TikTok has brought fame to hundreds of young people around the world. One 15-second video could bring millions of people to your profile. However, for every pre-teen hitting the "woah" in their bedroom, there is someone like Iran Ferreira. Recently, he turned his TikTok stardom into a tryout for one of the largest clubs in Brazil, Vasco de Gama.
Born in the rural fields of Brazil, Ferreira has amassed 11 million followers by posting soccer highlight videos from the dirt field in his backyard. To even call it a field is a stretch. It is riddled with large, bush-like weeds and does not even have a single blade of grass. While others might see this as an insurmountable obstacle, for Ferriera this is just another part of the magic. In one of his youtube videos, he takes his followers on a tour of his village and the nearby swamp. Unfortunately, it is clear to the viewer that Iran’s family is one of over 15 million people in Brazil who live in extreme poverty.
Relief for the poverty-stricken in Brazil is often found through God and soccer. For the people of Brazil, soccer contains a magical element that transforms one entirely. After their 7-1 loss to Germany in the 2014 World Cup, men, women, and children openly wept in the streets. Two years later, Neymar would redeem the country after they won the Olympic Gold Medal in penalties against the Germans. It is collective joy and sorrow. It is death and resurrection. It is the second most popular religion.
After every goal, Iran runs to the camera, points to the sky, and thanks God. Speaking in what seems like tongues, his goals seem to be the product of divine possession. In each video, there is another upper corner shot or magical skill move. Ferreira often will yell “Eseba'', a Portuguese word that often denotes something fantastic or other-worldly. The connection between sports and religion is nothing accidental. It is because of soccer and the magic of the internet that Ferriera has been able to build a life not only for his parents but all of his extended family that appear in his videos.
These last four months have seen Iran’s account gain over seven million subscribers and his videos replicated by the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo Jr. His efforts have been rewarded this last month when Vasco de Gama, one of the largest teams in Brazil and the team he supports, offered him an ambassador contract and the opportunity to practice with the first team. Iran was given a tour of the facilities by members of the team and given a signed shirt. It was clear that everyone involved was excited to learn more from Iran and his journey. For a humble young man from the fields of Brazil, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be the honored guest of his favorite team.
Part of the appeal of Ferreira is his optimism in face of difficult circumstances. When he was growing up, he used to watch the “magic players” like Neymar and Ronaldinho. Accustomed to the sunny climate of Brazil, many of these players would wear gloves while playing in Europe. In an effort to emulate their appearance but unable to afford a pair of Nike gloves, he visited a nearby construction site and took a pair of bricklayers gloves.
He was ridiculed constantly online by people for his bulky and unusual gloves. Instead of being crushed by the criticism, he adopted the nickname “luva de pedreiro,” which literally translates to “the guy in the mason glove”. He has adopted the name that was initially used to ridicule him as a badge of honor. Ferreira said in one of his recent videos that he still wears them to serve as a reminder of where he came from.
Although he was not signed to a professional contract, this is only the beginning for Ferreira. His family said recently that their son “will hopefully be signed by one of the top-level teams in the world soon.” If Iran keeps up the same growth, it is inevitable that he will soon be one of the most popular soccer players in the world, regardless of if he is signed to a team. His story is one that inspires because of his improbable rise and humble personality. Now that anyone has the opportunity to become famous thanks to apps like Tiktok, one might see more athletes take the same route of Iran, even if they lack the same qualities. He may be a single exception or the start of a new wave of influencer-athletes.