“I didn’t listen to anybody. I chose the wrong path and the wrong friends. Today all I want is to help young talented players to avoid making the same mistakes as I did.”
So says Fabio Paim, a boyhood friend of Cristiano Ronaldo whose career could have followed a similar route to trophies, acclaim and all the trappings of fame and fortune.
In fact, Ronaldo is quoted as having once said in his younger days: “If you think I’m good, just wait until you see Fabio Paim.”
But as his old companheiro de equipe laments: “I didn’t listen to people who wanted to help me when I was younger. I was so successful that I didn’t care about the tips my mother, my uncle and my agent Jorge Mendes gave me.”
Once heralded as the golden boy of Portuguese football, Paim is a classic case of a gifted player who wasn’t comfortable in the spotlight and struggled to come to terms with the expectations placed on him.
He had talent in abundance as a skilful, pacy winger but wasn’t strong-willed and disciplined enough to go the extra mile and make the most of it.
A succession of injuries, poor form and a lack of faith shown in him by managers at a long list of clubs all contributed, but the 27-year-old mostly blames himself.
“All I want to say to young players is: don’t make the same mistakes I did. Being talented is not enough. Regardless of your skills you always have to work and always be hungry.
“Ronaldo really grafted and always tuned out complacency. He worked his socks off. I didn’t. I didn’t work hard enough to shine”
“I was also surrounded by many fake friends who only wanted to be around me because of my money and fame and not because they cared about me. This spoiled my career.”
A graduate of Sporting Lisbon’s world-renowned academy, Paim admits that while his team-mates concentrated on football , his mind was on what he would do after training, which car he was going to buy and what girl he was going to meet up with.
Despite being two years his senior, Ronaldo looked up to the younger man at Sporting, but had the appetite for hard work and desire to improve that his compatriot lacked.
That laid the foundations for his glorious career at Manchester United and Real Madrid, but Paim has no feelings of envy or resentment towards him.
“Ronaldo? I am happy for him. He was such a great lad, and what a great player he has become. Unlike me, he was very disciplined, ambitious and a hard worker.
“He really grafted and always tuned out complacency. Day by day, he worked his socks off. I didn’t. I didn’t work hard enough to shine.
“People said that I was better than him, even Ronaldo pointed this out one day. The fact that I could have had a similar great career makes me proud.”
Paim, who played for all of Portugal’s international age group teams from under-16 to under-21, was the driving force of a breathtaking Sporting Lisbon U21 side which also featured Nani, Joao Moutinho, Ricardo Quaresma and, of course. Ronaldo.
And yet he left Sporting in 2010 without having made a senior appearance. “Do you want to know why? Paulo Bento, the manager at the time, never showed faith in me, he didn’t like me as a person. He thought I was a rebel. Injuries? I wasn’t injured.
“Chelsea, then managed by Felipe Scolari, signed him in 2008 but in a four-month spell he failed to impress”
“I trained with the first team and despite my talent I never played, whereas less gifted players were handed the chance to impress.”
In total, he has turned out for 16 clubs, including ones in Angola, Malta and Qatar. Most recently, he found himself playing in Luxembourg’s second division.
“I might not have been disciplined enough, but honestly I didn’t make the right choices to join some clubs. In many, the managers didn’t trust me and often underestimated me.
“When I played at Torreense [in the second tier in Portugal], I was the best player and had an influential role in helping them seal promotion. But once in the top-flight, the manager discarded me inexplicably.”
Since 2007, he has made just 52 senior appearances, with lacklustre loan spells at seven clubs. However, at one of those he thought his childhood dreams had finally come true.
Chelsea, then managed by Felipe Scolari, signed him in 2008 but in a four-month spell he failed to impress the Brazilian, who he describes as “single-minded, hard, demanding but very lovely off the pitch”.
Maybe that experience at Chelsea is something he will tell his grandkids about one day. Not many people can say they have trained with world-class talents such as Didier Drogba, Michael Ballack and Petr Cech.
Paim reveals how compatriots Ricardo Carvalho, Paulo Ferreira and Jose Bosingwa tried to nurture him on and off the pitch. “They were always there for me. They helped me to settle down a lot, and I’m still in contact with them.”
“Since our interview, Paim has parted company with Union 05. Another chapter in his tale of what might have been…”
Four years earlier, Scolari had been in charge of the Portugal team when he called up Paim to his 30-man squad for Euro 2004.
“I was so honoured by this!” he exclaims. “I was only 17 years old back then, and being considered as one of your country’s 30 best players was incredible. I am so proud, even if didn’t make it to the Euros [as part of the final 23-man squad].”
When we spoke, Paim was hoping to resurrect his fading career at Union 05 Kayl-Tétange in Luxembourg.
“Helping Kayl to promotion is what I am here for. I know the expectations of me are many, but I know how to deal with it.
“I really love being here, unlike some other clubs I played for. Some were a real disgrace. At least I get paid and people have faith in my abilities.
“In Malta for example they didn’t pay me for six months… which was a real shock as I had to feed my family. Here so far, everything is going according to plan and I am really happy.”
Sadly, since our interview, Paim has parted company with Union 05. Another chapter in his sorry tale of what might have been…