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Features

Kenedy programme interview - in full

Written by Tom Easterby

Kenedy has proved to be one of the most important additions to Rafa Benítez’s Newcastle United squad this term. Since arriving on loan from Chelsea in January, the Brazilian has made a big impression at St. James’ Park, helping lift the Magpies into the top half of the Premier League table. He sat down with UNITED this week, prior to the final home game of his loan spell against West Bromwich Albion…

There are many intricate inkings all over Kenedy’s body – so many, in fact, that he has lost count of how many times he gone under the tattooist’s needle. “I always liked them, but I didn’t think it would be like this,” he smiles, looking down at his arms. “But, one by one, and now you see, I have a lot.”

It is quite an eclectic collection. He has tattoos of Michael Jackson, Tupac, Muhammad Ali and Marilyn Monroe. There are red lipstick marks permanently adorning his neck and, on the Brazilian’s left hand, a depiction of Mickey Mouse with his middle fingers covering his eyes. His left leg bears a portrait of the moustachioed Don Ramón, a character from the popular Mexican sitcom El Chavo del Ocho, and Bob Marley lyrics, written in English.

The 22-year-old taps his right calf, where his first tattoo, a large crucifix, sits alongside the King of Pop. He winces slightly as he explains that the work on his ribs and the back of his head – some religious text between two angel wings – was the most painful. He can’t remember the order he got them in. “There are some from my childhood, and some art as well,” he says, through a translator. “I just look for photos and then put them there, and that’s it. I get them when I have free time, and space on my body.”

It is interesting, given his arbitrary approach to tattoo selection, to learn that the Magpies’ January loan signing doesn’t consider himself as extroverted as his illustrated skin might suggest. The loanee baulks at the suggestion that his extensive needlework reflects an expressive personality. “It’s not like, to show something,” he says. “It’s just because I like it. It’s not like this.”

Is he the opposite, then? Is he, as Chelsea’s David Luiz suggested in a recent interview, quite shy? “Yeah, that’s true,” he laughs, flashing the braces that line his teeth. “Yes. That’s why I don’t know English properly. I can understand a bit more now, because I’ve spent a lot of time here. But to speak it, I’m still shy.”

As he fiddles with the laces of his pristine white trainers, keeping his head down as he speaks, it is easy to see where Luiz is coming from. But Kenedy – one of the most influential additions Rafa Benítez has made to his Newcastle United team this term – is, just as he can be on the pitch, unpredictable. There are as many hearty laughs and grins as there are nervous footwear adjustments during a half-hour interview.

He casts his mind back to over a decade ago, when he moved from Santa Rita do Sapucaí, in the southeastern countryside, to the lights of Rio de Janeiro. “Santa Rita is a small city in Minas Gerais, and it was good to grow up with my friends and family as well,” he says. “It’s a good place – a small one, but good.

“I have more memories playing football and having fun with my friends, and in school. But I didn’t have too much time to enjoy it, because I went to try and play football when I was young.”

He was just nine years old when he left Santa Rita, where he played barefoot in the shadow of the favela, and headed to Rio to join Friburguense’s academy. He went without his parents, Claudio and Elisandra. “I went on my own,” he explains, with a shrug. “It was OK. I was running to the dream, I needed sacrifices.

“At first it was a bit shocking, because I came from a small town to a big one, so everything is different. In time I got used to it, but it wasn’t that difficult. I had a lot of friends from the same city who helped, and some people who I came to know who helped as well. It wasn’t that difficult.”

For a young boy, to make a journey akin to the distance between Newcastle and London alone and adjust to a different way of life, it must have been a lot to take in? “Yeah, it was so interesting. I’d never been to the beach before – I would just have a shower in the river. It was like, ‘wow’.”

Looking back – not too far, though, given Kenedy’s relative lack of years – he knows it was the right thing to do. “I just moved away from my city to get the opportunity, but I didn’t imagine something like this,” he gestures around him, “like I am now. I’ll never forget where I came from. Knowing that is very important, and I’m happy to know I can be here, and that some people from my city could be here – and be more than me, bigger than I am.”

In a sense, Kenedy – who hopes one day his talents will be worthy of full international honours – feels he is carrying a torch for the small municipality from which he hails. There is, too, a weight of expectation to handle. He was, until his temporary switch to St. James’ Park, something of an unknown quantity, albeit one with the kind of pedigree, reputation and hype that inevitably generates excitement among supporters.

But the move has been a success. “It was needed,” he says, “because I needed to get more minutes and play and to be pushing higher, to keep growing and growing.

“I’m quite excited because I’m playing well and my teammates are playing very well as well. They’ve been helping me and we’ve all been helping each other. It’s all going good, we’re doing well. We are still working hard to get better and better and stay in a better position, keeping as high as we can.”

Having his closest ones with him in Newcastle has helped. Kenedy’s wife Lohaine and baby daughter Lorena came up from London with him, along with his dog, Hercules. “I’m here with my wife and my girl. For me, I’m used to settling in easily, but it helps, for sure.

“I come from Santa Rita. To be here is good, it’s fine, you know – you appreciate it. I’m really glad to be here. And the club – they have helped me with everything. The city is very good too.

“And now, I am a fan of Newcastle’s fans. They are amazing. At first when I came, OK, but when I saw the game against Leicester, it was something amazing, and here against Arsenal as well. I’m a fan of them, not the other way around.”

The discussion moves on to his arrival from Stamford Bridge just over three months ago, and the club’s announcement video that followed. It featured the sound of wrestler Mr. Kennedy bellowing his own name into a microphone, such was his custom in his mid-2000s heyday. Newcastle’s Mr. Kenedy looks a little embarrassed and covers his face with his hand. “WWE?” he ventures, grinning. “I didn’t know who that was when I came, I had to look it up. Now I know.”

There follows an exchange in which March’s FUN88 player of the month explains his name is pronounced differently in his homeland. The local accent makes it ‘Ken-e-gee’, with a softer ‘D’ sound. More laughter ensues as he repeats his name playfully.

He seems relaxed now, as he does with a ball at his feet. There are no signs of inhibition when Kenedy tries a trick few would attempt, or goes shoulder-to-shoulder, making no concessions. It has been a while since United have possessed a player with his style and ‘ginga’ – that swagger, that effortless, free movement.

Kenedy is a long way from Santa Rita, and it is a journey he may not have been able to make were he not in possession of the edge that makes him the player he is. He can seem a little reticent, but beneath that exterior there is a detectable self-belief he is keen to convey. “I can say that I am shy but I am confident too, in what I do,” he says. “When I come onto the pitch, I look at the fans and I’m just thinking, ‘I cannot disappoint them’. I have to give my best, 100 per cent, and work hard for it – and never disappoint them.”

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