touch – why?
It’s something i’ve done from a young age. All players need to develop good control in the final third of the pitch, but for attacking players it’s even more important: if we lose the ball then the team could be hit by a counter-attack and conced. A good way to perfect your control is to practise receiving and passing the ball in a tiny area. This will help you to think much faster and improve your feel for the ball.
Speed of thought is vital for creative players – so how did you go about developing a sharp football brain?
I think this comes from the intensity at which we train, but also the work we do with our physical trainer. We do a lot of work on agility which means we become used to making spontaneous movements. The day before a game, and in the warm-up, we will practise short, sharp passes. A combination of the two helps to give me that mental sharpness.
Fast passing is a big part of Liverpool’s game – how do the players work on this in training?
We work really hard on our passing game, because our manager [Jurgen Klopp] really likes this type of playing style. Something we practise a lot is playing three short passes on one side of the pitch and then switching the play with a longer pass. We often repeat that routine. One of the reasons we do this is so the forwards can try to escape their markers and open up spaces on the pitch very quickly.
How important is confidence for creative players such as yourself?
Confidence is a huge factor out on the pitch. I think this comes through repeated quality training, which gives you belief in your ability and the confidence to transfer your work on the training ground to the pitch. If we only get two or three chances in 90 minutes, you need to be confident you will make the right decision in the final third and put the ball in the back of the net.
How do you develop the ability to stay composed and regularly make the right decisions in those areas?
I don’t think there’s a secret – you just have to practise making these decisions a lot. Attacking midfielders need to play with happiness - by that I mean dribbling at pace and making things happen – and if you do that every day then you will tap into the perfect mental state to be creative. On top of this, you need to run a lot to create spaces for you and the other players.
How much do you enjoy linking up with Neymar when you play alongside him for Brazil?
A lot. He's our main idol in Brazilian football and someone young children look up to. He's the best player and for me is a mirror of the player I want to be. He’s a close friend of mine and it’s great to have a team-mate the same age as me who I admire. If you see the type of football that he plays for Brazil and Barcelona…wow. It’s just really inspiring.
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