This interview with Jorge Rodrigues, Nõmme Kalju Portuguese defender and beloved figure at the Tallinn's club, was made by Evelin Ojamets for her 'Evelin's Lifestyle' website.
Normally a food and fashion writer, Evelin has taken the challenge to interview a footballer.
You will not find much talk about formations, favourite position on the pitch and whether or not Jorge would like to play more than he is doing at the moment.
Evelin, starting obviously from Jorge's football culture, has managed to open the public figure personality and look into it.
After all, football is a lifestyle.
It’s a rainy afternoon in May when we meet with Jorge in one of the Tallinn’s little cafés. While playing for Nõmme Kalju, the football player from Portugal is one of the “southerners” feeling at home in our country. We investigate what he thinks of Estonia and Estonians and how would it be possible to bring some football fever also to our stadiums.
Jorge, in your case we cannot really go around football. What should we do here in order to have even a little bit similar football culture to Portugal or Italy, for example?
First of all it comes down to young players, they are the ones who need attention. I think it’s very valuable to have foreign players in teams, as they don’t only transfer technical skills, but create an entirely different atmosphere. They bring in the passion, the same passion that people will come to see in the eyes of players while watching a game. It needs to show.
What would you say is the role of fans?
We in Nõmme Kalju have a saying that fans are our 12th team member. They are very much part of the club, it’s as important as that. You need to start developing the football culture from the very beginning. There will be no football fever if the families won’t come to stadiums to watch games and spend time together.
You are talking about no less than a change of lifestyle. When we are talking about the next generation, the youth, what should be the role of football in their lives, according to you?
Let me tell you one story. The neighborhood where I grew up was one of those challenging ones. Lot of young people with shady hopes for a better future, high crime rates, drugs etc. Football gave me the chance to move away from it, to strive for something, to be someone. My mother used to always tell me that I don’t need to choose between playing football and getting a good education at school, as I have what it takes to do both. You will always get what you are worth, but it won’t come without hard work.
Football to me is not a sport, not only. It is far more than a way of living an active and healthy life, it also gives you the feeling of belonging somewhere, being part of something. You are accepted, you are part of your team. Especially this feeling of belonging is important for young people, as at certain age the parents cease to be the most important role models, school and companions become the ones instead. It’s very important to have the right ambassadors for young people.
You have spent a big part of your life and career abroad. How comfortable do you feel yourself in a strange environment?
Everything starts with finding yourself while travelling in the world. If you are not open then every country could potentially turn into your worst nightmare. Life itself is the best possible teacher, you need to look for positives, show respect and take responsibility for developing the younger generation. I see my role in being an ambassador for young people and inspiring them to find their own strengths while remaining true to themselves. You can never be the one others want to see in you, you need to be you.
And now we have reached to the question of you and Estonia. A lot of people with southern roots find it rather challenging to live here. How you have got by for all these years?
My experience with Estonia and Estonians has only become better in time. At the beginning I also faced closed doors and was seen as merely another tourist, not part of local community. But as I told, you need to keep an open mind and have a positive attitude right from the beginning. I’m here to give my absolute best and I accept people the way they are. I realized quite soon that Estonians are not cold, like often misperceived, but simply not so open at the beginning, probably coming from natural modesty or even shyness. If you are keeping your open attitude, they are also opening up to you after some time.
How do you feel yourself in Estonia? What it is that makes the living here pleasant for you?
Estonia has become my second home by now. When I’m here, I miss Portugal, when I’m there, I remember very often Estonia. I really like Tallinn, to walk in the Old Town, spend time with my friends on the terrace of lounge Varblane, discover new places and areas that local sometimes even haven’t learned to appreciate enough. For example the area near Rummu prison. Have you noticed how beautiful it is? Clear clean water, silence, beautiful nature.
I have also visited other places in Estonia, travelled around. There’s a lot to see and do here. One thing that I have noticed is that you have an amazingly varied cultural programme for a small country. With almost no effort you can enjoy really many different things at your doorstep, whatever your taste is. One of my childhood dreams was to see the famous Cirque du Soleil, but as we were living quite far from the capital, there wasn’t that possibility. And now my dream came true, as I saw it in Estonia! Was really excited like a kid. Of course you have also Skype and free wireless, it’s the thing that foreigners very often mention as the first association while talking about Estonia. And the public transport is good, in time and easy to use. It’s very easy to live here, as you are organized and there’s order. It’s a really nice living environment with considerably low crime rates. Sometimes, in wintertime, I see children happily playing in the snow, parents can calmly allow them a little bit of freedom without being afraid of someone kidnapping them. In fact Estonia is a country where you can live really nicely when you have the right attitude. You can find here a nice mixture of different cultures, there’s a good mentality.
Is there something that isn’t quite right or has been difficult for you in Estonia?
Perhaps the most difficult was to get used to different food. I like cooking and have got used to Mediterranean diet. It wasn’t always easy to get the products or ingredients I was searching for and some of them were not of the right quality. But I adjusted and did it gladly. Of course, it’s not always easy to go to trainings when it’s rainy or cold. I have also noticed that locals sometimes do not wear proper clothes, as they don’t want to sacrifice style to functionality. There’s no way around missing sunshine sometimes, I also do that, but I see always more the positive side.
You have told so many good things about our country. Can we hope that you will stay here still for some time?
For the time being, yes. I see myself as an ambassador for Nõmme Kalju and Estonian football. I have given many interviews about that in Portugal, introducing Estonian football culture, sharing my experience. I feel that my mission is to inspire young people and to teach them new skills. Learning will never end. I’m also not perfect, but I try every day to make a step closer to perfection, to develop myself. I think that we can be satisfied with ourselves when we can say that tomorrow we will make less mistakes than we did today or yesterday.