03 Julio 2017 16:05
'I was like a clown that everyone wanted to watch but no one wanted to help'
At the start of 2000, football scouts all had their eyes fixed on a young Portuguese winger who played for Sporting de Lisboa. And no, we're not talking about Cristiano Ronaldo.
In 2003, having just signed for Manchester United, 18-year-old Ronaldo was quoted as saying: 'If you think I'm good, just wait until you see Fabio Paim.' And he wasn't the only one who felt like that. Aurelio Pereira, discoverer of Figo, Futre, Nani, Simao, Quaresma and Ronaldo in Sporting, also seemed certain that Paim was the real deal.
'There's a lot of talk about Cristiano Ronaldo, but you've got to keep in mind that Fabio Paim is much better than him,' said Pereira.
Time has proved Pereira wrong. But his faith was understandable at the time. Paim was a supremely talented winger who had been breaking records at his club ever since he'd joined at the age of six. He was three years younger than Cristiano Ronaldo, but would frequently play with kids older than him. At the age of 16, he was preselected for Euro 2004, although in the end he wasn't picked for the final squad.
As a child, Paim's parents weren't always able to take him to train, so there were many nights when he slept in a special room provided for him by the club.
Sporting knew that he was their star attraction. Even at the age of 11, fans would flock to watch him play. Nearby villages would hire buses to go and see him in action. Young Paim would inevitably score in every game, usually after having dribbled and dodged his way past half the rival team.
'I found it easy. It came naturally to me. I could even do it in derbies against Benfica when I was 15, when the game is much tighter and tougher than when you're younger,' he recalled in the Tribuna Expresso.
Expectations were so high that when Paim was 13, France and Angola offered money to his family – who had roots in both countries – to allow him to play for their national teams.
He wanted to play in and for Portugal, but he didn't even end up debuting for Sporting's first team. His troubled upbringing, in a rough neighbourhood and surrounded by bad influences, made it difficult for him to keep his head and develop his talent as Ronaldo was able to do. Paim was more interested in buying sports cars, dating a series of beautiful women and partying all night.
At the age of 16, he signed his first professional contract for €20,000 a month. He blew it all. 'In four years I bought ten luxury cars,' he once confessed.
He was happier speeding around in his Ferrari than training. And even when he did make it to training, he rarely worked his hardest. Until the age of 18, Paim continued to be paid huge sums by the Portuguese team. But the young man who had once had the football world at his feet was not cut out for life as a professional footballer. He just wasn't willing to make the kinds of sacrifices he would have needed to make to become a star player like Ronaldo.
Paim says that one of the reasons for his failure is that nobody taught him how to manage his money.
'I was a 16-year-old who'd won the lottery. Like many kids that age, I didn't want to listen to anyone, but they should have been tougher with me,' Paim says of Sporting CP, who loaned Paim to a number of second division Portuguese clubs, as well as first division team Paços Ferreira. He played seven games there before going to Chelsea. That was the beginning of the end.
After failing to impress in his four months at Chelsea, Paim returned to Portugal to play for Real Massamá, a third division team. With his morale lower than ever, Paim went even further off the rails. 'I'd go out at night, drink too much, miss training... but I didn't do drugs. I lived in a neighbourhood where I'd see that stuff going on an all the time and I knew it wasn't a good world to be a part of.'
He has also criticised Sporting for their lack of sensitivity and tact when he needed it most.
'Sometimes I felt like a clown. Everyone wanted to watch me, but nobody helped me, and that wasn't good for me. I have talent – and that's the most important thing – but I don't have the physique. And no one helped me improve it. They just wanted me to go out and play, that's all,' Paim said.
Although he still gets offers, Paim no longer wants to play professionally. After playing in Qatar, Angola, Malta, Lithuania (where he was acquitted of rape) and Luxembourg, he now plays free of charge for Sintra Football, an amateur Portuguese club.
To make money he appears on reality TV shows. He doesn't enjoy doing it very much. But that's the price he's had to pay for having wasted his talent.