WHEN Cristiano Ronaldo arrived at Manchester United an unknown quantity, he had a quick message about the next generation of Portuguese talent coming through the ranks at Sporting Lisbon.
“If you think I’m good, wait till you see Fabio Paim,” he told reporters upon arriving at Old Trafford.
Paim was the shining diamond of the Lions youth academy who, at the time, was thought of more highly than Ronaldo and another Sporting starlet, Joao Moutinho.
Ronaldo went on to win five Ballon d’Or titles, while Moutinho was capped by his country 113 times – both boasting extraordinary careers.
Unfortunately for Paim, despite winning 42 international caps at youth level for Portugal’s Under 16’s all the way through to the Under 21’s, he faded completely into obscurity.
He didn’t earn one senior international cap, and as he admitted, he didn’t deserve to either.
Because Paim’s story is an educational one for youth players who get bumper contracts when they’re kids and think they’ve already made it.
He joined Sporting at the age of six, and by 14 Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United were regularly checking on his progress.
Even the French Football Federation offered him the chance to move to France so he could represent their country.
To warn everybody off, Sporting tied Paim down on a £18,000 per week contract.
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However, little did they know they would be sowing the seeds for his eventual downfall.
“I spent a lot of money on cars. I love cars. I spent lavishly on the ones I wanted. All of them,” he told Globoesporte in 2017.
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“Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche, Maserati and even a Punto. Every car you could imagine.
“When you have a lot of money, you need a support system around you. I would have done it differently, if I could.
“I knew what I was doing. I believed I had more talent than everyone else. Like everyone, I wanted to feel good, wear nice clothing, drive a nice car and behave with no humility.
“But, it’s normal, that’s what people work for, to be satisfied. On the field, I did what I had to, in order to retreat to my place. I spent time with people I wanted to and did what I wanted.
“At the time, no one criticised me when things were going well. But when I stopped playing, they started pointing the finger. I just wanted to be with my cars.”
Paim was born in the luxurious surroundings of Estoril, a famed luxury entertainment destination on the Portuguese Riviera.
However, he didn’t come from money.
“I was not used to having money. When I started playing, I didn’t even have proper boots. I wasn’t ready for it.
“I didn’t have what young players have now which is an example to follow. You need role models. I feel proud and a little ashamed to pass along this message to them.”
After failing to break into the Sporting Lisbon team, super agent Jorge Mendes brokered a loan deal for Paim to try his luck at Chelsea in 2008.
Playing for the Blues’ reserve side under Brendan Rodgers, it was hoped the move would kick start his career again.
But, if anything, it was the final nail in the coffin.
“It was there where I stopped training and doing my work,” he revealed.
“I started drinking. I had money and I started doing a lot of things I didn’t do before. The doors were open for me to do what I felt like.”
After a season in West London he returned to Portugal and was eventually released by Sporting in 2010.
Paim then became a footballing journeyman, joining 12 different clubs in seven different countries, playing in countries including Angola, Qatar, Malta and even Lithuania.
Still only 30, he was last seen looking for game time with Portuguese second division side, Leixoes S.C.
But Paim knows where he went wrong and where Ronaldo went right.
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“At one point, I could do more than him but I did not have what he had, which is the strength and desire to be what I wanted to be,” he said.
“He had a great work ethic and I didn’t have that. I had the quality, at least as much as him, but I did not have the rest.
“I would have preferred to have less quality if I had more of the other part. I would have been one of the best in the world.
“But, no one is born perfect. I thought having talent was enough but it’s not.”