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Interview: Daejeon Hana Citizen's gentleman striker Tiago Orobó

K League United has had the pleasure of sitting down for an interview with Tiago Pereira da Silva for the second season in succession, a second season in a row that the Brazilian is in the golden boot race. "Tiago Orobó," to go by his short name, was gunning for the K League 2 golden boot last year but narrowly lost out to eventual teammate Yu Kang-hyun and so is more determined not to miss out this time in K League 1. With two games to go in the 2023 Hana 1Q K League 1 season, Tiago is neck and neck with Ulsan Hyundai's Joo Min-kyu.

There's a bit of Júnior Negrão about Tiago Orobó in the sense that he's every bit a gentleman. With the way he talks and how polite and humble he is, it might be hard to believe that he's as ruthless as they come in front of goal. The 30-year-old has made the step up to K League 1 with ease, scoring in Daejeon's very first game back in the top flight, and has gone on to score 16 goals this season, putting him in the golden boot race.

Tiago missed out on the golden boot last year when with Gyeongnam FC in K League 2, finishing second behind Yu Kang-hyun, then of Chungnam Asan. Yu scored 19 in the regular season, Tiago scored 18 but notched a 19th in the playoffs against Bucheon. But by then, with the K League awards already handed out, it was too late. All the more reason for Tiago to make sure he wins it this year. He's determined to win it, or "desperate" was the word used in the interview for K League United

Tiago wasn't always a striker, though. He tells of how he started out as an attacking midfielder and even a winger at various points throughout his career which, given how clinical he is and how natural of a finisher he is, could be hard to believe. But now, heading into his peak years at the age of 30, there's no question that he is a very effective no. 9 type.

He idolised some legendary Brazilian no. 9s and they don't get more legendary than Ronaldo Nazário, someone who, Tiago says, is second only to Pele in popularity back home in Brazil. But it was the other Ronaldo, Cristiano, that Tiago said he tried to emulate in terms of style of play. Didier Drogba too was an influence.

Tiago has endeared himself well to the fans at Purple Arena. Scoring goals will have helped but his charm and kind nature have made him a firm favourite. So much so that hundreds of Tiago masks were printed and worn by fans for the 3-1 win over Suwon Bluewings in Round 31. But he's not just rendered himself to the fans; he gets on well with the rest of the squad and, to his own admission, if spoke a bit more English he thinks that communication would have been a bit better.

He has been a big part of Daejeon's successful first season back in the top flight, scoring important goals and goals that have earned valuable points. In fact, if you take into account goals scored in matches that Daejeon have won or drawn, Tiago's goals have helped earn 10 points more. If you take into account assists as well, it's another three (aside from in the 2-2 draw with Bluewings and 3-3 draw with Incheon, games he also scored in).

Tiago opening his account for Daejeon at home to Gangwon in Round 1

Naturally, Tiago is pleased to have played such a big part in the club's first season back at K League 1 level:

"I was very happy to be a big part of the team this season. And that's thanks to all my teammates who have helped me along the way. And I mean, obviously, all the stats that I can show up to this date were thanks to all the hard work at the training center. Even before I came to Daejeon I knew that there were going to be a lot of expectations from the fans and from the teammates between ourselves also. But thankfully, I was able to meet up to these expectations and perform. We still have more games to go this season, and hopefully, we can bring more happiness and more joy to the fans."

He's also scored goals at important times during matches, sometimes when he hasn't had a lot of the ball. This has been a theme this season and has made Tiago's goal record all the more impressive. 

"Interestingly, just before our game against Bluewings, I had chat with my brother who has a lot of, lot of knowledge about football, and he mentioned that I don't actually get a lot of chances mid-game to score but when I do, I take advantage. I have a little secret. I talk to myself a lot during the game so if I have a chance but miss, then I tell myself to keep my head up; that the next chance I'll have I'm for sure going to finish it. But if I don't get a lot of chances or balls to my feet in the game then I just tell myself to be patient; that more chances are going to come in the future and whenever I get the ball, if I don't score then I tell myself that I at least have to make the goalkeeper work."

Cho Yu-min & Tiago: From toughest opponents to the best of teammates in the space of a year

A K League United interview with Cho Yu-min last season revealed that Tiago was his toughest opponent due to his heading ability among other things. When Tiago was asked what he thought about that he said he was "flattered" and picked him as the toughest defender he'd faced. The two now are teammates, so what's Cho like to play with rather than against?

"Yu-min, in general, is a great player and for sure deserves to be in the national team. He has a lot of ability, including passing and heading, and unfortunately, we lost him this season for many games because of his injury but thankfully he was able to come back and help the team. He's a big help on and off the pitch as a good player and a good leader."

Sixteen goals for the campaign is equal to Daejeon's top-flight record, something which Tiago now has two games left to try and beat outright. The overall record is the 20 goals scored by Kim Dong-chan in K League 2 in 2016 which is perhaps a little less realistic.

But with so much focus within and around the club about the golden boot, Tiago could be forgiven for feeling the pressure. In fact, at half time during the Round 36 match against Gangwon last time out, Cho Yu-min felt as though the focus on Tiago going for the golden boot and Leandro going for the leading assist maker award was affecting the team's performance:

"Can we try to slow down a bit and relax?", he says in the dressing room, as captured during the Off The Pitch mini-documentary. Adding: "If we are a bit more meticulous we can do it, bit more thorough. Looking at it from a third party's point of view, you'd think we're paying too much attention to personal records. If we play as a team then chances will come, that's how I see it. Please tell them [Tiago and Leandro] to be a bit more team-orientated." 

But, Tiago says it's "normal" for a striker to be talked about in this way and scoring goals is his "function":

"I mean, that's part of the job, you know? Many people talk about it and it's part of the process. So I don't feel any pressure at all. In my position it's normal for people to keep talking about it, asking a lot of questions about it also so there's no pressure. As an attacker, it's my function to score goals, you know? Fans come to the stadium wanting to see me score goals, my family and friends too are hoping that I score goals in the game so for me, I just have to stay ready, stay focused in the game so that when chances do come all I have to do is finish."

Tiago's equaliser against Suwon FC in R34 sealed safety for Daejeon 

His goal haul this season is all the more impressive when remembering that it's Tiago's first season in K League 1, making the jump up to the top division with relative ease. He says that even when he left the field following the 0-0 playoff draw away to FC Anyang for Gyeongnam, he knew that was his last game for the club:

"By that point of the season talks were already ongoing with other clubs. I told myself that the first offer from a K League 1 club then I'm for sure going to challenge myself in a new league. Gyeongnam were very understanding about my situation and were willing to let me go for a bigger opportunity."

Daejeon weren't the only club interested but were the one that seemed to fit best:

"So, after last season there were about three clubs that were interested and talks began among the clubs and my agents. I started to do my own research on each one of the cities and clubs' facilities and decided that Daejeon had the right environment for me. Daejeon offered me a good contract so I ended up coming to Daejeon."

His 16-goal haul is helped by a hat-trick away to Pohang Steelers earlier in the campaign. Daejeon lost the game 4-3 but had begun to mount a comeback after being 3-0 down. Incredibly, with goals from Tiago on 81, 84, and 96, Daejeon drew level at 3-3 but Hong Yun-sang found a winner in the 99th minute.

Tiago's first K League 1 hat-trick came away to Pohang Steelers in R

The second goal in particular was a thing of beauty. Tiago received the ball from Jeon Byeong-kwan 20 yards out, scooped it up with his right foot and then with the outside of his boot, curled in a half-volley into the corner, halfway up but out of reach of Steelers goalkeeper Hwang In-jae. This, Tiago says, was his favourite goal this season. 

A hat-trick also entitled him to the match ball. According to Sports G, match balls are the responsibility of the home team and only new balls are used. Once a ball has been used then the home team will use it in training. If an away team player scores a hat-trick then they must provide the home team with a ball in exchange. But by the time Tiago and the team's interpreter Lucas Kim had realised, the van carrying Daejeon's equipment and balls had already left. Instead, Pohang gave Tiago the ball as a gift, understanding why he wanted one. The ball is all signed and is part of Tiago's collection. 

Another hat-trick this season would almost certainly seal the golden boot for Tiago. He is currently neck and neck with Joo Min-kyu on 16 goals. Does he keep tabs on Joo's goal-scoring exploits? 

"Yes, I watch KLeague games, not just Ulsan, but other teams as well. I’m not rooting against him, because that won’t help and I don’t think he does that either. What we have to do is do our best and try to score. There are two games left and I’m sure that’s what we’re thinking about, scoring goals to see who will win."

Tiago is currently on four yellows meaning that another caution against Jeju this weekend and he'll miss the visit of FC Seoul on the final day, this hindering his chances of winning the golden boot.

"I didn’t even remember that I have four yellow cards," he says laughing. "I don’t worry about that. So far I’ve managed to play the entire championship without being suspended, so I think it’s cool to continue like this since I’m in the fight and I don’t want to be left out of these two games."

Tiago could be about to play his last games for the club with rumours rife of interest from Jeonbuk. A second season in succession in the golden boot race means his stock will be at its highest.


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