photo by Hannah Pennell
Jethro Soutar is a British writer and journalist currently based in Barcelona. When living in Sao Paolo in 2005, he hit on the idea of writing a biography of the world’s top footballer, Ronaldo Assis de Moreira, a.k.a. Ronaldinho. Surprisingly, there was no English-language book tracing the Brazilian’s rise, a gap in the market which Soutar rapidly filled. He’s now writing a book about Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal.
Why were you in Sao Paolo?
It was a combination of two things: I had been trying for a while to get the courage to go over there to work on my idea for a novel, to be set in Brazil. Meanwhile, a journalist friend of mine moved out there. He kept saying, “Come out, there’s work, there’s opportunities”.
Where did the idea for the biography come from?
I started researching how to get a novel published, and realised it is quite difficult. At the same time, I was pitching Brazilian stories to British papers. Then I thought of combining the two and started sending off proposals for a factual book. I thought about what the British associate with Brazil: football, samba, Carnival. With the 2006 World Cup coming up and having some knowledge of football, it was the obvious one to try.
Did you have any problems getting people to talk about Ronaldinho?
In Brazil, it was easy. They are open people, like to talk, and help out. And are less media savvy. In Barcelona they want to know who you are, what you’re doing, who’s your publisher. I did try—I went through Barça, approached some of the other players, but they said they have a policy where they don’t like to talk about other people. I didn’t hear a single bad word about Ronaldinho, but I did about his brother. There was no point approaching him, because he wouldn’t have been interested and it could have done more harm than good.
Have you heard what Ronaldinho thinks about the book?
I’ve got a friend who works at Barça and speaks Portuguese. He told Ronaldinho, “My friend’s written a book about you. Would you be interested in having a copy, maybe meeting him?” And Ronaldinho said yes. The next day, my friend started asking at the club and learned that there is another book about Ronaldinho [written by an Italian journalist] and that his brother was kicking off about it. So I thought, just leave it.
Did you learn anything that surprised you about him through writing the book?
His private life. There’s very little written about it and so you think, oh he’s a quiet boy who stays in, but actually he parties like anyone else. I spoke to a journalist at El Mundo Deportivo who said, “Yes, he has a party life, but in Catalunya we respect that.” If he played in Madrid, he would be in the papers like Ronaldo was. Ronaldinho always has a word for journalists and will give them a quote. They appreciate that and respect him, so keep away from the bits he doesn’t want to talk about and leave him to it.
Would you write another sports biography?
If I’d written about a philosopher or a historical king, I’d be very knowledgeable now. Whereas, I know the names of Ronaldinho’s dogs when he grew up. I’d prefer to move on to write about broader themes. But if I could pick a footballer from a country that interests me, with a story where I could bring in the historical context, then absolutely yes.