Antony has opened up on the difficult path that brought him from a favela outside Sao Paulo to Manchester United, with the £82m summer signing from Ajax crediting his brother for enabling him with the tools to steer away from local drug dealers to become one of the game’s most expensive players.
The 22-year-old, who was left “with goosebumps” after scoring on his debut against Arsenal nine days ago, said that he would sleep on a couch as a child and the smell of cannabis from dealers outside would regularly waft through the family home.
But the family was happy with their lot and their support allowed the winger to flourish as a teenager in Brazil’s top-flight before his switch to Europe.
“I was just a humble little boy from a favela,” Antony told Sky Sports. “I didn’t have boots to play football. I didn’t have a bedroom, I slept on the sofa.
“I lived right in the middle of the favela. Twenty yards from my house there were drug dealers. Sometimes you’d be watching the game on a Sunday and there would be that smell, a smell of cannabis, coming into our house.
“There were moments my brother, sister and I would cry and hug each other, thinking about our lives. There were times in the middle of the night, we were bailing water out of our flooded house but we’d still do it with a smile on our faces.”
His brother Emerson Santos, who now looks after his sibling’s off-field affairs, was a driving force behind a career that saw him break into Sao Paulo’s first team at 18 before making a solo move to Ajax in 2020, where he ended up winning two league titles under Erik ten Hag.
“My brother was always with me, he taught me how to dribble with the ball. He’s still with me today, he looks after my career. He coached me and helped develop my skills. So I always had this plan – I’m going to be a footballer. I never had any other plan, this was always what I had in mind. I’ve always loved playing football.”
Antony has also spoken of how he struggled emotionally when in the Netherlands because he was unable to see his son owing to Covid-19 travel restrictions.
“I came to Ajax on my own during the pandemic,” he added. “It was difficult being away from my son. I missed his first steps, I just saw a video. It’s the sacrifice we make, the price we pay. I have no regrets.
“It’s to provide a better future for my son and to make him proud of me. No matter how much it hurts, with nights spent crying thinking about him, it’s all worth the pain. He’s close by now, happy and doing well.”