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game changer

FIFA 19: Meet the footballer who beat Leo Messi to a Puskas Award then quit to play FIFA

Wendell Lira dreams of becoming the FIFA world champion

Heard of Wendell Lira? Lionel Messi certainly has.

In 2015, Lira was playing in the Brazilian lower league team, Goianesia.

Then, during a match against Atletico Goianiense – Lira scored a strike so stunning it catapulted him to a 2015 Fifa Puskas Award.

Lira got 46.7% of votes. Messi, 33.3%.

The Brazilian’s star was on the rise. Bigger football clubs started taking interest and, at 27, he still had a potentially long career ahead of him.

That was until a game of FIFA changed his life.


“I always dreamed of making a living as a video game player, but I never thought it would come true. But it did,” he told the BBC.

During an event at the FIFA Award ceremony in Switzerland, players were challenged to a game of FIFA against the then world champion.

Lira beat him 6-1. 

Life in the Brazilian lower leagues is tough, with 82 per cent of players earning around $250 a month.

Only 60 Brazilian clubs have a full calendar for the whole year – so for half a year many go without any money.

Lira had a wife and daughter to support but having retired once due to injury, opportunities were few and far between.

A game of FIFA changed Lira’s life

A game of FIFA changed Lira’s life

Eventually, he decided he would kill himself. He got in his car and drove as fast as possible for two hours – hoping to crash into a truck.

“I didn’t have money to pay for milk for my daughter,” Lira recalls. “I was suffering a huge pressure because I was unemployed, without perspective. I couldn’t see me in the mirror.”

Eventually he was invited to play for Goianesia.

“People think that because I was a Puskas winner I had a huge salary. It was never the case,” he said.

But his performance on FIFA didn’t go unnoticed, and he was snapped up by a sports agency who wanted to turn him into an e-athlete.


Now, Lira has more than 500,000 fans on YouTube and claims to be making more money than he ever did playing football.

Brazil’s top e-sports stars can earn close to $1million a year.

Not that this is any surprise.

There are an estimated 110 million gamers in Latin America – a number that continues to grow.

“My dream is to become FIFA  world champion,” Lira told globoesporte.

One day, we’re sure he will.