Dibs on the man known around the world as O Fenomeno – the Phenomenon – go to the young claimant sporting the same haircut as his idol. On the streets of Sao Paulo, where soccer and life have blurred entirely, those schoolyard pick-ems of childhood heroes make each playground skirmish a World Cup final of its own.
So begins the story of Oliver Minatel, who, repping the green kits of Palmeiras in his youth and now of Cavalry FC, has always lived and breathed soccer. And was always Ronaldo. That is, the original Ronaldo.
“He’s a symbol,” Minatel told CanPL.ca, of his hero. “He has everything, so it’s difficult to model my game after him, but when you’re growing up, playing soccer in the streets, he was the player I loved most.”
Like the many before him in Brazil, Minatel donned the mantle of professional footballer and travelled the world in pursuit of glory. Playing for youth clubs Guarini and Paulinha, Minatel, born in 1992, played alongside and against some of Brazil’s finest talent – he counts Neymar, Casemiro, Philippe Coutinho, and Fabinho among his peers.
“Everyone in Brazil wants to be a professional soccer player,” Minatel told CanPL.ca. “Everyone. It’s a lot of competition at a young age, and it demands a lot. You have to dedicate 100% to what you want. But it’s good, because it pushes you, every year, to get better.”
When he turned 16, Minatel attracted European interest. He would follow his idol Ronaldo to the fabled youth academy of PSV Eindhoven, where his tactical mind was nurtured under the watchful eye of Patrick Kluivert.
Then, he would experience soccer inspired by the other Ronaldo – Cristiano, of the Island of Madeira, where Minatel earned his professional contract with Nacional, playing in the Portuguese first division.
“Cristiano Ronaldo is a big influence there,” Minatel said of Madeira and of Nacional. “He’s the star of the club, even though he left for Sporting very early. But the club and Madeira was exposed to the world because of him.
“I actually lived in the building where his family store was on the first floor, so his sister and his mom were sometimes there. They’re very proud of him being the son of the island.”
He describes playing against players like Pablo Aimar, Hulk, James Rodriguez, Radamel Falcao, Luisao and Axel Witsel as both surreal and educational, while away trips to England, Sweden and Iceland in Europa League qualifying proved helpful to his growth as a player and as a person.
It’s just some of the experiences Minatel brings to Cavalry FC.
Others include stints in Puerto Rico and Virginia, as well as a two-year stay with the Ottawa Fury, where Minatel first fell in love with Canada.
Return to Canada
“Everything in Canada is very organized and professional,” Minatel said. “The quality of living in Canada is very good, too. So when I left Europe and went to the North American market, it provided a different style of living. You can enjoy playing and growing in other areas, because lots of players study while they play – that was my case as well. I was able to take an online university course. It was a huge benefit.
“Canadians also know what they have to do to grow,” he continued. “They don’t try to take a step longer than their leg, if that expression makes sense. I heard about the CPL, that Canada would have a league, maybe four or five years ago. It shows that it was well-thought, well-planned, and that leads me to believe that the CPL is going to be very successful in the future.”
Minatel joins Cavalry FC out of South Melbourne in Australia, his latest stop in his foray around the world.
But a return to Canada was always on his mind.
“I feel that I’m coming back to Canada now in a completely different stage in my career,” Minatel offered. “It’s a key moment for Canadian soccer – a historic moment. The soccer community in Canada is growing a lot and people really needed this league. It’s a pleasure to come and help the club in any way I can.
“I’m sure we’ll have a lot of young fans and this league will be very important to them. When you have a professional team in your region, it inspires you a lot, because you can go and watch locally. That’s huge for the sport. Looking forward to 2026, where Canada will be one of the hosts, it’s important that they have a professional league. It’s been time. I can’t believe that it took so long for Canada, such a big country with good facilities. It’s going to be a success for sure.”
Perhaps one day a young Calgarian will claim “Oliver Minatel” during those recess finals, too.