“He’s magic, you know. You’ll never get past Semedo” is a chant that can often be heard resounding around the near 40,000-capacity Hillsborough Stadium by Sheffield Wednesday fans.
However, the supporters’ admiration and infatuation for the Portuguese star works both ways, as the 30-year-old reveals, if given the choice, he wouldn’t swap his time with the Owls for a stint in the Premier League.
Having become a firm fan favourite in South Yorkshire after nearly four-and-a-half years at the club, which brought a promotion from League One in 2012, the defensive midfielder is now driven on reaching the top-flight with his beloved Owls, who have not played in England’s top division since 2000.
Currently lying seventh in the second-tier of English football, Sheffield Wednesday are well on course to fulfil owner Dejphon Chansiri’s ambition of lifting the club into the Promised Land by 2017, a desirable target mapped out by the Thai businessman back in March.
But following the impressive influx of new players and the seemingly masterful managerial appointment of fellow Portuguese Carlos Carvalhal over the summer, Semedo believes the Owls’ squad is one of the best in the division and says his team-mates have no excuses for not achieving a top-six finish this campaign.
Shoot spoke exclusively to the midfielder about his incredible connection with the club’s fans with the Owls, the club’s Premier League goal, his brand new autobiography ‘Win The Day’, plus his special relationship with Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.
You have been at Sheffield Wednesday for four-and-a-half years now. What is it about the club you love so much?
“I felt like there was something special at this club when I played against them at Hillsborough in 2010. That was when I felt the big environment and I wanted these fans for me. Without imagining; the next summer, I came here and it was something special. I had the offer in the summer and I didn’t think twice about it. I came in straight away. I remember my first game here, it was against Rochdale. Before kick-off, the manager took me up the stands, where we had all of our fans, and it made me feel like my skin was starting to have goosebumps! I said, “Thank you to God that I play for this club, in this white and blue shirt”. Thanks to God it has been an amazing journey. Like I have said before, I would not change this four-and-a-half years for the Premier League. It has been so special for me here. I want to play as much as I can here, as much as they allow me to play. Hopefully I will retire here at this club.”
A lot has changed at the Owls since you joined back in July 2011; including promotion from League One, a takeover and an influx of new players. What has is been like to be part of this journey?
“It has been incredible. It was incredible to get the promotion to the Championship in the first year, which was the aim within the group and we did that in a good style. After February, we didn’t lose any games, we just drew one game. It was an amazing run. Then in two-and-a-half tough seasons, we have had to establish ourselves in the division, which is always a difficult mark when you get promotion. You can get to the Premier League straight away; it can happen, but the majority of the time you have to dig-in to establish yourself in the division and we did that in great style. Since that one-year-and-a-half; instead of fluking away from the relegation zone, we are looking to go up into the Premier League. Once you are established, anything can happen. You are more likely to get the promotion. With the takeover, that gave us another boost and gave the fans another pointer in the right direction that we want to go. This year it has been amazing and hopefully we can do it.”
Mentioning the takeover; Dejphon Chansiri expressed his desire to get Sheffield Wednesday back in the Premier League by 2017. How realistic is that goal?
“As a player, I feel like it is coming because you can feel it around the club. Sometimes the big teams in this division always perform well with 11 or 12 players. But during this season, we have shown that we can perform well with 22 men. Like we played QPR away and the manager changed eight or nine players but we got a result there. We drew the game, but we were the better team. We were changed against Newcastle United in the [League] cup and we won the game. This tells us that we have a really good squad. For me, in this division, I think we have the best squad. I don’t know if we have the best eleven players but squad-wise, we are in the top-two of the division.”
Could you win promotion from the Championship this season?
“We want to win every game. We want to get to the Premier League. I’m sure the directors and the chairman all want that. But they set their marker for two years time for them to get us in the Premier League. But as players, we want to do our best now. We don’t want to wait for two years’ time. We see the possibility of doing it this year and we are right there. To get to this stage; in December, we are in a very, very good position. With one or two additions in the transfer window, it can become a real possibility. He [Chansiri] kept our best players here and he shows that he wants to go further than this division. What he did in the [summer] market; buying some good players, showed that money is not a problem in getting that 22-man strong squad. He will add for sure in January and increase what is a good chance for us. We, as players, don’t want to miss that chance.”
Carlos Carvalhal was appointed your new boss back in June. How impressed have you been with your new gaffer?
“He is an experienced manager and he has been around at big, big clubs. He has been in some very, very difficult dressing rooms like Sporting Lisbon and Besiktas. He is a dressing room warrior; dealing with big ego players and he has managed that well. He is an experienced guy and he has showed that. I bet nobody expected him to make the team perform the way we have been performing. That shows that he is a top, top manager and he was the right one.”
Being a fellow Portuguese, did you know about him before he joined?
“Yeah I knew him before because he managed Vitória Setúbal, which is my club town, and he managed Sporting Lisbon, which is the club that I support, because I grew up there since I was 10 until I was 21. I know a lot about him as he managed Braga. In Portugal, everybody knows about him because he is one of the best managers. Like when we had [Jose] Mourinho and [André] Villas-Boas, he started to come in then as one of the top-four or five managers in the country. He is very famous and everybody knows him. He will be famous here, for sure, being the manager to take this club to the Premier League.”
As well as the manager, there were a lot of new faces brought in over the summer. As an experienced member of the squad, did you play a large role in helping them settle in?
“Yeah, of course. The good thing is that they are very nice guys, so that makes it even easier. One of the special things here is that we have always had an amazing dressing room. Everybody is for everybody. Everybody helps everybody, which makes all the new players that come in feel at home straight away and you can see that reflection on the pitch. All the new faces; [Fernando] Forestieri, Lucas [Joao], Marco [Matias], [Barry] Bannan, have come in and performed like they have always been here because the dressing room is so nice. The atmosphere at home is amazing and that makes them feel at home and help them perform at their best. That is why I am here. I give the Portuguese lads the help they need. They can come to me because I have been here longer and my English is better than theirs. Their English is not too bad to be fair, it is better than mine when I first came to England, but I help them as much as I can.
Another fellow countryman, Lucas Joao, has scored seven goals and been called up to the Portugal national team since arriving. Just how good is he?
“He is very, very young and he is an amazing footballer! He is a top, top player. This is the player you will see take us to the Premier League. Who knows, he will bring some [international] caps to this club as well because he is an amazing footballer. He is a very, very good player and I am sure he will be up there in the Portugal squad with [Cristiano] Ronaldo scoring some goals for the national team at European Championships and World Cups.”
Now you were heavily involved in the club’s impressive League Cup run this term, where you reached the quarter-finals after defeating Arsenal before losing out to Stoke City. How proud were you of your team’s cup run?
“Yeah, it was a remarkable journey. From the first game at home, until Stoke, it was an amazing journey. I know we lost that game and we could have been better on that day, but we cannot put ourselves down because it was an amazing journey and we were nearly there. We did our best and that was the most important thing. I am sure all of the fans are happy with us and the way we have been performing in the cup. Now we go onto the FA Cup and who knows! It is a difficult one but we could do something special again.”
You haven’t started too many games in the Championship this term. Is your main goal to secure your place in the starting XI?
“Yeah, of course. We are training every day for that. Every footballer is training to play on the most important days, whether it is a Saturday, Sunday or a Tuesday. The most important day is that [one]. I keep working hard and trying to do my best in training for the manager to see. When you get your chance, just try and do your best to remain in the team. That is what I am looking for.”
You’re a big fan favourite at Hillsborough, as you were at Charlton Athletic. Can you sum up the support you’ve received since moving to England?
“It is incredible! They [fans] make the difference in so many games. I have so many memories in the games where we were 0-0 in the last five or 10 minutes and they were pushing us to get a goal in the last minute. They properly make the difference. Even away and at home, they are incredible. They make a difference. They make us; even when we play away, to feel like we are at home. Particularly this year, I cannot remember one game where they have been quiet. They are celebrating the goals or pushing us to go and get the goals. In the end we have managed to do that and they make a real difference. I remember the home game against Huddersfield; that was the turning point, never give up until the end and we ended up scoring three goals in the last 15 minutes. They are the big, big difference and they are incredible. They are what you call supporters. They are there to support, not to put you under pressure or make you sad. Like if you lose and finish the game, they are not there to say that you should run more or do this. They are what you call supporters. We feel happy to play at home. It is a relief for us when we see the fixtures, “Now it is a home game. Oh nice!”, because we are at home with our family. We feel like that. We feel good and amazing.”
You’ve recently released your autobiography ‘Win The Day’. Tell us a bit more about the book and what inspired you to write it?
“What inspired me to write it was these supporters. They have been amazing for me, so my idea was how can I repay them? They know Semedo on the pitch, but I wanted to show them Semedo off the pitch. This was my main idea and at the same time to try and help them in their own lives because the psychology side of life is something we sometimes ignore. People tend to go to the gym and work out their muscles or tend to go running to make the heart and lungs better, but they forget that their big muscle [pointing to the brain] is in the head. This is one of the most important things in your life. That is why I opened up about my life for them to know more about me. Who knows; they could take some good advice, which is in the book, for their own lives.”
It must have been an emotional experience going back through everything in your life; from growing up in Lisbon, to becoming a professional footballer…
“Yes it was. Sometimes remembering the past makes you live again and makes you live some of those emotions again. Only when you touch them again, do you feel them. It was amazing to remember all of that. When I was with [Cristiano] Ronaldo; we don’t talk about what we left back in the past because it was a healthy living. Everything was so pure and this was the value of those memories that we had in the past. This is what inspired me to write the book and inspired me to talk about what I have been through, the difficult times and the happy times. It was amazing to write, to have that journey and write it in that way.”
A close friend of yours, Cristiano Ronaldo was famously pictured with your brand new book. Can you tell us a bit more about your special relationship with the Real Madrid star?
“When he first came to Sporting Lisbon, we were the same age and, in his first training session, he was the best and everybody wanted to be his friend. He was the best and tricky with the ball. Nobody; none of us, knew about those tricks. Only what we saw on TV from the Brazilian Ronaldo. But he had that! After that, I went to live in the academy and we were in the same room. All of the other players in the academy were older than us. We were the youngest, like 12 or 13-years-old. All of the others were like 15, 16 or 17-years-old, so we had to stick together, otherwise all of the other guys would bully us. They would say to us, “Go and get me my snack. Go and bring me a water”. So we had to stick together and this was when the relationship became very strong. And until today, thanks to God, we have been together as much as we can. Almost every day we talk on the phone. I don’t see him the way the you see him. What has made me afraid sometimes is when I am with him, outside his house, the way the world is so connected to him. This is what makes me afraid and what makes me realise, “Wow! I am not in my normal life”, because everywhere we go, there are security guards. People are running at him. People are crying. I have never experienced that, only when I am with him. It makes me realise, “Wow! This guy is incredible”. Other than that, we are together in his house and, wherever we are, I am reminded of the times we had together. He is completely the same guy – a funny guy, laughing all the time. He asks about my family, my boys, my wife. He is an amazing guy.”