FIFA Club World Cup, FIFA World Cup

  • Gabigol’s move to Flamengo has transformed the life of Jeferson Sales
  • The lookalike is bombarded by selfie-seeking fans
  • He recalls the amusing tale of having traffic stopped to let him through

Jeferson Sales was anonymous to even his neighbours six months ago. He awoke at 4am each day to work at a beverage company. He “barely left home” otherwise.

That was before ‘A 40-million nation’ – as Flamenguistas proudly champion themselves – became aware Jeferson was a dead ringer for terrace idol Gabigol.

“I didn’t even have Instagram in April – now I have over 90,000 followers,” the shy Carioca told, incredulity tinting his tone. “So many people stop me in the street to ask for photos, to talk. So, so many.

“When I go to matches there are so many around me that it’s impossible to have lunch, to go to the toilet. And it’s not just the Flamengo supporters but fans of other clubs too. This is so gratifying, I can’t explain how happy it makes me feel.”

The indistinguishability was pointed out to Jeferson when Gabigol was representing Santos a few years ago. The dream began when Flamengo took the charismatic striker on loan from Inter Milan earlier this year.

“The only things I did was dye my hair and trim my eyebrows,” Jeferson revealed. “My hairstyle was already the same, I already looked like him naturally.

“I went to a game at the Maracana in April and a reporter asked me to do an interview. I was embarrassed – I’m a really shy person – and didn’t want to do it, but everybody pushed me into it and it went viral on the internet.

“It completely changed my life. I’ve met people I never could have imagined I’d meet. I train at the Gavea (Flamengo’s stadium) thanks to the great goalscorer Nunes. The Flamengo supporters have really embraced me.

“There are times I’m embarrassed to explain that I’m not Gabigol. One time this girl – she was crazy to meet Gabigol – came to me crying, so emotional, thinking I was Gabigol.

“I didn’t have the heart to tell her I wasn’t Gabigol, because I didn’t want to spoil that moment for her. I felt really bad, I don’t like to lie, but there are times it’s too hard not to.

“Another time I was really late for a game because there’d been an accident on the motorway. The traffic wasn’t moving. It was almost kick-off time.

“My window was open slightly. A guy selling sweets saw me, thought I was Gabigol, and shouted for the [people] to stop and let me through. I didn’t even have time to explain that I wasn’t him – I just had to go for it!”

Jeferson is not the only xerox in the Maracana stands. He attends matches with lookalikes of Flamengo players Bruno Henrique, Diego Ribas, Filipe Luis, Rafinha and Willian Arao, their Portuguese coach Jorge Jesus, and the doubles of Alex Muralha, Lucas Paqueta, Neymar, Para and Roberto Carlos.

“I started going to the Maracana and people would say, ‘I have a friend who looks like so-and-so’. I met Diego Ribas’s lookalike and we started to create a team of lookalikes with the idea of helping children in need.

“We’ve been taking food and toys to a children’s institution, and bringing joy to the kids. We’re trying to arrange a match to help provide food for the hungry.

“A guy called Reinaldo sponsors us, helps us a lot. He sorts us out a van to take us to away matches. Some of us don’t work, so we don’t have much money, but we group what we have together to buy tickets and Reinaldo helps us.”

When Gabigol scores, the cameras hurriedly hone in on Jeferson, who obliges by imitating the No9’s patented celebration. And Gabigol scoring is something happening with military regularity. Eighteen in as many appearances have Flamengo eight points clear at the top of the Brasileirao.

“He’s an outstanding player,” Jeferson said. “He’s endeared himself so much to the supporters. He’s always in the right place at the right time to score goals. That chip he scored against Santos was incredible. He really deserves his place in the national team.”

Jeferson is certain Gabigol will fire Flamengo to Copa Libertadores glory and book them a place at the FIFA Club World Cup. O Mengão drew 1-1 away to Gremio in the first leg of their semi-final, and every Flamenguista is salivating over the ultimate rematch. Flamengo, with Zico unplayable, famously schooled Liverpool in the Intercontinental Cup in 1981.

“Flamengo are playing unbelievably,” said Jeferson. “A reporter even said, ‘Flamengo no longer has rivals, just victims.’ I’m certain we’ll win the Libertadores.

“I’ll have to see financially, and with work, but I’d absolutely love to go to the Club World Cup. I have all the confidence in the world that Flamengo would beat Liverpool.”

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