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The footballer who makes more money playing video games – 12/01

Wendell Lira football

 

Former Brazilian footballer Wendell Lira will never forget the day he beat Lionel Messi.

It was a split second in front of the goalkeeper in a match in Brazil’s lower league that changed Lira’s life forever.

Only 342 people were in the stadium that night for Goianesia v Atletico Goianiense, but Lira’s superb goal captured on video travelled the world and became a hit, winning 2015’s Fifa Puskas Award for the most beautiful goal scored in 2015.

Lira was soon hired by a bigger football club and his career seemed on the rise.

But in a turn of events he decided to retire from the sport at the age of 27, and is now playing video games instead.

Even more surprisingly, he is making more money as an e-athlete than he ever did as a real footballer.

“I always dreamed of making a living as a video game player, but I never thought it would come true. But it did,” he says.

During a side event at the Fifa Award ceremony in Switzerland, footballers were challenged to play a match of EA Sports’ Fifa game against the world champion.

Most players, like Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi, declined the offer. But Lira thought he had nothing to lose. To his own surprise, he beat the world champion 6-1.

Tough life

Before the award, he had become disenchanted with his own profession. Players in Brazil’s top leagues can get good salaries and become millionaires if they are spotted by rich European clubs.
But in the Brazilian lower leagues life is hard.

Lira spent the last few years earning 3,000 reais ($880; £700) per month in the weeks that he could find work. Some years he spent up to seven months unemployed. He had four serious injuries in his career.

He had even retired from football and was working in his mother’s restaurant when he got an invitation from Goianesia and decided to give the sport one last go.

The goal he scored for the team earned him plaudits and fame. But just a few weeks after the glitz and glamour faded, he was again playing for a small club and suffering from all the same old problems – and having trouble paying his bills.

“People think that because I was a Puskas winner I had a huge salary. It was never the case.”

E-made it

But his good performance in the e-sport match in Switzerland did not go unnoticed. A sports marketing firm in the southern town of Porto Alegre saw potential in Wendell Lira and offered him a five-year contract as an e-athlete.

He now makes money by playing in championships, hosting a YouTube channel with tips for players and selling sponsorship for his online programme.

His channel has almost 250,000 subscribers and millions of views, and Lira says he is making well above his old salary.

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