The English Premier League has never been as happy a hunting ground for Brazilian players as other top championships, but Gilberto has bucked the trend. Since leaving CA Mineiro for Arsenal FC in 2002 he has been a stalwart in the Gunners midfield, winning the 2003/04 domestic double, following that up with another FA Cup and the following season playing in the UEFA Champions League final, to add to FIFA World Cup, FIFA Confederations Cup and Copa América honours with Brazil. In the first part of his Q&A with uefa.com users, the laid-back 31-year-old looks forward to Arsenal's UEFA Champions League tie with AC Milan, ponders his personal success in England and compares north London derbies against Tottenham Hotspur FC with their Brazilian counterparts.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the Arsenal this season in the Champions League and the Premier League?
Gilberto: We have done our part in the first phase and now have a tremendous challenge against AC Milan in the knockout stages. But you can't change opponents in a competition like the Champions League, which is why I don't really think it was a huge issue for us to have qualified in second place. The same happened when we played Juventus in the quarter-finals a couple of seasons ago and we managed to qualify. Milan have a great squad but I also trust in Arsenal's potential.
What are your best memories in the Arsenal shirt thus far?
Gilberto: Nothings trumps the 2003/04 Premiership, when we finished the season unbeaten, something that had only been done once in the history of English football. It will be extremely hard for any other team to repeat that. I still remember how the team got more and more confidence and suddenly everything seemed to be on our side. Incredible.
As a teenager I wonder how football players from poverty-stricken countries such as Brazil are scouted. How did you end up playing in Europe?
Gilberto: My case is not typical of a Brazilian player, because I was already 25 when the chance to come to Europe came. It was after the 2002 World Cup, which Brazil won. That made clubs pay attention to my work. It has become much more common for Brazilian players to leave the country at younger ages, sometimes without even playing a couple seasons for a big team. I think the chances of success are bigger if you get some more experience at the top level in your own country before thinking of leaving. It prepares you more for what's to come.
Who do you think is the best English midfielder and why?
Gilberto: Steve Gerrard, not only because of his ability and presence but also due to the fact he is an amazing team player. Liverpool and England are lucky to have him.
How do you guys work on your short passing? You Gunners are perfect at it!
Ashish Phadale, Mumbai, India
Gilberto: Arsène Wenger has always told us he wants us to move the ball. This has become an Arsenal trademark under him. We don't do anything special, though. Sometimes there are training sessions in which a player can't touch the ball more than once or twice. For me the short-passing game is nothing new, because that's the way things are done in Brazil.
Arsenal have qualified second in their group behind Sevilla, and now have to face FIFA world champions and UCL defending champions AC Milan. What are your thoughts coming into the knockout rounds of the UEFA Champions League and facing such tough opposition?
Gilberto: The Champions League is tough for everybody. That has been proved many times in games where so-called stronger sides had to work their socks off to see off the opposition, not always successfully. Villarreal made it to the semi-finals at their first attempt in 2006. The 2004 final was contested by Porto and Monaco, two sides nobody imagined going that far. You have to respect a side like AC Milan, who are the defending champions and have so many talents onboard, but not fear them.
What is the atmosphere like in the north London derby with Tottenham and how does it compare with others you have played in?
Paul Collingdale, Brighton, Sussex, England
Gilberto: The north London derby is pretty intense considering the atmosphere in English football, but things are different in Brazil. Supporters in my country stand most of the time and they are more vocal. But I really like playing in English derbies and hearing the crowd being more worked up than normal. Even the tea ladies and stewards are more excited on a derby week.
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