For every air disaster, there are people who have luckily avoided it. Those who should have been there, but were not. They are fortunate, of course, but such fortune comes at a price. The psychological burden is not easy to handle, and it is bound to stay with them forever. Meet Lourency, the first – and most probably last – member of the fateful Chapecoense squad who arrived to European football, having joined the Portuguese club Gil Vicente in the summer.

The Chapecoense disaster occurred on November 28, 2016, as the team travelled to Colombia in order to face Atletico Nacional in the Copa Sudamericana final. The plane crashed at the outskirts of Medellin, killing 71 of the 77 people on board. Nineteen players and their beloved coach Caio Junior perished. 

Lourency, a promising 20-year-old winger who had just broken into the senior squad at the time, was supposed to make the trip. “I played a few good games those days and would have taken the journey”, he tells The Independent. “And yet, the team had to play a meaningless Brazilian championship fixture against Palmeiras in Sao Paulo first, and the management asked me not to go there, so that I could take part in the state Under-20 tournament because we were fighting for the title.”

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That decision had dramatic sequences. “The squad was expected to come back after the Palmeiras game, and I had to join them on their way to Medellin. However, plans changed unexpectedly. Instead of returning to Chapeco, they decided to go to Colombia directly from Sao Paulo. That is how I was left behind,” Lourency explains.

Had the original schedule been kept, the tragedy would never have happened, but such logical assumptions were not relevant for Lourency when he was informed about the crash. “Those were very dark days. I heard the news at 4am and could hardly believe my ears. I didn’t sleep properly for two weeks after the disaster and thought about my teammates,” the winger remembers.

“I only have good memories about that team. I lost a lot of friends at once. Tiaguinho, Canela, Marcelo Augusto, Josimar, Dener… they were all close to me. I had a special relationship with Caio Junior too. He was the one who gave me the first chance to play professionally. It is thanks to him that I scored my first goal. I wasn’t supposed to play against Fluminense in September 2016, but eventually he decided to put me on as a substitute, and I scored the late winner. After the final whistle, he told me that he was going to count on me from that moment on,” Lourency says.

Two months later, the mentor was gone, and the rise was cruelly stopped, just as the striker was finding his feet. It wasn’t a straightforward journey for him in the beginning. “I left my home in northern Brazil at the age of 18 and went south to Rio Grande do Sul to join Internacional. The change was radical, but it was a chance to play for a big club and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. It didn’t work out, though, and Inter weren’t interested in signing me after a year at their youth team. Eventually, I ended up at Chapecoense in 2015, and it was such a positive experience,” the winger recalls.

“I have always supported Flamengo, but immediately loved Chapecoense too. Now I am a fan of both clubs – my heart belongs to Flamengo, but I am grateful to Chapecoense for everything they did. And then everything just fell apart,” Lourency says.

In theory, the tragedy might have promised a massive chance for the Chapecoense youngsters who stayed alive to prove themselves, but the reality was exactly the opposite. “The project was stopped just when I was about to take off. The club was forced to bring in a lot of new players to build a new squad, and they took our places too. The whole atmosphere changed. Psychologically it wasn’t the same at all. They were good players too, so we became irrelevant. I had to leave in order to get playing time.”

Lourency in action for Chapecoense against Santos (Getty)

He was loaned out to second division Vila Nova in 2017, then joined Brasil de Pelotas in 2018 – also in Serie B. “Upon returning to Chapecoense in the beginning of the year, I found out that it was still a bit uncomfortable. Another move was needed. An offer from Sweden came in, but I didn’t want to go. Then Gil Vicente appeared, and that felt right. I see it as an opportunity to restart my career. I have left everything that went wrong behind, and now it’s time to learn in Portugal. It really is a great chance for me,” Lourency says.

It is perhaps a little easier not to think about the team and friends he is still mourning when he is far away from Chapeco, across the ocean. Almost three years have passed since the tragedy, and those were lost years as far as Lourency’s career is concerned. Now, at the age of 23, he has finally found a coach who believes in him like Caio Junior. 

Vitor Oliveira, the wily veteran who holds an amazing record of winning promotion from the second division 11 times with different clubs, is famous for his ability to make unproven players better, and the winger immediately felt that. “The boss is very experienced. He knows how to handle young guys who want to grow, and I just have to make sure that I listen to him as much as possible.” 

The start in August was, therefore, quite remarkable. On his debut, Lourency scored and provided a last minute assist, leading Gil Vicente to a 3-2 win over Aves in the League Cup. Then, just a week later, his name was on everyone’s lips, as he netted and assisted again on his Primeira Liga debut against Porto. The modest club from Barcelos, not far from Braga in northern Portugal, stunned the favourites beating them 2-1, and the new Brazilian was the biggest star of the show. 

“I want to have a successful career, win titles, become famous and make history wherever I go,” Lourency says. “Milan are my favourite team because Kaka and many other Brazilians played there, and I like Real Madrid too. Ronaldo was my idol when I grew up. I dream of wearing the yellow shirt of Brazil and playing at the World Cup. Everything is possible.”

Could he go all the way? It is a bit early to make predictions, but the first impression in Portugal is extremely positive. “Lourency should have a very good season at Gil Vicente,” Sport TV pundit Ivo Costa says. “Being coached by Vitor Oliveira is mightily important for him. He will improve tactically and defensively, and shine offensively in the counter-attacking style.”

“Lourency is an exciting player,” adds A Bola journalist Nuno Dantas. “He is fast, a good dribbler and not afraid to take opponents on. He could be one of the most pleasant surprises in Primeira Liga. It is not always easy for a Brazilian to adapt to European football, but he has been influential almost in every game.” 

“We are talking about a quick winger who is excellent in one-on-one situations and especially effective when he has space ahead of him, with or without the ball,” Expresso journalist Mariana Cabral agrees.

Remember the name, then. Memories of the Chapecoense disaster won’t leave Lourency, but he seems to have found happiness again, and scouts would be wise to follow his progress closely. The tragic script might be gradually turning into something more positive.

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