Wendell Lira at Balon d'Or awards
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Wendell Lira: From Puskás Winner to Promising eSports Star

In football, Wendell Lira achieved what most players could only dream of—he outshone the legendary Lionel Messi to claim one of the sport’s most coveted awards. However, this win marked not the pinnacle of his career but a surprising turning point.

Gone were the days of lacing up his boots or strapping on shin pads; his once-mighty feet were no longer his primary asset on the pitch. In an unforeseen twist, he traded in his boots for a controller, leaving behind the physicality of the field for the virtual pitch. The story of Wendell Lira is proof that our beautiful game can bring joy even without kicking a ball.

This is the story of how Wendell Lira transitioned from a career in professional football to entering the realm of eSports, emerging as a professional FIFA player.

The Puskás Award

Most stories of professional players tend to begin in the early stages of their career and how they overcame adversity to progress through their club’s academy. However, when it comes to Wendell Lira, this story begins at the end.

In 2015, the striker scored one of the sport’s greatest goals. It was recognised by FIFA, getting nominated for the Puskás Award. It didn’t look likely that the then-27-year-old would win. After all, he was up against one of Lionel Messi’s most iconic goals. His solo effort against Athletic Bilbao in the Copa Del Rey Final.

Despite the odds being against him, Lira would go on to secure 46.7% of the vote. Beating out the Argentinian, who got 33.3%. It was quite a shock. It was one of the high points of Lira’s career.

He took the stage in front of some of football’s biggest names and he collected his trophy. Wendell Lira then returned home to his native Brazil. But this award was not the start of a turning point in his professional football career. It was, in fact, the end.

The FIFA Match That Changed Everything for Wendell Lira

On the virtual pitch, Abdulaziz Alshehri, a 25-year-old pro-FIFA player from Saudi Arabia, had just become the best player in the world. He had won the FIFA Interactive World Cup. The pinnacle of virtual football.

In doing so, the Alsheri secured an invite to the Balon d’Or awards. The same venue and event where Lira would pick up his trophy. The Saudi Arabian arrived with one goal: to challenge and play one of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, or Neymar Jr. in a match on FIFA.

However, after all three declined, he turned his attention to the Puskás Award winner. Lira would go on to accept the challenge. Something that would change everything.

A professional football player vs. the top-rated pro-FIFA player. Many would expect Abdulaziz Alshehri to secure an easy win. This was not the case.

Speaking on the match, Wendell Lira would say, “I was nervous about the ceremony; I was told, ‘Come on, play a little bit so you can loosen up a little’. And then I ended up playing with him and won 6 to 1.”

Yes, that is right; Lira had beaten the world’s best FIFA player 6-1. Not only did he have a career on the actual pitch, but he was more than competent on the pixelated one.

While this would have shocked the FIFA eSports world, his win did not come as a surprise to him. He always had a love for eSports, becoming the FIFA champion of the Brazilian state of Goiás in 2012.

It was also one of his favourite hobbies. Going as far as saying, “I always had this intention of becoming a YouTuber, to do something for video games.”

Just a year later, after multiple injuries, Wendell Lira called time on his football career. His next venture awaited. He became a pro-FIFA player.

FIFA eSports

Most football players can only dream of signing for one of Europe’s top clubs. For Wendell Lira, his time in Europe came through his ability to press buttons with his hands rather than from scoring goals with his feet. In 2019, he signed for Sporting CP, one of Portugal’s most famous clubs, as an eSports athlete.

The goal of his new venture was to become the best FIFA player on the planet. Unfortunately, things would not pan out this way. Lira would not win any major FIFA tournaments. Nonetheless, he had lived two of his dreams. Being a professional football player in both physical and virtual environments.

His career certainly took an interesting path. Even to this day, he continues to post content to his YouTube channel.

It is a tale of how, no matter what form we ingest it in, football is an encapsulating sport that can bring joy in any format.

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