It is 16 years since Edu swapped the Brazilian summer for the depths of winter at Arsenal but his interest in English football remains undiminished.
He watches every Arsenal game and this year Brazil‘s general manager was charmed by the English youngsters who stunned the world by lifting the Under 17 and Under 20 World Cups.
‘This is a big generation,’ Edu says, his smile broadening. ‘But the Premier League is so rich. You have a fantastic young midfielder in Phil Foden at Manchester City but there are two or three fantastic ones in his position.
The former Gunner is now general manager for the Brazil national team, currently in England
The 39-year-old spent four years in north London after moving to the club from Corinthians
‘So, how can you play? How can you develop these guys? You have good players but to get better, they need to play in the first team. Clubs don’t look to the Under 17 guy because they go to the market.’
His ideas may appeal but for now, Edu’s priority is transforming the hopes and fortunes of Brazil. Little by little, he is healing the wounds of a nation scarred by a calamitous semi-final exit at their own World Cup. ‘I remember the clothes I was wearing and the bar I was in,’ Edu says. ‘Strange. Everyone was focused on Germany and then…’
His voice tails off. The rest is unsaid but everybody knows. Everybody remembers. Five goals down inside 29 minutes, fans in tears before half-time, and that result — 7-1— Brazil’s heaviest defeat since 1920.
While Edu was sporting director at Corinthians, they won the Copa Libertadores — South America’s Champions League. He visited Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, Real Madrid and Valencia for an insight into their methods.
Following Dunga’s exit in June 2016, Edu and head coach Tite were appointed. Brazil have won 10 of their 12 qualifiers since then, finishing first — 10 points ahead of Uruguay.
‘Tite and I worried about the mentality,’ Edu explains. ‘People were thinking about Brazil in a way we didn’t like. When people look at Brazil, they should respect us for our present and for our history. We were missing that. The team were not close enough to the people.
‘With all due respect, I don’t want to be the way English guys are. We are Brazilians. So let’s be Brazilians: friendly, laughing, talking. Some people cannot afford tickets for a game. So sometimes we open up training and let 50,000 people in for free.
‘Before, Brazilian players would not go into a hotel through the main doors. Why? Why do you want to go through the back door? People just want to see us. Now we go through the main doors.
‘A kid breaks through and wants to see his hero. Let him do that. As a player, I tried to be nice to people. Say “hello”, it’s not hard. We are bringing this back.’
Little by little, Edu is healing the wounds left on the Brazilian nation after the 2014 World Cup
After adapting to the English cold Edu won two league titles and two FA Cups at Arsenal
Edu says he wants the Selecao to re-connect with the people and not be ‘like England’
As Tite developed a winning formula on the pitch, Edu concentrated on marginal gains that could boost a player’s fitness and performance. He introduced a chartered flight from Madrid for all players travelling to Brazil games from Europe.
Brazil have had 14 captains since Tite took over. ‘We don’t want only one person feeling responsibility,’ says Edu. ‘Another example. We beat Uruguay 4-1 — rave reviews. But we had Paraguay next. We knew everyone thought Paraguay will be easy. Tite and I wouldn’t have that.
‘Normally when we return, we have open training. I said to Tite, “We have to change the mentality and surprise the players”. We closed the session. The players were expecting the press and the fans. Nobody was there. It was serious. We then won the game. It was a little thing but the mentality is changing.’
Edu peers outside and smiles. It is a freezing cold afternoon in Knightsbridge. It is a long time since he signed for Arsenal as a 22-year-old in 2001 but the memories remain fresh.
Edu’s Brazil take on England in a glamour friendly at Wembley on Tuesday evening
Brazil manager Tite oversaw an impressive World Cup qualifying campaign in South America
‘So cold! In my first week in January, I didn’t wear gloves. My English wasn’t good, I was shy and I went out there thinking, “How can they train in this?”
The ‘Welcome to England’ tackles arrived. ‘Sol Campbell,’ he winces. ‘Always Sol. Training in Brazil is lower intensity. Here it is bang, bang… but it’s nice.
‘But I was feeling sad. I lost my sister a week before I arrived. I was not in a good way. But I found a club and manager that worried about me as a person, rather than as a footballer.
‘Every day Arsene Wenger pulled me into his office. He wanted to check I was OK and check how my family were. He cared so much and it made me feel so good. He let my dad watch training. I come to London once a year and always go to see him.’
Edu adapted to life in England, and became a blend of steel and silk in the Arsenal midfield. He became close friends with Patrick Vieira and they spent a New Year’s Eve at Edu’s Brazil home. He formed part of that extraordinary Invincible side, scoring the fourth goal in the 5-1 victory at Inter Milan and a decisive goal in a victory at Old Trafford.
Edu (second right) has fond memories training with the likes of Sol Campbell (second left)
The Brazilian also played in a number of ferocious Arsenal matches against Manchester United
‘Ah yes, a free-kick the day Beckham got the headache from Ferguson,’ he grins referring to the flying boot. ‘I played the day Keown jumped on Van Nistelrooy, the pizza in the tunnel… what a mess!’
His loyalty to Wenger is sincere. ‘His mentality created our team. He wanted to win every game and every trophy. Chelsea away, United away, we wanted to win.’
‘Patrick… amazing. People want to sign another Vieira? Forget about it. Never. Patrick was one of the greatest. Better than Roy Keane. I have huge respect for Keane but Patrick was a more complete player.’