RB Leipzig's Brazilian forward Matheus Cunha grew up idolising Ronaldinho and playing futsal, and has certainly brought the Samba flair to the Bundesliga.
Cunha's outrageous solo effort against Bayer Leverkusen late last season was one of 10 nominees on the shortlist for the 2019 FIFA Puskas Award, given to the player deemed to have scored the finest goal of the calendar year.
The 20-year-old spun past compatriot Wendell with an eye-catching flick, before dinking the ball over Lukas Hradecky to net an effort that was later voted as Bundesliga Goal of the Month for April.
Speaking exclusively to bundesliga.com Cunha discusses learning his craft in Brazil, the influence Ralf Rangnick had on his first year at Leipzig and how Germany World Cup winner Lukas Podolski made him cry...
bundesliga.com: You recently played in Brazil for the U23 national team. What do you miss most from home?
Matheus Cunha: "First of all, it's a pleasure to be talking to you. I think, without doubt, what I miss the most from my homeland is the beach, my friends and my family."
bundesliga.com: Where did you grow up and how was your childhood? What role did football play?
Cunha: "Football in Brazil is always very intense. I grew up in love with football, watching games all the time and playing football in all my free time. It all happened very fast at home until I was 14 years old, so that's where my passion for football came from. Soon after I was 14, I started to live a more professional life and I had to travel a lot to clubs far away from home. Thankfully, it all worked out to be where I am today. There is no doubt that I'm a Brazilian in love with football, who always wanted to be a football player."
bundesliga.com: How is the Bundesliga perceived in Brazil?
Cunha: "The number of people watching the Bundesliga is increasing a lot. Germany has always had many great teams and great Brazilians playing here. I followed Grafite a lot at Wolfsburg and Diego at Bremen and Wolfsburg, too, if I'm not mistaken. There have always been Brazilians making history here in Germany. Brazilians know the German league very well and people often watch the games. I'm sure that there will soon be many Brazilians fans cheering for German teams."
bundesliga.com: What’s the difference between playing football in Brazil and Germany?
Cunha: "There are many differences. I believe that, tactically, the level of concentration in German football is very high. The Brazilians are technically richer and have an impressive quality to their game. Things are taken very seriously here in Germany. Players listen to the coach's tactics and want to perform as best they can, which makes the football very intense. All the teams want to play a very intense game when it comes to tactics. Physically, it's also a very strong game. Above all else, I learn about tactics here on a daily basis, and I always try to improve and do what's asked of me."
bundesliga.com: How do your family support you?
Cunha: "My family is with me in spirit all the time, and I talk to them whenever I can. They're always supporting me and watching the Leipzig games. When I go to Brazil, they always try to support me, so they're extremely important to me. It is very important to have family around. I live with my girlfriend now, but I'll always be close to my mother, my father, my sister, my grandmother and my aunts. I believe that being very close to your family is one thing that makes you a better person."
bundesliga.com: You scored the Goal of the Month against Leverkusen and it might even become Bundesliga Goal of the Year. What do you think about your effort?
Cunha: "I don't know about Goal of the Year, I just won the Goal of the Month. I believe it was a beautiful goal and I was in the running for the Puskas award. I wish I had won, but these are moments that we simply have to enjoy. It was a very nice goal, but I don't like talking about it too much. It was a goal that combined quick thinking with skill and technique. I think the whole move was great."
bundesliga.com: Do you know how you scored it? Was it down to a lot of practice during training?
Cunha: "It's difficult, so you always have to work a lot in training. I think we still have a little Brazilian instinct that allows us to do these different things. In Brazil, everyone jokes with me that it was a goal more from futsal and indoor football. The goal was definitely inspired by futsal because I used to play a lot of futsal and it's the sport that I love the most. I even like it more than outdoor football. I think the goal came from a lot of training and some things that were already in my head."
Watch: Cunha's world-class goal vs. Leverkusen!
bundesliga.com: Ronaldinho is a friend of yours. Which former Bundesliga player is your idol?
Cunha: "Ronaldinho is undoubtedly a great idol. It's hard to talk about him because he's my friend. He's definitely an amazing person who treated me very well. I wish him all the best and he deserves it. In terms of players from the Bundesliga, I like Podolski very much. He destroyed the Brazil national team when he went there and became world champion, and I cried a lot at that time. But he seems to have a lot of affection from Brazilians even to this day. He's always playing around and joking with Flamengo. I believe Podolski is a German player, who has a great personality on and off the pitch."
bundesliga.com: You are such a young player and already play for a big club. Was it like a dream come true playing in the Bundesliga?
Cunha: "No doubt it's a dream come true. I'm part of a great team, and I hope to do a good job so that things go as well as possible. What happens in the future is down to God. If I do a great job here, then things will happen in the way he wants. It's a dream come true and I'm very happy to be here."
bundesliga.com: What's your big dream for the future?
Cunha: "That's a hard question. I believe my biggest aim is to play for the Brazil national team. I'm very happy to be in the U23s right now. We have a great team and great coaches and we're creating a very good team to work with. I always joke when I go there that if you're stressed from club football, then you can always relax with your fellow compatriots in Brazil. I believe this national team environment is the coolest environment a young footballer can have."
bundesliga.com: Which parts of your game do you want to improve?
Cunha: "I hope things keep developing and that I can secure my place in the team. If I get more minutes and have more opportunities to play, then I hope to do my job to the best of my ability. I want to seize my opportunities and build on my good performances from last year. I hope this year can be the same, but I'm very relaxed. A lot has changed here, but even with all the changes, our coach and sporting director are still very good professionals. Julian [Nagelsmann] and Markus [Krösche] are very capable of training and managing a group, and I hope they succeed. I'll do my best and together we can do something really cool for Leipzig."
bundesliga.com: What do you think about your role in this team?
Cunha: "If you consider the playing time, others have more played minutes than me. I know that I have to just keep working hard and understand that I'm still fairly new and young. However, this does not detract from my ambition. I want to be playing and doing my best, but this isn't only down to me. I'll make the most of my opportunities so that I can get more minutes under my belt and become more important for the team. But all the players here are important and I hope I can help the team."
bundesliga.com: Who are your friends away from training and the pitch?
Cunha: "I always do stuff together with Marcelo Saracchi and Diego Demme. Marcelo is Uruguayan, so we almost speak the same language and we're always joking and having fun. When we're going through a difficult time, we try to relax as best we can by playing, joking and motivating each other."
bundesliga.com: In your opinion, what are the differences between Ralf Rangnick and Julian Nagelsmann?
Cunha: "Julian is still starting out in his role and he's a coach who merits being here today. He did a great job at Hoffenheim and we all followed that. I hope he can do a great job here. He has a very open mind and always wants to help. We have to learn from him and his knowledge so we can be the best players possible. Ralf was a person who helped me a lot. He was the coach when I got here, so my first experience of German football was with him. We had a great season and I had a good role within the team. I felt very good in the group, so he was a very important person to me. It's hard to talk about each one of them individually. I believe they're two great coaches, so I wish them the best. I hope that with Julian, we can be our best and perform well this season."
bundesliga.com: Nagelsmann praised you a lot during the summer break and pre-season. How would you describe yourself?
Cunha: "I think it was a very good pre-season. I worked very hard and I tried to do my best as always. Then I hit my head and got a concussion. These are things that happen in football, but it left me catching up a little. But I was still able to work hard and do my best to keep up with the others. It's ultimately up to him because he has great players and he's doing what's best for the team. I'll keep working and will try to make the most out of any situation."
bundesliga.com: The Bundesliga is very exciting this season. What is your opinion of it? And what role are Leipzig playing?
Cunha: "It's true, the Bundesliga is very tough this year. I hope we can have a great season like we had last year. We need to play game by game and keep calm so that we can get better and better. There are great teams in the Bundesliga and there are surprises every year. I hope we are ready for the challenge of climbing higher up the table."
bundesliga.com: Football is full of superstitions. Do you have any?
Cunha: "I'm a religious player and a player who has his superstitions. Before I get on the pitch, I always have certain things I like to do to stay calm when I play. I think I'm a little superstitious.”
bundesliga.com: Do you have any rituals?
Cunha: "I don't have one specific ritual or things I have to do. But I do have some things that I try to do if I remember them. It's something that influences me in a positive way. I don't try to think of the negatives, and just think of the positives."
bundesliga.com: What are your hobbies away from football?
Cunha: "I'm always hanging out with my girlfriend here in Leipzig. We always go to the lake and we love to eat out. My free time basically involves going to the lake to take a dip to remind me a little of the sea. But there is no way I'm doing it in this cold, so we go to a restaurant to get cosy and escape the cold."
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