Words: Susy Campanale
Eriberto Da Conceicao Silva was born on January 21, 1979, joining Bologna at the age of 19 in 1998 and becoming a crucial part of Chievo’s fairy-tale rise to the top from promotion to fifth place in Serie A. Luciano Siqueira was born on December 3, 1975 and had been on the verge of a big money transfer to Lazio in 2002 when he had a crisis of conscience and felt the desperate need to confess: Eriberto and Luciano were the same person.
There are few tales quite as strange in Serie A history as that of The Artist Formerly Known as Eriberto. It was during the period of the false passport scandals, where South Americans tried to get around the limits on non-EU players by finding – or creating – long-lost Italian relatives to get citizenship. Eriberto was very different, because his entire identity was fake, from the name to the birthplace to his age, a good four years off. Perhaps even more surprising for the time, he would’ve got away with it, but the birth of his son prompted a confession. “I couldn’t do it anymore. I didn’t know who I was. I wanted to call my son by our own family name.”
It was a shock to the system after two seasons of Chievo lighting up Calcio under Gigi Delneri, Christian Manfredini on the left wing of a 4-4-2 and Eriberto on the right. This was the team of Eugenio Corini, Bernardo Corradi, Nicola Legrottaglie, Simone Perrotta, Federico Cossato and Massimo Marazzina.
Big clubs started to pick at the Chievo squad like magpies, taking away the gems who had come out of nowhere to challenge for a Champions League place. Lazio tried to swoop for Eriberto, a lightning-quick 23-year-old ready to bloom on the main stage. In the thick of the negotiations, he flew back to Brazil and went off the radar.
Eriberto never returned from that trip to South America, but Luciano arrived in Italy on August 22, 2002. “My real name is Luciano. I am not 23 years old, but 26. I could’ve gone to Lazio and earned a lot of money, but I could not continue living under this lie.”
There was a certain sadness to the story, as he was a 20-year-old orphan in Rio de Janeiro, scrambling to make a living, when he was spotted by talent scouts. They knew 20 was practically a pensioner’s age for Brazilian clubs, especially for someone with no experience, so his agent convinced him to pretend he was 17. In a country wracked by poverty with many who will never go abroad, it was surprisingly simple to find a farmer who hadn’t registered for a passport, steal his identity and register with Luciano’s photograph. It worked and Palmeiras signed the ’17-year-old’ raw talent. He wasn’t expecting a great career, international move to Italy or promotion with Chievo. Luciano just wanted to be a football player.
“Come to think of it, we always joked about the fact he looked older than he was…” recalled former Bologna teammate Gianluca Pagliuca. It simply didn’t occur to them that the 19-year-old was in fact 23. Why would it? Chievo coach Delneri was understanding, like a father, albeit to a slightly older child than he was accustomed to. “If he did this, it was to escape poverty. We await him with open arms.” He returned to Verona to find a sign stuck to his locker: ‘Welcome home, always and forever magical
Fatherhood prompted the confession and it’s also what saved him, because a year-long football ban and potential prison sentence turned into a fine and four-month suspension. “I feel like a huge weight has been taken off my shoulders. I am ready for anything, even jail, because for the first time in years I can sleep easy.”
Eriberto’s career was over at 23 and Luciano’s was just beginning at 27. He got his big transfer in 2003, joining Inter on loan, but was straight back at Chievo in January 2004 and remained there for nine seasons. Luciano retired in 2013 at the age of 37, after a couple of months with Mantova.