I remember the moment when I realized my life had changed— forever.
I was out at a restaurant in Lisbon with my friends on December 4, 2015. I was playing for Benfica and we had just finished a game against Académica that day and … O.K., it wasn’t just a regular game. I scored a pretty nice goal, you may have seen it. And it was my first for the club at the senior level. It was a wonderful moment that was a result of a lot of hard work put in by my family and myself. But on the pitch, I don’t know … it just felt like another goal.
Anyway, at the dinner there were some fans who were eating a few tables over and I guess they saw us. Now, I had played in the Benfica youth system for quite a while, so I was used to people recognizing me. Usually they’re very kind, calm and uplifting. Like they want you to know how hopeful they are that you’ll make it to the senior team — and they always tell you to keep working hard, like they’re your parents or something.
But these guys at the table … they were crazy. It’s like I was Messi or something. They were going nuts.
“RENATO! RENATO!!!!!!!! We need a photo! Please! Can we have a photo! REEEEEENATO!”
I sort of looked at my friends like, Ah, O.K. This is the way it’s going to be now. We’re going to have to order in from now on, I think.
It was really, really wild. I’m telling you. And that was just the beginning, I could never have guessed what was coming next.
I was still just a boy from Amadora, north of Lisbon. I had a humble childhood. My parents worked hard to give myself and my two brothers a good life. We moved around Portugal a lot, and sometimes we were in some not-so-good neighborhoods. That was life, though, and I didn’t know much else. My entire family were Benfiquistas — Benfica supporters — and that kept us connected to a community. Wherever we went, we would run into other Benfiquistas and we would instantly be able to relate to one another.
That’s what made growing up in and around Lisbon so special for me. It’s why I feel like I will always carry a part of Benfica with me wherever I go.
Sam Robles/The Players' TribuneI tried to remember that when I transferred to Bayern in 2016. That was about a month before I won the Euros with Portugal. And, man, the Euros were … beyond words — it’s the achievement I will be most proud of for a long, long time.
But I thought the tournament had prepared me for all the pressure in the Bundesliga. I thought I was ready. I found out pretty quick, though, that I wasn’t.
Football Munich, and in Germany as a whole, is so different. In Portugal, I would just run and run and run because I had the technical ability and awareness to make up for any fatigue. In Germany, you can run, but the game is so fast that it has to be coordinated otherwise you’ll get caught out of position. Everything was just … different.
My first season at Bayern wasn’t ideal. I know that. I heard what people were saying about me.
“Sell him while we can.”
The worst part was that, as hard as I tried, I just couldn’t find my game. I went to Swansea in 2017 because I needed to play. I needed minutes. I wanted to make sure the national team saw me playing a lot in a strong league so they could select me for the World Cup. But in Wales … it’s just like everything went wrong. Just as I was adjusting to my new team, I got these weird injuries — all on the same leg. I had never had injury trouble before, but all of a sudden I was out for months, sitting alone in an apartment in Swansea watching it rain all day.
Nothing prepares you for that.
I appreciated everyone at the club, but it just wasn’t meant to be, for whatever reason. And I missed out on the World Cup last summer. It’s just … like it’s not how any of this was supposed to go. I’m not complaining, I’m just trying to tell you I’m human, and sometimes things don’t go your way. I get it.
My dad, he had this saying he always used to tell me.
“You’re a warrior. A warrior never gives up. A warrior goes to the fight even when he thinks he will lose.”
I know some people have already written me off.
They need to talk to my dad, I think.
Last summer, playing with Bayern again, I feel like I began to find my game. I had these big goals after we won Euros. I wanted to win the Ballon d’Or, win all these medals and trophies. And I still have those ambitions, but now when I picture my future, they come after my new dreams.
I want to be in great shape. I want to play more minutes. I want to keep hearing people around Munich say, “That’s the Renato we signed, that’s why we got him.”
I feel like, with time, I’ll get there. This season has been getting better for us, and for me. I know we can keep improving, and I know that I’m capable of much more.
My journey hasn’t been simple.
But it’s not over. Not even close.