João Morelli dances his way into another year with the Wanderers

João Morelli has captured the attention of many during his first year in the Canadian Premier League. The 24-year-old netted 4 goals for the HFX Wanderers at the Island Games and also provided 1 assist in helping his team reach the finals.

The club has triggered the first of two one-year options on Morelli going into the 2021 season.

João jumped on a phone call with Wanderers Brand Manager Dylan Lawrence to discuss his experience with the Halifax team so far, as well as his approach to playing at the professional level.

Dylan Lawrence: Happy to hear you’re coming back in 2021. How has your experience been with Halifax so far?

JM: Since I got there, it was something different than what I’ve been through (in my career). I felt very welcomed by everyone and obviously, we have a relationship today that isn’t easy to build in a team. The fans are amazing too, always sending messages before games and on a daily basis. So it’s really nice. Also, I (still haven’t) had the opportunity to play in front of the fans so I really want to do that.

On the pitch, how would you define yourself as a player?

JM: There’s one thing that helps me a lot – it’s just not being selfish. If I’m in front of the goal and someone else is in a better position than me (to score) I’ll pass the ball. I like to keep it simple and I’ll work for the team and with my passing and finishing skills – I think I can really help a lot. 

Compared to the style of football you’ve played in your career so far, how did you find the style of play in the Canadian Premier League?

JM: Yeah (it was different), but I was kind of used to it. In England, it’s so intense that even if it’s not a high pressing game, you’re still working hard every single minute. Compared to Estonia it was a different style of game. For our team, we played a high press and it gets you more tired – but if it works then you have to sacrifice and if you’re tired, you’re tired and you get subbed off.

With the level of play being that physically demanding, what type of training are you doing this off-season to keep your fitness up?

JM: I’ve been training twice a day – trying to do everything Jeremy (our Strength and Conditioning Coach) tells me to. I’ve been doing my own work too, things I’ve been doing my whole career and it helps too. I’ve been doing Muay Thai which is very, very tiring and it gives you a lot of strength. Your lung capacity increases because you do rounds and you have to keep going. It’s a different sport obviously but since I’ve started doing it, I’ve noticed that I have more strength when I’m tired – so that helps me a lot on the pitch when I get in those situations. It’s funny, I’ve been playing beach tennis in the soft sand and mate… we play sets and it’s really tiring. So it’s going to help me with my (explosiveness). It’s really good too.

Very cool. On your first goal in a Wanderers jersey, we got to see a bit of Samba as well. Could you tell me more about how you approach your goal celebrations?

JM: When I scored the first one, everyone was asking me to do the Samba. Obviously it’s a very Brazilian (dance) so I said I’ll do it, but it’s not my favourite one. I’m always trying to find something – I’ve been doing that my whole life, everywhere I’ve gone to play. With this TikTok fever now it’s really (popular) so doing things like the Bunny Hop is funny and everyone knows it. Sometimes before the game I’ll talk to someone and say ‘let’s do this’ but sometimes I just do it and I expect them to join me and do it too.

There was a lot of dancing and positive vibes in your pre-game routine as well. Could you tell me more about how you approach game days?

JM: I know everyone has a different pre-game routine but if I only think of the game it’s too much for my head. I don’t want to think of the game (too much), about whether I’m going to play well or if I’m going to score or whatever. I try to think of other things – obviously you have to be concentrated, but dancing helps me feel loose and happy. So if you’re distracted by those things and your body is relaxed, I think it helps in the game. Even during the warm-up, I can hear the music and I’m dancing sometimes. There’s always a point where I feel I’m ready to focus on the game and you think ‘let’s go’ but I feel that when I’m relaxed it helps me on the pitch.

Music was definitely a big part of the Island Games experience. Throughout the trip, who would you choose as the top three DJs from the team?

JM: I’d have to put Peter Schaale number one. He always had the bangers in the squad room before games. I’d say Jems Geffrard number two and probably me as number three – it’s just different music because I played a lot of Brazilian songs. But in all honesty, it was mainly the three of us rotating and playing different music.

Looking towards 2021, what are you hoping you’ll get to experience in Halifax for your second year with the Wanderers?

JM: I just hope we are able to play at home in front of the fans. I’m pretty sure if we do that with the team we have today, we’re going to do (even) better than the Island Games which was really good for us too. Obviously from myself, I know I didn’t play at 100% – the conditions were difficult. I expect myself to play a lot better, create a lot more chances and score more. I’m sure as a (result) if we do that, we’re probably going to fight for the title again. I hope we get a normal season and that we do really well again.

You’ve mentioned that Halifax is one of your favourite places you’ve travelled to. Why do you think that is?

JM: It’s not even (necessarily) the place, it’s because of the people there. It’s fun and everyone is really nice. I’ve been to more (exotic) places but being very welcomed and comfortable (somewhere) it becomes your favourite place. That’s how I feel in my home town in Brazil – with a lot of friends and family here. That’s why I’d say Halifax is the second-best place for me.

Compared to other cities you’ve played for and the other leagues you’ve played in, how would you describe the quality of the players in the Canadian Premier League?

JM: I’ve said it before but people don’t know how good the players are in Canada. It surprised me a lot because I didn’t know how it would be, and when I got there, there were a lot of very good players. Not even good, but very good. People who have played on good teams before in the MLS or in Europe. The young players also – the ones who come from University – they come and they show a lot of quality. I think in a couple of years the Canadian Premier League is going to be really good. It’s improved a lot already and I can see it getting better year after year.

Now that Halifax has a professional football team and players like yourself to look up to, what would you say to the young soccer players who now have a professional team in their backyard?

JM: Having a professional club in your city – especially in a smaller city is even better because you now have more of an opportunity to (make it). I think it’s already a soccer city because so many people talk about the HFX Wanderers. For the kids, I think you just have to believe that it’s really possible to reach (this level). We have really young players with us who had their debut – like Luke Green. It’s not impossible, it’s actually very possible. In my city in Brazil, we have a professional club and the city is small. If you grow up and have that goal of playing for your city’s club, from there you can go to other places and you now have the opportunity to play professionally. So I think it’s a really good thing for the next generation to have this in their city.