Igor Sartori, Hong Kong’s footballer of the year, gives the air of someone who happens to love his ‘hobby’ and is simply in love with playing football yet is grateful and fortunate to do it as a full-time profession.
Sartori was born into a footballing family and sometimes a person’s destiny is chosen right from the moment they are born. The Brazilian playmaker’s father is the Flamengo legend, Alcindo, who made over 200 appearances for the most popular club side in Brazil and was one of the J-league’s leading lights from its inception, as a professional league.
Satori Senior played alongside his compatriot, Zico, at Kashima Antlers and blazed the trail forward as he was part of the Antlers side which dazzled and delighted during the earliest years of the J-league.
Satori Senior not only made an impression at Antlers as he played for several different Japanese and Brazilian clubs as he crisscrossed between Japan and Brazil whilst playing for Fluminense, Gremio, Corinthians, Tokyo Verdy and Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo.
Sometimes, those who are born to the famous parents buckle under the pressure to live up to expectations though the level-headed, Sartori junior, has managed to navigate the world of football and his Hong Kong ‘Footballer of the Year’ award is testament to that.
Sartori Junior was born in Brazil though experienced life and football in the Asia-Pacific when he was a toddler as he followed his globe-trotting father, who would help lay the foundations for the long-standing Brazilian connection with Kashima Antlers which still lasts till this day.
Video: Satori Senior playing for Antlers.
There is no doubt, Satori junior probably got used to moving around and picking up tips and skills from his unique environment. It was at Kashima Antlers, where Junior got his first break into the professional ranks before further honing his skills in Brazil at the Zico Academy.
“I was in Japan from when I was four months old and I stayed until I was four years old. When I was 18, I came back to Japan and I played for one year for Kashima Antlers.”
Sartori was too young to fully remember all his father’s exploits in Japan though he harbours vague memories of going to the various Japanese J-League stadiums with his mother.
“Actually I don’t remember too much but I remember sometimes going to the stadium with my mother to see my father though I didn’t remember much when he was playing as I was too young.”
Sartori Junior said his father gave him advice and guided him though he enjoyed playing the game anyway and dreamt of making the top-level himself.
“My father didn’t give me any pressure but I always played football and I started when I was young and five years old in the Zico academy in Brazil. I started to play and when you are a kid, you just want to play for fun and improve your skills and he always spoke to me about different things and my father saw that I had some qualities and he told me if I trained and worked hard that I could be a professional though there was no pressure. Sure, I had one example of a professional at home so of course, it was my dream.”
Like father, like son, both Sartoris exhibit an offensive flair which has seen them score some incredible goals and crucially provide an array of ‘assists’ for their teammates.
“My father was a winger at Flamengo. His position was a winger but at that time, football was different. In Japan, he was a striker and started to score more goals though basically the same position .”
Sartori is now a leading light at R+F and is leading their league and cup charge. R & F have spent a lot of money and there is an expectation for success and Sartori thinks R + F will be able to complete the double.
“I think we started the season with the goals to fight for all the competitions and unfortunately, we lost the semi-final against Eastern in the Senior Shield but yeah, it was a tough game but we were winning until the last few minutes and in the Sapling Cup, we lost one game against Tai Po in a game that we could not lose. Now we have two competitions and we will fight for those ones.”
“The ‘Hong Kong footballer of the year’ award was great though it was a personal award and for me, the most important thing is the quality and I prefer to win competitions with my team mates though to win a personal award is great and is a consequence of what you do on the pitch. Last season (at Tai Po) was an amazing season and everything that I tried and did, I could help the team to win and the personal award was a consequence. Tai Po had a very very good team and one of the best.”
Sartori gave his viewpoint on the games being played behind closed doors (at the time of the interview) and said that, despite little to no fans, the players were still motivated to push themselves for the win.
“It is not the same as we play for the fans but we have the same mentality and motivation to win. We will fight for the win though inside the stadium, it is not the same without the fans.”
Brazilians have made their mark in Hong Kong both at the club and international level which begs the question: given there are so many Brazilians players and coaches in Hong Kong, how well do they all know each other?
“I know everybody to some level and of course, you talk to some people more than others but I have a good relationship with everyone and, for sure, I am closer to the players that I have played. Last season (with Tai Po) was amazing as everybody stayed together, not only in training and the games but also outside of the pitch. The team did a lot of things, like having a BBQ! When team’s have a good relationship outside the pitch, the things on the pitch also work.”
Both Sartoris both have a spiritual connection with Flamengo and were no doubt delighted when Flamengo won the Copa Libertadores after 38 years of trying and after defeating River Plate in the final. This victory, in turn, allowed them to qualify for the Club World Cup where they eventually lost in the final to Liverpool.
“Flamengo is the most popular team in Brazil and everything that Flamengo does is seen as ‘wow!’ It had been 38 years since Flamengo last won the Copa Libertadores and it was amazing for them and now the team is actually too strong though Liverpool FC are the best in the world now!’
Though not a Liverpool fan, Sartori admired their style of play and said they deserve the Premier League title despite the season grinding to a halt.
“Liverpool need to be given the title! I like football they play and look what they have done this season and no one has played better than them in the premier league.”
To outsiders, Brazilian football can seem complicated as the country is so vast and though Sartori believes that the ‘Campeonato Brasileiro’ is highly competitive and he took time to explain how the Brazilian league works.
“I think the Brazilian league is good and, in Brazil, it is different and they have many teams as Brazil is too big and they need to separate the leagues and teams. There are so many cities so we need to ‘split’ the first three or four months and teams play competitions in the regional city or area. Many players and clubs need to play and by the end of the season, they start the league with the first division and it is very close and difficult to win as you start the league and ten clubs can win!”
Finally, the eternal question which can be subjective in which Sartori was quick to answer without hesitation. Who is the best player in Brazilian history?
“In history? It is Pele! I didn’t watch him but many people talk about Pele and then Zico, then players like Ronaldo, Romario but Messi is the best!”