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Milene Domingues - Don't Call Her Ronaldinha!

Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.


Milene Domingues has a problem. She has played club football since the age of 14, and holds the world record for keepie-uppies, (55,187 touches in nine hours and six minutes). She broke the European transfer fee record when the Spanish club Rayo Vallecano tried to sign her, and is now the most recognisable female footballer playing on this side of the Atlantic.
Yet still everyone persists on calling her Mrs. Ronaldo, or Ronaldinha, after her husband of three years and World Footballer of the Year, Ronaldo.
"I have my own name", the 23 year old says, grimacing. "And all Ronaldo's girlfriends have been nicknamed Ronaldinha."
But this is the one time during our interview that Milene looks unhappy. She has a wide smile on her face and chats away disarmingly, oblivious to the photographer's attentions, as you would expect from someone who has seen themselves plastered up on billboards since the age of 17.
So how did the girl from the suburbs of Sao Paolo in Brazil find herself the target of all this media attention? It all began with three brothers and a back yard.
"I always played football with my brothers in Brazil." the 23 year old grins. "I never went anywhere without a football, I was like a tomboy."
What did her parents and her peers think of her obsession? "They preferred that I didn't play football. Everyone said that I could be a model so my mother took me along to an agency."
Whenever she was at the agency she would practise keepie-uppies during her breaks. And it was then that she was spotted, not for her looks, but for her ability with the ball.
"The director of the agency saw me asked me to show him what I could do. So I did 100 keepie-uppies. He was impressed and told me to go to Corinthians where he knew the director. My mum wouldn't let me go but I went anyway."
As well as playing for the women's team, she was invited to entertain the crowd at half time with her ball-juggling skills, for which she was paid enough money to appease her mother.
When she was 17 it was decided she would attempt the ball juggling world record. Planned meticulously, Milene had to learn how to eat and urinate with the ball balanced on the back of her head. Nine hours and six minutes later she was a Brazilian sensation, rainha das embaixadinhas - the juggling queen.
So when she married Ronaldo at 20, she was hardly fazed by the media hype.
The same year they married, she gave birth to Ronald and moved to Milan, where Ronaldo was playing for Internazionale.
However when Ronaldo made his controversial move away from Milan to Real Madrid last summer, Milene didn't want to go.
"I have lots of friends in Milan, footballing and non-footballing, and none in Madrid.
After three years away from football to bring up Ronald, Milene reckoned at least she could join a Spanish team. Many top clubs came for her signature on the basis of her reputation, but it was only after she was offered a contract worth well over £100,000 a year by Rayo Vallecano, the smaller of Madrid three big clubs, that the flaw became apparent.
"They were not allowed to have foreign women playing competitively for them. I could only train."
So Milene took the unusual step of commuting back to Milan every weekend to play for the club she used to train with, Fiamma Monza, currently third in the Women's Serie A. But she believes that the effort is worth it.
"Travelling to and fro is tiring but it's my passion. You can only play football when you are young, and I want to play as much as I can. It's my passion."
However, she won't be travelling to China with the Brazilian national team this summer to compete in the World Cup.
"I don't want to be at that position when I have to leave my family for a long period to go and play football. I'm happy playing at the level I am."
Then laughing, Milene adds, "Also, I haven't been selected!"



Anjana Gadgil, February 2003

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