Brazil: Kidnapped footballer's mother freed

Forty-one days after her dramatic abduction, Marina Lima de Souza, the mother of Brazil’s brightest footballing star, has been freed.

Following a week of speculation that her release was imminent, the 43-year-old was ushered into her Santos apartment in a Golf with tinted windows at 13.20 local time. Her head, shaved by the kidnappers, was covered by a cloth.
Since news of her release in São Paulo’s west zone that morning, crowds had begun to form outside the building. Hanging from a fourth floor balcony a banner captured the festive mood. “It’s at Christmas that the baby Jesus answers our prayers,” it read.

The kidnappers left Dona Marina on a small road in the small Perus neighbourhood. “She wasn’t terrified or shaking or anything,” said local resident José Pedroso, who helped call for police.

Dona Marina then spent more than two hours in hospital, undergoing blood tests and x-rays, before arriving home. According to doctors she was dehydrated and had lost 4.5 kg.

The case has been shrouded in mystery since police declared a media blackout in November. According to one radio station in São Paulo a ransom was paid, something not confirmed by police. Police have also yet to announce a motive.

São Paulo, like many big Brazilian cities, is no stranger to kidnaps. According to the Department of Public Security, there were 83 such cases between January and September of this year.

But rumours also surfaced in the Brazilian press that Dona Marina’s kidnapping was due to a personal vendetta.

The baby-faced football craque (star) has not played since his mother’s kidnapping on November 9 when two unmasked men stormed a barbecue on the São Paulo coastline, demanding to know the whereabouts of Dona Marina. At the time Robinho made an emotional plea for the media to leave his family alone.

But there had been increasing speculation this week that Dona Marina was on the verge of being released. On Tuesday Robinho’s agent told a São Paulo radio station that there was an 80 per cent chance of the striker playing in a championship decider on Sunday.

“Based on my gut feeling, I think that this week [the kidnapping] will end. But if it isn’t resolved he won’t play,” said Vagner Ribeiro.

Dona Marina’s release comes at a crucial time for her son’s team Santos, with the Brazilian championship reaching its climax. On Sunday Santos will take on the Rio team Vasco da Gama in a sell-out match that will decide the ‘Brasileirão’.

Whether the step-over king graces the pitch on Sunday or not, his protracted transfer to Real Madrid is expected to be finalized next week.

For the 20-year-old son of a maid, playing alongside the likes of David Beckham will mark the high point in a phenomenal career that has led many to dub him the ‘new Pelé’. It will also make Robinho, the descendant of slaves from Brazil’s northeast, an instant multi-millionaire.

‘We´re really happy that Robinho can join the squad again in this last phase of the championship,’ said Vanderlei Luxemburgo, the Santos coach. ‘But we’ll have to calmly assess whether or not he’ll play.”