Atletico Mineiro fans catch green fever for hero Hulk
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Belo Horizonte (Brazil) (AFP) – Green body paint is all the rage at the stadium, where legions of fans chant his name -- there's a superhero in the house at new Brazilian champions Atletico Mineiro: the real-life incredible Hulk.
Hulk has been the talisman of the franchise film-worthy season at the Belo Horizonte club, who defied long odds to clinch their first league title in 50 years last week, with two matches of the season to spare.
The club brought the 35-year-old international, who is nicknamed for the buff, bipolar Marvel superhero, back to his native Brazil in January, signing him at the end of his stint in China with Shanghai SIPG.
Atletico Mineiro were betting the veteran forward still had some superpowers in store after 15 years playing in Europe and Asia.
The move paid off -- going into the final round of games, Hulk was the league's leading goal-scorer this season with 19, nearly a third of Atletico's total.
"He's already one of our biggest idols, even though he hasn't been here that long. He's the main reason we won the championship," says Mauricio Maoli, the DJ behind the club's public announcement system.
Maoli, 45, played a big part in Hulk fever catching on in Belo Horizonte.
Hired to give matches a realistic soundtrack after fans were banned from stadiums because of Covid-19, Maoli decided he needed a chant for the newly-signed Hulk.
He found a recording from a 2012 match in which Hulk, then playing for Portuguese side Porto, scored both goals in a 2-0 win over Sporting Lisbon.
In the recording, Porto's announcer calls out, "The incredible...," and fans thunder back, "Hulk!"
Maoli remixed the audio to give it a more Brazilian feel, turning the scream into a triple "Hulk! Hulk! Hulk!" -- which real-life fans soon adopted when authorities allowed them back into the stadium in August.
"It turned into a kind of fever, like a warrior's battle cry," Maoli says proudly.
'Mommy, Daddy, Hulk'
Hulk, whose real name is Givanildo Vieira de Souza, hails from the city of Campina Grande in the northeastern state of Paraiba, more than 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) from Belo Horizonte.
But he has made his adopted hometown his own.
Outside the stadium, vendors sell mini Marvel Hulks sporting Atletico Mineiro jerseys at 70 reais ($12) apiece, and fans regularly show up painted green in tribute to the famously jacked forward's namesake superhero.
One noted fan is 17-month old Samuel Reis, whose vocabulary consists of three words: Mommy, Daddy and Hulk.
When he hears the player's name, the tot strikes an Incredible Hulk pose and does his best deep-voiced growl.
His father, 31-year-old Daniel, had never seen his team win the championship. He wasn't born the only other time Atletico Mineiro claimed the league title, in 1971.
When stadiums reopened for fans, he started going to matches with Samuel, who soon rose to local fame for his fervid Hulk fandom.
Clutching a Hulk figurine, sporting a mask of the superhero and painted in green, Samuel went to four matches -- and Atletico Mineiro won them all.
"He turned into a kind of lucky charm for the team," jokes Daniel.
The Hulk mania is cross-generational.
Atletico Mineiro's all-time leading scorer, Reinaldo, says signing the player was "the best move Atletico has made in recent years."
Hulk paid tribute to the 64-year-old legend at a match in November, raising a clenched fist to the sky after scoring a goal -- just as Reinaldo used to do in protest at Brazil's 1964-1985 military dictatorship.
"I'm not the only one embracing you, it's every single fan of this club," Reinaldo, who was watching from the stands, told him later.
"You'll be in our hearts forever. We love you!"
© 2021 AFP