Brazilian superstar Kleberson joins Indy Eleven
For the Indy Eleven pro soccer team, the number 11 is revered, held apart, reserved for something special. So when Head Coach Juergen Sommer took a team jersey with the number 11 on its back with him to a player signing Downtown Monday, it meant serious business.
A superstar who played as a starter for the 2002 World Cup-winning Brazilian National Team was in town. To Play. For Indy.
At Fogo de Chao Churrascaria on March 31 it became official: Kleberson is now a member of Indy Eleven.
“The project that the club proposed was fascinating to me,” Kleberson told NUVO, acknowledging the great degree of trust placed in him by Sommer and Peter Wilt, the team’s president and general manager. “I love the U.S. I’ve always had a good time here. I’m going to continue my life here and be a part of what they’re building.”
On the field, Kleberson said, people can expect him to “bring happiness to the pitch – that’s what Brazilians have.” He practices “the Brazilian art of soccer.”
The passion he was felt for the sport has existed since the his mother first held and hugged him, he said.
“That’s all he knows how to do,” said his interpreter, Indy Eleven’s Roberto Opice, a Brazilian native who was instrumental in helping to build the team’s relationship with Kleberson. “What he does depends on passion and love.”
Kleberson said he grew up listening to his father’s advice and also watching a lot of soccer to learn the game and its motivations. He remembers watching a famous Pelé goal, scored from midfield. He tried and tried and tried without success to imitate that goal. And then one day, it happened: He made the goal – during the biggest youth tournament in Brazil.
Many years have passed since then. He made it to the World Cup for his country and he won. He’s played for Manchester United in the English Premiere League – and won them a championship. When he played for the Atletico and Flamengo clubs in Brazil, he did the same. Now he is in Indy, at a different phase of his career.
“The game changes a lot” with age, he said. “I don’t have the same speed, but have adapted by using strength, vision and experience.”
Among the local Brazilian ex-pats on hand to greet Kleberson: artist Artur Silva and a sports marketing professional Paulo Negri.
Negri explained that, in Brazil, soccer is such a big deal that during the World Cup, “everyone stops to watch the game,” workers are given 15 minutes before and after the game to get to and from their watch spots.
“Classes are cancelled,” he said. “Here we have snow, there it is World Cup and soccer.”
Soccer represents unlimited possibilities, he said: “We learn that soccer is a magic box, something from which you can bring good stuff or something from which you can bring bad stuff. A good team, good players, a good system, they help but they’re not everything.”
In a post announcement Facebook exchange, Silva offered the following assessment of Kleberson’s arrival:
“It’s a bold move and it sends a signal to the fans and to the league that they’re a competitive team with big aspirations and commitment to quality.
“In 2002, I was waking up at 5 a.m. to watch the games at the only spot showing the World Cup Downtown. The place was packed with yellow shirts. To have one of the guys who lifted that trophy now playing here, is a testament of lots of positive things happening here in town in the last decade.
“Personally, I think he’ll love our Carnaval at the Jazz Kitchen next year.”
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Editor’s note: Here is the official release from Indy Eleven:
Indy Eleven became the first team in the modern era of the North American Soccer League to add a FIFA World Cup champion to its roster with today’s signing of Brazilian midfielder Kleberson.
The 2002 World Cup winner and former Manchester United player joins Indy Eleven on a two-year contract; per club policy, terms of the deal will not be released.
“Signing of a player of Kleberson’s caliber signifies Indy Eleven is serious about bringing our fans wins and trophies,” said Indy Eleven Owner Ersal Ozdemir. “We welcome Kleberson to Indiana and look forward to his contributions to building the club both on and off the field.”
While Kleberson, who will don Indy Eleven’s #8 jersey, will be available for selection in league play pending completion of the visa process, he can participate in exhibition play and is expected to make his unofficial debut on Tuesday night when the squad will travel to West Lafayette to host Major League Soccer’s Chicago Fire. Kickoff from the Boilermaker Sports Complex for tomorrow’s contest is set for 7:30 p.m. ET, and tickets will be available for purchase at the venue’s box office beginning at 5:00 p.m. Tuesday.
Indy Eleven will also host Indiana University at its home of Michael A. Carroll Stadium at IUPUI this Friday, April 4, with that exhibition also slated to start at 7:30 p.m. Attendance for that match is limited to Indy Eleven’s 7,000-member season ticket base.
The 34-year-old Kleberson (@kleberson_8 on Twitter) brings vast and valuable experience to the Indy Eleven line-up, having plied his trade on some of the world’s grandest stages during a professional career that began with Atletico Paranaense in his native Brazil at the age of 19.
“This move to Indy Eleven is not just a great professional opportunity, but a great move for Kleberson the person as well,” said Kleberson. “It’s a new club, and I have big expectations of myself to put my name into the team’s history.
“Indianapolis is a great city, and I’ve seen great commitment by the organization to make this club a success. My first meetings with teammates have been excellent; this is a group of young and experienced players with a lot of talent. I’m expecting to put all of this together and to enjoy a great future as a part of Indy Eleven.”
Kleberson gained worldwide notoriety during the 2002 FIFA World Cup Finals in South Korea and Japan, when his standout performance for the Brazilian National Team helped propel the Canarinho to their fifth and most recent world championship. After coming off the bench in Brazil’s last group stage and Round of 16 matches, the then-23-year-old Kleberson was inserted into the starting XI for Brazil’s final three matches and assisted on Ronaldo’s second goal in a 2-0 victory over Germany in the Final.
“Indy Eleven is proud and excited to have Kleberson continuing his career in Indiana and look forward to him being embraced by the community,” said Indy Eleven President/General Manager Peter Wilt. “While scouting Kleberson we heard nothing but glowing reports about his skill set, his mind-set and his work ethic, which makes him a perfect fit for Indy Eleven.”
Kleberson also made one appearance during Brazil’s run to the Quarterfinal Round of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, marking one of the last of his 32 appearances at the senior international level. Kleberson helped Brazil capture two more prestigious titles while suiting up in the 2004 CONMEBOL Copa America and 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup tournaments.
The midfielder parlayed his 2002 World Cup performance into a transfer to legendary English Premier League club Manchester United, making 20 appearances for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side from 2003-05. The Brazilian international has also had stints in the Turkish Super Lig (Besiktas, 2005-07), Brazilian Campeonato Brasileiro Serie A [Flamengo, 2007-12; Atletico Paranaense, 1999-2003 and 2011 (loan); and Bahia (loan), 2012-13], and Major League Soccer (Philadelphia Union 2013). Kleberson signed with Philadelphia last season as one of the team’s three allotted “Designated Player” slots, which are reserved for marquee signings in MLS.
“It goes without saying that Kleberson’s technical ability and vision gives our midfield some added dimensions,” said Indy Eleven Director of Soccer Operations / Head Coach Juergen Sommer. “His first training sessions have shown that the quality and class he has always possessed are still there. Our fans will be in for a real treat when they get the chance to see how he operates on the field.”
Kleberson has suited up in UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League matches, and his personal trophy haul on the club side includes the English FA Community Shield (Manchester United, 2003), English FA Cup (Manchester United, 2004), Turkish Super Cup (Besiktas, 2006), Turkish Cup (Besiktas, 2006, 2007) and the Brazilian Serie A (Atletico Paranaense, 2007; Flamengo 2009).
Kleberson, whose full name is Jose Kleberson Pereira, becomes the 17th player to sign for Indy Eleven, which is just 12 days away from its inaugural NASL game against the Carolina RailHawks on Saturday, April 12, at IUPUI’s Michael A. Carroll Stadium (7:30 p.m. ET kickoff, live on MyINDY TV-23). Indy Eleven will welcome two more additions to its roster this Wednesday, April 2, with the new duo set to be unveiled at Union Jack Pub (924 Broad Ripple Avenue in Indianapolis) at 7:30 p.m.