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The Nilson Ricardo da Silva Junior interview that didn't work out

After weeks of correspondence with Bucheon FC 1995's media department, I finally got the sit-down interview I had hoped for with the legendary Brazilian center-back Nilson Junior. It didn't go as well as expected, and here's why.

Where to begin?

Let's go all the way back to the beginning. It was sometime in mid-August I contacted Bucheon's media department about a face-to-face interview with Nilson Junior. The club responded immediately with positive news but the delays in finalising were for two reasons; the players enjoyed a short break at the start of the recent international break, and slight confusion about what "face-to-face" means.

Why Nilson Junior? This is an interview I have wanted since joining K League United. Nilson Junior has played close to 300 games in this country and apart from a short spell in his native Brazil, Nilson has been ever-present in Korea, especially K League 2, since 2014. He has played for three clubs - Busan IPark (twice), Bucheon FC 1995 (twice), and FC Anyang - and given his form and fitness, he looks capable of at least another two seasons.

Scribbled down in a notebook, I was looking for answers to these questions. Who did Nilson Junior idolize as a child growing up during a golden period for his country? Brazil made three World Cup finals in succession, winning two, as the man from Recife was starting out his football journey. What are his thoughts on the health of the game in Korea today?

And what plans does he have for his retirement? Will Nilson Junior wear a suit as he manages Bucheon FC 1995 to the top flight? Or, will he prowl the touchline in a track-suit organizing FC Anyang's defense before a vital title decider with Seongnam FC? Perhaps, he'll be in a TV studio back home praising a new teenage prodigy at his first club, Nautico.

Finally, the time and date were confirmed. I'd meet Nilson Junior at Bucheon Stadium on Tuesday. The media department assured me there'd be "no problem" with the translation following a chaotic first meeting with Bucheon's number six in July. We had enough people for a five-a-side football game with all the translation work required. Even to this day, I'm struggling to figure out how five people were needed for one interview.

One minute past the arranged time of 15:30, I arrived at Bucheon Stadium's media center, where I had been instructed to go. The lights were off, and no one walking through the corridors knew what I was doing there. Immediately, an uneasy feeling hung over me. The media oficer informed me another staff member would accompany Nilson Junior, but then came a second message; he would be at least 30 minutes late.

Shortly after four, Nilson arrived in bright orange shorts and a t-shirt. He apologized profusely. Nilson is extremely friendly; he smiles often and doesn't lose eye contact. His level of English is enough for small talk related to football, but definitely not at interview standard. Nilson is a well-known local figure, popular around the ground because he's always courteous and respectful.

He was joined by a Portuguese translator. My heart sank after we shook hands. 

"Where is your translator?" she said.
"Isn't it you?"
"No. No. Not me. Did you write the questions in Portuguese?"

My Korean speaking skills are decent. I can hold a conversation but my listening skills are substandard. We conversed in Korean but the translator said she wasn't comfortable translating Nilson's replies into English. If this interview was to happen, they'd record it and email me the full transcript. The problem was, of course, how do you know what question to ask next when you didn't understand the answer before?

We practised to see how workable the situation was. I asked the questions in English and Korean. Nilson answered, but the translator couldn't respond in English. After several apologies and phone calls, one of Bucheon's youth coaches showed up. He spoke English, Korean, and Portuguese but understandably he felt uncomfortable, too. The new translator told me he'd transcribe the interview but wouldn't translate.

It was far from ideal, but we had no option. So, for the second time, I asked Nilson Junior about his earliest memories of playing football, his childhood heroes, and what he remembers about the 1994 and 2002 World Cups. Five minutes in, he started answering in English, and it stayed that way until 11 minutes 36 seconds when I stopped recording. We needed a better solution, and Nilson agreed.

What followed proves how accommodating Nilson is. He made several phone calls. Everyone he called was willing to help, but not right now. Tentative plans were made for future collaborations until the wife of a current K League 1 player agreed to translate with no prior notice. "She speaks very good." And she did.

The new translator was dismissed with our thanks. Nilson Junior and I sat down for the third attempt at an interview. Again, I asked about his childhood heroes. There are only so many times that question can be asked before it gets stale. Thankfully, the new translator was an improvement, but WiFi issues prevented the interview from flowing properly. It lasted 26 minutes. Shortly after 6 p.m., we shook hands and waved goodbye.

It was finally over.

However, it should also be pointed out, that every person involved in the interview process was outrageously friendly, kind, and considerate. Firstly Nilson Junior. He had to return to the stadium hours after the morning training session had ended, and he then went out of his way to find a more suitable translator. The two Portuguese-speaking translators spent much of the afternoon apologizing for mistakes they were not responsible for.

The original contact at the club could have rejected my proposal when I demanded a face-to-face interview or when I asked for a late afternoon slot. And who could forget the two people who accepted phone calls to act as translators, with no prior warning?

After the interview concluded, Nilson Junior, the original Portuguese translator, and I sat in the media center discussing Brazil. Nilson compared and contrasted Busan with Recife, his hometown, and showed us YouTube highlights of a game in 2009 where he shared the field with Ronaldo, seen by many as the greatest striker of all time. We talked about Neymar, Ireland's geographical location next to the UK, and why Bucheon is more convenient than Anyang.

I hope we haven't seen the last of Nilson Junior in this country. His contract with Bucheon FC expires in the winter and no contact has been made. He has a great story to tell, so perhaps we can try again some day, even if it means writing questions in Portuguese first.

More to come from Nilson Junior this weekend, so stay tuned to www.kleagueunited.com.


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