Brazilian midfielder Ricardo Almeida, 30, was at his home in Senglea, in southeastern Malta, when the president of the club he serves in appeared on television.
Reuben Debono, a former professional player from the country and currently Senglea Athletic's mandate, began to talk about the association's plans for the period of football stoppage because of the pandemic Covid-19. He said that almost all members of the cast had accepted the proposal.
"Only one did not accept. It was the Brazilian from our team, Ronaldo."
Ricardo did not understand at first. There was no one with that name on the team. But the ironic tone of the leader and the repetition of the "Brazilian Ronaldo" left no doubt.
"It was me he was talking about. He was making fun of me. I wanted to say that I thought I was the Ronaldo Phenomenon, much better than it really was ", says the midfielder to Folha.
Debono never mentioned the correct name of the player, who arrived at the club at the end of last year. His contract would run until April 28 or the day after the last round of the Malta league, if it ended after that date.
For the athlete, the president's statement aimed to play the crowd against him and prevent him from signing a contract with another team in the future. It was yet another incident in a sequence of acts that Ricardo describes as bullying by Senglea Athletic.
"Things were never exactly as I expected, but they were fine until the coronavirus cases started and I wanted to assert my rights. They found it an offense that I did not accept what they wanted to impose on me."
The imposition would be to terminate his contract in February, paying only 20% of what he would have to receive plus a plane ticket to leave the country. That would apply to each of the eight foreigners in the cast. Seven of them accepted. Ricardo Almeida, no.
"If they wanted to make a deal, that's fine. But it has to be something that works for both parties. Don't impose something like that. If they gave me 60% of the contract value, I would probably accept it. But not 20%," he says.
The player claims that in the past two months he has been openly harassed by other directors and has received notice that he will be evicted from his apartment. According to the contract, the association was responsible for paying the rent.
He also reported being threatened with a promise that the police would be called if he did not leave the property and stopped receiving wages.
The proposal was submitted by the club in February. Debono and other leaders gathered the cast to warn that the measure was necessary because the championship would be closed because of the pandemic.
"This has not happened so far. The league is only suspended. They will not want to cancel because they need to define vacancies in Champions League and in the Europa League. [Senglea] used this argument that it would be canceled and people believed ", says Ricardo.
At the time of the stoppage, Senglea fought against relegation. In a league of 14 teams, he is in 13th. The worst two fall to the second division. The Malta team has never participated in a world Cup or Euro Cup. In the ranking of Uefa, which has 55 teams, the country is in 45th.
In the last three months, the player has been living in the country with his wife, Angelica, thanks to his own savings, including paying the rent for the apartment.
The Brazilian took the case to the athletes' union in the country, who took his pains and asked Senglea to pay what is due. Ricardo Almeida says he does not give up his rights, nor that he has to appeal to FIFA. "It's all in my contract. They have to comply."
He also sent a message to the São Paulo Athletes Union to report the problems he was experiencing in Malta.
Revealed by the basic categories of Corinthians, where he was a companion of Fagner and Dentinho, the midfielder passed through Paulista de Jundiaí, Marília, Comercial, Operário-MT, Juventus and Barueri as a professional. He also worked in Guabira, Bolivia.
Thanks to his Italian passport, he was able to play in Greek football. He was also on teams from Indonesia and Thailand before being signed by Senglea.
His desire is to continue in Europe. Even in Malta, as long as on another team. For this to happen, he believes it is essential to enforce the signed contract.
"The clubs bring you here and think they can decide what they want. It is not like that. If you have a player who accepts, that's fine. Each one in his own. I know what my rights are. It's not because I'm out of my country. that I’m going to give them up or at least make a deal that’s good for me and for them.
He asked for and got a right of reply at the station where the president called him "Ronaldo".
Since last week, Folha tried to contact Senglea Athletic by phone and email, but did not receive a response until the publication of this text.