With Giovane Elber on his farm in Brazil

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Deep in the heart of Brazil, hours from civilisation, Giovane Elver runs a cattle farm (photo: Valeska Jimenez). Over 20 years ago, he began the transition from footballer to cowboy. FC Bayern accompanied him to his fazenda.

From goalscorer to cowboy

Every morning Elber goes through a ritual that could save his life as he knocks his shoes. First one, then the other, carefully putting his hand into them to check if anything has settled in overnight, perhaps a scorpion, a spider or even a shrewd snake.  There’s plenty of space in Elber’s boots. He completes his outfit with a western shirt, jeans with a large buckle, a knife on his belt and a wide sunhat. When Elber steps outside his front door here at Fazenda Sao Paulo in the heart of Brazil, the long-time Bayern star looks the perfect example of a cowboy.

Photo: © Valeska Jimenez

The first thing Elber explains to visitors is how to deal with the fazenda’s animal guests. He doesn’t want anything bad to happen. The staff regularly look under all the furniture, keeping everything spotless, but Elber was once confronted with a snake when he opened a cupboard in an administrative building down by the lake. He described it as grey, brown, thin and venomous. He coaxed it out to the jungle with a long knife. He wasn’t afraid but showed the animal respect, as he says you need to do. “It’s a long way from here to a hospital.” The nearest large city is Cuiaba and is a long ride down a gravel road away. “We don’t speak in terms of time here but in kilometres,” Elber says. “You can never say exactly how long it’ll take.” This time it was four hours.

Elber’s farm covers over 10,000 hectares

Elber purchased Fazenda Sao Paulo in 1999. In 2003 and 2005, he bought the neighbouring farms San Jose and Paraiso. In total, he now has around 10,000 hectares on which he rears around 4,500 cattle. He plans to increase to 7,000. His father once told him to buy a farm. “My dad was afraid of flying so couldn’t really visit me in Europe.” Elber wanted to make up for that lost time together after he retired. “Unfortunately, dad died in 2006 not long after I retired. He came here twice and I know he’d love it,” the 47-year-old said.

Giovane Elber on one of his four tractors. Photo: © Valeska Jimenez

“When I come here, I always think dad is sitting next to me in the passenger seat. I know he’s looking down on us.” Elber visits his fazenda two or three times a year, staying for around 10 days at a time. His family live in Londrina, 1,700 kilometres away, which means visiting is a hassle. But Elber loves to inspect everything in person. His wife Cinthia and their two children accompany him when they’re on holiday at the fazenda.

“Worse than after training with Felix Magath”

Of the 13 employees who live here with their families, there are two cowboys per farm, who have 50 workhorses at their disposal. “A cowboy gets up at 4am, eats lunch at 10 and goes to bed at 7pm. That’s our life here,” Elber explains. “A farm doesn’t work without gauchos. Without horses, the risk of injury would be too great.” He’s become a good rider himself since starting after his retirement from football. You need to be able to because you can’t get everywhere by car on the fazenda.

The water pumps on the fazenda are “our gold mine”. © Valeska Jimenez

The rainy season is what Elber loves most when he visits. “In the dry season, everything that’s supposed to be green is brown and grey. It’s 42 or 45 degrees, so it’s terrible. What are my cattle supposed to eat?” he says while steering his car cross-country. “It’s like a washing drum, and in the evening everything hurts. It’s worse than after a training session with Felix Magath.” On his inspection tours, Elber stops everywhere. He does a lap in the tractor, of which he has four, and then inspects the grass roots for pests. He checks the dry feed production and visits his employees. Stopping by the two water pumps is also a must. He calls them “our gold mine”.

There’s everything you need. As long as there’s no power outage, you can even watch the Bundesliga or Champions League. “But I sometimes like it when we have no electricity,” Elber admitted. “No TV, no internet, no phone – it’s good for you and is really relaxing.”

Elber even thinks about Bayern in the heart of Brazil, sending this motivational video to the U17s for the resumption of their league campaign.

Barbecue for the staff

When he visits, he organises barbecues for his employees. Every eight weeks he slaughters two cattle to give away to the staff, and once a month on Saturdays he arranges a bus to the nearest town. It leaves at 4am and returns around 10pm, with a trip taking about four hours. The families then buy beans, rice and flour. Unfortunately, there are very limited possibilities to party. There are a few houses around the corner, a bakery, a small church and a type of saloon where you can listen to music and drink beer. And what does ‘around the corner’ mean? “Well, it’s an hour’s walk,” says a smiling Elber.