Wendell Lira beat Lionel Messi to win the Puskas Award back in 2015 thanks to his sublime bicycle kick goal scored for Goianesia in a Brazilian lower league game against Atletico Goianiense. The 29-year-old who is no longer a footballer – is today recognised as one of the world’s biggest esports stars.
A whizz at FIFA, he competes professionally against some of the best players in the world in tournaments for substantial pots of cash.
His popularity has seen him become a YouTuber, where he has earned over 500,000 followers interested in his FIFA tips and opinions on Brazilian football.
A promising striker in his home country, he played for Brazil’s Under 20s in the 2006 Copa Senda.
As fate would have it, injuries disrupted his progress and he was loaned to multiple clubs where he hoped to rediscover his form.
Then, in 2015 his greatest career moment came when he beat the great Lionel Messi to a Fifa Puskas Award in Switzerland.
A spectacular bicycle kick for Brazilian minnows Goianesia saw Lira receive 46.7% of votes, while Messi got 33.3% for his Copa del Rey Final goal against Athletic Bilbao.
But the notable riches the likes of past Puskas Award winners Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic earned from the game was never something that was on the cards for Lira.
Life in Brazil’s lower leagues is tough – with 82 percent of players earning just £250 a month.
Lira’s career was cruelly cut short by injury at the age of 27, and with little in the way of savings he struggled to support his wife and daughter.
He even contemplated killing himself, driving as fast as he could in his car hoping that someone would crash into him and put him out of his misery.
“I didn’t have money to pay for milk for my daughter,” Lira recalled.“I was suffering a huge pressure because I was unemployed, without perspective. I couldn’t see me in the mirror.”
But it was his love of gaming that got him out of his deepest hole.
Lira was already signed up by a sports agency who were determined to turn him into an e-athlete.
Back to that night in Zurich, his most famous evening as a pro, he was challenged to a game by the then reigning FIFA Interactive World Cup champion, Abdulaziz Alshehri.
Lira thrashed his opponent 6-1, and it was clear a new career was in the offing.
Brazil’s top esports stars are said to earn somewhere in the region of £750,000 a year.
For Lira, the next step is to become FIFA Interactive World Cup champion.
“If you ask any teenager if they want to get paid for playing video games, they’ll say yes,” he said. “I want to work and play at the same time… I don’t have any regrets.”
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