Letter to My Brother

Sam Robles/The Players' Tribune

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Dear Noah, 

I love you. This is the first thing, above everything else. 

Since day one, I feel that we’ve had a special connection. I have never told you this, but when you were about to be born, you actually waited for me to score a goal. 

It’s true, brother. I was playing an important match at the time, just 13 years old, but you did not want to enter this world yet. The clock ticked and ticked, and Mom and Dad were wondering what you were waiting for. Then all of a sudden Dad got a call from his friend who was at the game.

He said, “Douglas!! Douglas!! Endrick just scored!!”

And then at that exact moment, all you heard in the hospital room was Wwwwwwaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!

You finally came out to celebrate with me. When I got to the hospital, I gave you a birthday gift. I didn’t have any money for a toy, but I got you the golden ball from the tournament. 

You see? In our family, we weren’t born into wealth. We were born into football. 

Endrick | Letter to My Brother | The Players' Tribune
Marcello Zambrana/AGIF (via AP)

I don’t know when you will be reading this letter, but right now you are four years old, and our lives are changing very fast. In the next few months, I am going to Spain to play for Real Madrid — yes, the team that I always pick on PlayStation when you watch me. I know that the world will want to know about our family’s story. And it’s a crazy story, brother! So this is my chance to tell it to you as it really happened, and with Mom and Dad here to help me. 

As you know, in our family it always starts and ends with a ball. Mom says that when I was a baby, I never ever did a vvvrroooooom!!! like you. If you gave me a toy, I would hold it for five seconds and then put it right back in the box. All I wanted was “baw, baw baw, baw.”

A ball of tape. A sock. A basketball. It didn’t matter. If it was round, or even square, I wanted to kick it. When I was given the Brazuca World Cup ball from Dad’s team at the várzea, I used to just stare at the colors, like it was a painting. I used to sleep with it! It’s in our blood, brother. 

You can ask Mom how I used to introduce myself to people. 

“And what’s your name, kid?”

“Endrick Felipe Moreira de Sousa, FORWARD.”

They would laugh at me, you know? What a cute little kid.

But brother, I meant it. 

I was convinced that I would make it, and Mom still cries when she remembers that.

She always did say that words have power. 

Endrick | Letter to My Brother | The Players' Tribune
Courtesy of Endrick

Back then, we didn’t live in a fancy apartment like we do now. We didn’t have a fridge full of the yogurts that you love so much. We lived in a place called Vila Guaíra, and our life was very different. You will hear all about our life from others in the years to come, and they will say that it was all pain and misery. But the truth is that I lived an amazing childhood, thanks to God, and thanks to everything that Mom and Dad sacrificed. And thanks to football, of course. 

I don’t think I’ve told you this, but when I was around your age, our street was on this hill. We used to play football there with all the guys in the neighbourhood, and part of the reason we got so good is that if the ball rolled down the hill, the one who missed the goal was the one who had to go chase it all the way down into the favela below. So you ran past a player, you missed a chance, and then you had to run even harder to catch the ball before it rolled to the bottom. 

It was exhausting, but the rules on the street were very clear. 

You miss? You run.

I miss that time a lot, when I was just a kid and football was just a game, when we were friends sitting around and having a good chat … resenha, as we call it. I really wish you and I could have experienced those days together, brother. 

When I think about it, I am happy and sad at the same time. Good memories that I can never go back to, you know?

Even the bad memories, they are sometimes sweet. 

When you grow up, you’re going to hear this story about “the conversation on the couch.” They already talk about it in Brazil, but most people get it wrong. They say that we were poor, that we didn’t have any food, but that’s not true. They don’t know Mom, you know? She always tells people, “I’m too much of a woman to let my kids go without food.” 

What is true is that I saw Dad cry that day. As a 10-year-old kid, I think it was the first time in my life that I understood that our situation was difficult. 

At our table, we always had enough for what we needed.

But we did not always have enough for what we wanted

Do you understand the difference? 

We were always scraping by on the bare minimum. Dad says that I sat on the couch and told him, “Don’t worry. I’m gonna become a footballer, and I’m gonna take us out of this situation.” 

Before that day, I was just a kid, and football was just a game. 

After that day, football became our way to a better life. 

Endrick | Letter to My Brother | The Players' Tribune
Courtesy of Endrick

A few weeks later, I left for the city of São Paulo to go to the academy at Palmeiras, and I set my first goal: To make a better situation for our family. 

Goals are a big part of my life. It is my way of talking to God. When I left for Palmeiras, I knew that I would have at least two or three meals a day at school and training. Unfortunately, for Mom, it was not so simple….

She left behind her life back home to support my dream in São Paulo. The club only had space for me, but she said there was no way I was going without her. Dad stayed behind to work and send us money, and she moved in with me in a little house together with some of my teammates. Everybody under one roof. But when we went out to train, she had nobody to talk to. We didn’t have a TV or internet in the house, so she used to take her Bible to the park and sit and talk to God all by herself. All she really had in that place was a chair. She would put her bag on it, and when we went to bed, she would sleep on a little mattress on the floor. 

I know it’s hard for you to imagine Mom sleeping on the floor, but this is the truth. This actually happened. 

Sometimes Mom would literally be counting our last change. Dad was sending us money, but these were the days before Pix, when you couldn’t send money instantly, and it would take a day or two to go through. On the good days, when the money came through, Mom would cook sausages for the other boys. But most days, we only had enough to feed ourselves, and she felt so guilty cooking in the house, because they could smell the meat cooking, and they would ask if there was any for them, too…. What could she say? There was nothing left. 

Actually, it was so painful for her that she stopped cooking completely. 

I remember there were times when I was kind of hungry, just before bed, you know? Like, I could eat. I would ask Mom if she had something, and she would say, “Just go to sleep, Endrick. Sleep will make it go away.”

Sometimes, when we were really desperate for money, Mom was able to borrow some rice or some change. But one day, brother…. She had no favors left. She had no money and no one to go to. 

She called Dad and said, “Douglas, I’m hungry … I don’t know what to do.”

Dad sent 50 reais, but it wasn’t going to be available until the next day. She got down on her knees and prayed to God to help her. Then she got her bag from her chair and started pulling out everything, digging into the bottom. 

She found two reais, brother. Loose change. A gift from God.

She went to the grocery store and bought some two-day-old bread. And if you ask her now, she will tell you that it tasted incredible. She says that hunger is a very strange sensation, and it makes even stale bread taste like heaven. 

To be honest, I wish I didn’t have to tell you this, because hunger is not a good thing. I hope that you will never experience it, like Mom did. But it is an important part of our story. The next time you see her, give her a hug and say thank you, because without her sacrifices we would not have the life we have today. 

Endrick | Letter to My Brother | The Players' Tribune
Alexandre Schneider/Getty Images

In fact, I didn’t even know a lot of these stories until recently, because Mom always hid her pain to protect my dream. I never saw her cry. She used to go into the bathroom so that I wouldn’t notice. She called Dad many times telling him that she couldn’t do it anymore, and that she wanted to go back home, but then I would come home from training, and me and my friends would be telling stories about what happened that day, and the goals that we scored…. And she could see my eyes shining. 

So she stayed. For me. For us

That’s our mom, always doing what is necessary. Sometimes she is the sergeant, the one who fights and yells and says the things we need to hear, but don’t want to hear. And other times she can hug us and make us the best omelets in the world. Whatever she does, remember that it’s all for one simple reason. She always wants what is best for us. 

Dad sacrificed a lot, too. After a few months, he came to São Paulo to support us, and he went to Palmeiras and asked the club for any job that he could get. They had one opening. It was on the cleaning crew inside the stadium. He always dreamed of being in that dressing room when he was a boy, so he went to work with a smile. He worked there for three years, first picking up garbage around the stadium and then getting promoted to clean the dressing room of the first team. He would tell the players that one day his son was going to be playing with them. 

One day, the goalkeeper Jailson noticed that Dad was getting skinnier and skinnier. In the cafeteria, the cleaning crew and the staff ate with the players, and he noticed that Dad was only eating soup. So he put his arm around Dad and said, “Hey Douglas, give me your phone, I want to call your wife.”

Dad said, “My wife? What do you want with my wife???”

Jailson said, “No, no, I want her to tell me what’s going on with you. You never eat anything. Are you O.K.?” 

Dad was too embarrassed to explain, so Jailson actually called Mom, and she told him the real story. How Dad had burned his hand as a little kid on a barbeque, and how it was so bad that he nearly lost his hand. They put him on strong medication to fight the infection, and it made his teeth weak. By the time he was working for Palmeiras, they were all falling out. He could only eat soup. 

Jailson pulled money together from all the players, and they surprised Dad with money for him to get his teeth fixed. God works in amazing ways, brother. 

Dad used to say, “My dream is to bite an apple.” 

Today, thanks to God, he can bite any food he wants.

Around that time, my second goal was reached, too. We moved into an apartment above a lottery shop right next to the Palmeiras stadium. I could look out the window and see my dream every single morning when I woke up, and every night when I went to bed. 

It was beautiful.

Endrick | Letter to My Brother | The Players' Tribune
Ricardo Moreira/Getty Images

Wait, I forgot to tell you the full story about Dad….

Mom is our rock, and Dad is our friend. That’s how it’s always been. But there is a lot more to his story that you haven’t heard. If you think I had it tough, you’re wrong. I was born in paradise compared to Dad. When he was a boy, our grandfather was not always there for the family. Football was his way out, too. When he was 15 years old, Dad left home and hitchhiked from Brasília to São Paulo. Half the time he walked the highway! Walked! That’s a long way, brother. He didn’t even tell his Mom! The whole way, he carried his life on his back: a pair of football boots, two 2-liter bottles — one with water, the other with powdered juice — and a couple of baguettes. His plan was to do trials with every club in the city. It took him a whole week, hitchhiking and walking in between.

When he finally arrived in São Paulo, he had no money and nowhere to go, so he just walked around knocking on the doors of clubs asking when they held trials. Somebody from São Paulo FC saw that he was struggling and gave him some food from their cafeteria. On one of the coldest nights, another lady from a charity saw that he was sleeping under a tree in a park and invited him to a shelter. But it was so warm in the shelter, and it had been more than three nights since he’d slept in a bed, so he overslept and missed the trials for Nacional AC the next day. 

Can you imagine how tired Dad must have been? Can you imagine spending a week walking to pursue your dream, to get to that one trial … and then you miss it? 

When he told me, brother, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. 

There was another night when it was raining, and Dad didn’t have anywhere to go, so he walked to the Palmeiras stadium, and he slept under the roof of the ticket booth. He wasn’t able to make his dream happen, but he gave everything. 

When he got back to Brasília, he played in the várzea for his livelihood. You know várzea, right? There are no salaries there, brother. It’s pure passion. They play for a little “help,” if anything. Dad played for his electric bill, or for a little bag of rice. When I was little, I used to tag along to every match with him and play around with a ball on the sideline. When it was halftime, and they were playing music and everyone was partying and making bets, I used to go out on the pitch and do tricks. (Do you think this is why I still sing songs to myself while I am playing in a match?)

Dad actually used to see me after the games and say, “Endrick, how the hell did you get a Coca-Cola? You haven’t taken it from someone, have you?”

I’d say, “No, no, I hit the crossbar and Dudu over there won 10 reais. He bought me a Coke for helping him win his bet. If I hit it again, he’s gonna buy me a meat skewer!” 

That was my hustle! Mom says I used to come home completely grey from playing in the dirt so long. You know the ashy earth in Brazil. I hope you still know it. Mom had to wash me like a dog. The minute I was clean, pssshhewww — outside again like a rocket. 

(Remember what I said? Born into football.)

My dream was not just my dream, but our father’s dream, our grandfather’s dream, our whole family’s dream. 

Do you think when Dad was sleeping under the ticket booth at the Palmeiras stadium, he would have dreamed that his son would play there one day? 

Endrick | Letter to My Brother | The Players' Tribune
Sam Robles/The Players' Tribune

When I was 15, and I turned professional with Palmeiras, I can honestly say that I had everything I ever wanted in my life, thank God. I was able to buy Mom a house and move both of our grandmothers out of Chaparral, a very dangerous place. After that conversation I had with Dad on the couch, I knew that I had reached my first goal: To help my family have a better life. 

What a moment! 

But also … brother … what a relief. 

By the time you were a baby, we were living a very different life, and that life is only going to keep changing in the years to come. 

In a few months, I will leave for Spain, and you are coming with me. Real Madrid….  It was my third goal, but one that I never dared to actually write down. When I was 7 or 8 years old, I didn’t have a phone or anything, so I used to borrow Mom’s computer and watch highlights of Real Madrid. I know you are too young to remember these names, but I was obsessed with that 2013–14 team with Cristiano and Modrić and Benzema. That was my gateway into the history of the club. I started going on YouTube and learning about the Galácticos and then deeper and deeper — Puskás, Di Stéfano.… Trust me, in Madrid, you’ll hear more about these names soon enough. 

Endrick | Letter to My Brother | The Players' Tribune
Courtesy of Endrick

You can learn anything on YouTube. It’s like a university. More than anyone, I watched Cristiano. Not just his highlights, but also how hard he worked, and what others said about his mentality. From him, I learned that hard work is more important than talent. 

One day, I hope to meet him. I still haven’t yet, as I am writing this. But his son follows me on Instagram, so I hope that by the time you are reading this I have been able to shake his hand. God willing, all will go well at Real Madrid and with my career, and Cristiano will follow me! Maybe you and me both! Hahaha. 

To meet Cristiano Ronaldo. That is goal number 4. 

Goal number 5 is that the rest of this season with Palmerias ends in harmony with us winning the Paulista. 

And goal number 6 … I actually have a funny story about that one. When I went to visit Real Madrid for the first time a few months ago, many amazing things happened. When we met Florentino Pérez, he looked Dad in the eye and said “Real Madrid will be the only club that will treat Endrick like a son.” 

You should have seen Dad’s face when he said that. It really meant a lot to him.

I met Bellingham, the really good one that always scores for me on PlayStation, and everyone calls him Jude, so I told him, “Hey Jude, for my next goal, I will celebrate like you.” When I scored, I sent him the video on Instagram, and he reposted it. 

I even got some advice from Ronaldo, O Fenômeno. It was all a blur, like I was in a dream. But the thing that I remember the most is when I went into the dressing room and Modrić talked to me. His number 10 shirt was hanging up and he pointed to the seat next to him and said, “Number 9 and Number 10. Who knows … next season, maybe you’ll sit next to me.”

That really attached to my heart. I thought, Man, if Modrić believes I am worthy to wear the number 9, then I must be worthy. 

I have not arrived in Madrid yet, so I don’t know, but I hope that one day I will wear the number 9 for Real Madrid.  

And as for goal number 7? I want my own house in Madrid with an office where I can put up a big whiteboard so I can write all my goals on it! Hahaha. Mom will still not let me put up a whiteboard in her house! 

“There is no room, Endrick! Simply no room!” 

You know how she is. We have to respect her. 

I actually had another goal, but I’m not going to number it, because it has already been achieved. That goal is that you live the life that you want, whatever that is. 

Endrick | Letter to My Brother | The Players' Tribune
Sam Robles/The Players' Tribune

For three generations, and maybe more, our family has chased the dream of football. We have been trying to change our circumstances. But now you can do whatever you want. You can be a doctor or lawyer, or maybe since we are going to Spain, the country of Nadal and Alcaraz, you can become a professional tennis player. You are already chasing the ball, like me. So you can be a footballer if you want. But you don’t have to be. There is no stress anymore, thanks to God, thanks to Mom and Dad, and thanks to football. 

You just enjoy your life how you want, brother. That is my gift to you. 

And now this is where this letter ends and the future begins. You see, people ask me all the time about Real Madrid, and the national team, and how I think my career will go. But do you know what the truth is?

I simply don’t know. 

In life, we don’t know what tomorrow will bring. We don’t know if we will even get a tomorrow. All we can do is thank God for all he has given us. 

Endrick | Letter to My Brother | The Players' Tribune
Sam Robles/The Players' Tribune

I hope you understand now, brother. The life we are living right now did not come out of nowhere. It was earned, with hard work and a lot of tears. Mom always says that a single mistake can make it fall apart, and she is right. 

The moment we forget where we came from, we risk losing our way.

That is why I am giving you this gift of our family's history.

Mom eating the old bread.

Dad sleeping under the ticket booth.

Mom crying in the bathroom. 

Dad crying on the couch.

May you always keep it in your heart. 

Love you, brother. 

From the bottom of my heart,

Endrick Felipe Moreira de Sousa, FORWARD