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Esquerdinha, on and off the court

A documentary about FC Barcelona futsal player Leandro 'Esquerdinha': "The Lord has changed my mind: it wasn't just my dream since I was a child, God wanted something more from me".

AUTOR 5/Evangelical_Focus,7/Joel_Forster BARCELONA 09 DE FEBRERO DE 2022 16:00 h
Leandro Rodrigues Bernardes, 'Esquerdinha', celebrates the 2020 UEFA futsal Champions League. / Photo: [link]FC Barcelona[/link].

FC Barcelona's goal-scoring pivot 'Esquerdinha' arrived in Spain as a teenager and exploded as a futsal star in Russia.

In the six years he played for Dina Moscow, he went on to represent his host country as a naturalised player.

In Barcelona since 2017, the 36-year-old Brazilian has won a UEFA Champions League, 2 Spanish Leagues and 3 Copa del Rey with the  club.

A passion since childhood

"I have the feeling that I have always played football", says the player in the 21-minute documentary filmed by videographer Jordi Pallejà. [Watch video (Spanish) at the end of this article]

The film follows the player during his training sessions at FC Barcelona's facilities, in league matches, but also spending time with his family walking on the beach or attending a church service in Castelldefels on a Sunday morning.

[photo_footer]'Esquerdinha', with the director of the documentary, Jordi Pallejà / Photo: Gris Mig Produccions


Leandro Rodrigues Bernardes, his birth name, tells in first person about his origins in Brazil. "I consider myself fortunate, God has kept us in all facets of life", in a family in which "we have always been very united".

"I never took football out of my life, I was very passionate about it since I was a child". At the age of 12, his parents did not let him go for tryouts that would have allowed him to join the famous Flamengo club. "My father said I didn't have the spiritual structure to leave home, to live alone in another city". A few years later, the possibility arose again, and so it was time to go for his dream of becoming an elite footballer. "May God bless your path and may you be very happy", he remembers his father telling him.

Of those first steps in the professional world, he remembers the camaraderie between players. "But there were times when I withdrew to my room, with my CD's of Christian music, my Bible, and the books my mother advised me to read. That was what strengthened me".

A few months after playing in the Brazilian first league, he was signed by El Pozo Murcia, a historic club in Spanish futsal. "At 18 years old, coming here was a very big step I was taking, thank God he gave me all this".


Faith as a rock in the midst of pressure

"The job and being a Christian, for me it all goes together", says 'Esquerdinha' as the documentary shows images of the church he attends in Castelldefels, south of Barcelona. He often is travelling with the team on weekends, but "when we can, we go to church. For me and my family it is something very important, I have grown up in this and it is non-negotiable".

It was at the age of 12 that he was baptised. "It was the key moment, I accepted the Holy Spirit and the Lord, it's the most important thing that has ever happened to me".

[photo_footer]The player tries to show his trust in God on and off the pitch. / Photo: FC Barcelona[/photo_footer]

Trust in God has sustained him in challenging times away from home. "Being alone, not knowing anyone, the fears... In those hard moments, what sustained me was faith (...) The Lord took care of me, and made me go forward".

He recalls the years in Russia, with the cold climate, the difficulty of the language, and also "the pressure to win". In the midst of that "madness", being with his family was key for him. In those "temporary" situations, 'Esquerdinha' resorted to prayer. "I knew that He was going to take care of us, that this moment would pass".

Family and injuries

In the film, he tells how he met his wife through relatives, and how, after two years of talking online, "we went from friends, to boyfriend and girlfriend... to married". He spoke to his pastor about the relationship, and despite the distance between Brazil and Europe, he knew that "she was the person", he explains. "She has been very important in this whole process of my career, she is a phenomenal woman". Together they have two children. "Whenever I can, I let her know that I love her very much".

He has had three serious injuries. One to his ankle, one to his calf, and the third to his knee. "Those who have had a cruciate ligament injury know how slow the recovery is", especially in a sport as technical as futsal. "I didn't know if I was going to play again, with the pressure of being at this level". He is grateful that the "club gave me all the structure", but emphasises: "I have seen a miracle from the Lord, of not having any pain after 8 months".

Soon after, FC Barcelona won the 2020 Champions League: "I scored a goal in extra time in the semi-final".

Football as a place of mission

The player is open when it comes to talking about his faith with others. "I can't separate the 'Esquerdinha' futsal player and the Christian Leandro". Now playing for FC Barcelona, he hopes "that people will see what it is to be a Christian in whatever profession you are in".

[photo_footer] Leandro, in a recording session on the set of FC Barcelona / Photo: Gris Mig Produccions


With the passing of the years and having acquired maturity, 'Esquerdinha' reflects that "football, in the end, is an excuse. The Lord uses the most diverse professions to bring his Word". He adds: "In the dressing room, in the countries, with the people I was in contact with, each person with his own personality... The Lord changed my mind: He wanted something more from me. I understood that here, a few years ago".

"To leave Brazil, to play in Russia, in Spain, in top teams, was not only the dream of a child who wanted to be a player. It is the Lord, who says: through football, you will meet people, and people will meet God through you".

Facing every day with God

His mornings start with Bible reading and prayer. "I have no idea what is going to happen on this day, but it is certain that I will be with you and you are with me," he says.

Sometimes, in the middle of the night, he takes his guitar, his pen, and writes songs of praise to God that he writes himself. "I think I have 72 songs, my wife was counting them the other day". This interest in music grew especially in these Covid-19 times. "We know that God is in control of all things," he says, weeks of praying for his country and others around the world. His desire is that, in time, "those songs will also reach more people".

Futsal will one day pass, he concludes. "When all this is over, when the light of sport goes out, I will still be a child of the Lord, I will still be Leandro, and I will be very grateful for everything. One day I will stop being a footballer, but that won't change me, nor my desire to do more for God".


  [title] "Winning For Christ"[/title]

  [photo] [/photo]


The documentary-testimony about 'Esquerdinha' has been launched by the Barcelona-based ministry Ganar X Cristo on the occasion of its 10th anniversary. Under the slogan "Passion for sport, passion for Jesus", the group promotes "using sport as an instrument to bring other people to know Jesus".

Every year, Ganar X Cristo organises a football league and cup that mainly brings together teams coming from evangelical churches in the city, both in children's and senior age groups.






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