Why Tottenham, Man Utd target Leandro Damiao can be this year's great rags-to-riches football tale
If he does get his move to Europe this summer, Leandro Damiao will deservedly be celebrated as one of the game's great rags to riches stories.
Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy has been chasing the Internacional striker for over 18 months, failing with multiple bids. He's also turned down a €40 million move to Ukraine and Shakhtar Donetsk, while Manchester United's chief scout Jim Lawlor has drawn up an extensive appraisal of the 22 year-old for Sir Alex Ferguson to consider.
But barely four years ago, Damiao had had enough of rejection and was ready to pack the game in.
Unlike so many of his now Brazil teammates, Damiao's game wasn't honed at a top line academy or major club. At 17, last season's Brasileiro top scorer was picking up 20 quid a game playing in the amateur leagues in Sao Paulo.
"It was hard. But looking back, I learned how to fight on the field. I had to win the ball and also score the goals. At the time I was earning $30 a game. But I learned everything there," recalled Damiao.
As he was learning his trade, Damiao tried to land himself a higher paying gig with bigger local clubs - but no-one wanted to take him on. XV de Outubro, Atlético Ibirama and Atlético Tubarão all turned him down, before persistence finally paid off when a second approach to Atlético Tubarão earned him a chance.
"They still didn't like me," he says. "Many there said I wasn't good enough. I almost gave it all away."
But with Atlético Tubarão, Damiao continued to hone his skills: "Scoring from every angle. With my right leg, left leg, I started becoming a lot, lot better."
A year shining for Atlético Tubarão brought him to the attention of Internacional's scouts and he was soon snapped up for their U20 team. Still there was no apparent sign of how Damiao would develop and while he finished the season his team's top scorer, there was no fast-track promotion, instead he was handed a place with the club's 'B' line-up.
But on his debut, he struck twice and that was enough for Inter management to call him into the senior squad.
"From the Varzea to Europe?" laughs Damiao now.
The centre-forward knows all about his growing profile in Europe and hints this summer may be the right time for him to move.
"I cannot speak much about this, there's still a lot for Inter to consider," he says. "Of course I will always think about staying, but there comes a time when I'll need to go.
"I do not know whether it is time. When the moment comes, who will decide is not just me, Inter have my contract.
"For now, I'm at Inter, I'm happy, I'll keep working. Hopefully Inter will get proposals. This is good for me. I'm not nervous about it, I want to continue at Inter, I am happy and want to continue doing well."
If he does land a glamourous move to Europe, he'll have the 'phenomenon' Ronaldo to thank.
"He is tall, strong, and a great scorer, a threat in the air and a good shot with both feet," says Ronaldo. "He'll be very important for 2014."
Brazil coach Mano Menezes agrees with Ronaldo and is planning his attack around the Inter centre-forward. Like so many before him, Menezes concedes he didn't expect Damiao to settle so quickly for the Selecao.
"He still needs to develop," said Menezes, "but in these last months his evolution has been amazing. He's gone beyond all expectations."