“Everyone who plays football knows he could have avoided the challenge.”
There is still a frustration in Nelson Oliveira’s voice as he tells The Tilehurst End about the incident in February 2019 that left him in hospital for two days and needing several stitches. It was just his second game for Reading when Aston Villa’s Tyrone Mings appeared to stamp on the striker’s face following a collision.
At first, Oliveira is reluctant to revisit the incident because “it is not a good memory for me”. But then he opens up to give his honest thoughts on the England defender.
“It was a very bad challenge from Tyrone Mings. I don’t believe he’s a bad guy, but sometimes in games there are players, especially defenders, who want to hurt you on purpose. At the time, I felt he wanted to do that. He wanted to hurt my face with his boot.
“To be honest, he doesn’t need this. He’s a great player, a great athlete, strong. Sometimes, some players they just have this inside them that maybe afterwards they regret. I believe he regrets what he did. He texted me saying sorry, so for me it’s done. No problem at all.”
More than anything, Oliveira’s grievance is with the Football Association for their lack of action following the incident. Mings was not handed any sort of fine or retrospective ban.
“I thought at the time the federation didn’t take the right decision. It hurt more mentally than physically. I knew I was lucky because it didn’t get my eye, and that in time the scars would get better. But I didn’t like the way the federation reacted. If a player like Harry Kane received the same challenge I did, it would have been different.”
Oliveira had arrived at Reading less than two weeks previously, one of five loanees signed in the January transfer window who would play a huge part in saving the club from relegation. The striker had not featured at all for Norwich City in the first half of the season after a falling out with manager Daniel Farke, meaning he was desperate to get back in action.
“Everyone knew I was not playing for Norwich because I had a little problem with the coach, it was not because of my football ability,” he says. “I just wanted the opportunity to play football again.”
His compatriot Jose Gomes played a key role in persuading Oliveira to make the switch to Berkshire when opportunities elsewhere were available.
“I had other offers from maybe better clubs, but I knew I had to go to a club where the coach wanted me to play straight away. Jose spoke with me and knew my personality, and I felt he could give me the confidence and love that I needed at the time.
“Even though Reading were close to the relegation zone, I knew some of the players from playing against them and I knew they were better than the league position said.”
Rumours had linked the Royals to Oliveira during a number of previous transfer windows, with the club having an offer accepted in the summer of 2017. But the striker admits a move did not interest him at the time.
“I was one of the fans’ favourites after my first season at Norwich, but then everything changed. Stuart Webber came in, and he brought the new coach, Daniel Farke. In pre-season I started to read in the newspapers that Norwich had accepted a bid from Reading for £8 million. I talked with my agent and he told me it was true. I was a bit frustrated because no one from Norwich had spoken to me.
“After doing so well in my first season, I was expecting to do even better the next year. So to see the club accepting a bid from a rival, it was frustrating. Not because it was Reading, as it is a great club and they had just been in the play-off final, but just because I had been expecting to stay at Norwich. This is sort of how my problems at Norwich started.
“So there was big interest from Reading, but I was not close to signing because I said to Norwich that if I were to move, I would move to the Premier League. There was no point moving from one Championship club to another. I would have had a better salary, but I never move just for the money.”
When he did eventually join the club 18 months later, Oliveira made the perfect start to life as a Royal by scoring a penalty on his debut against Bolton Wanderers.
“I felt good in my first game and I felt loved by all my teammates,” he says. “I got on straight away with Garath McCleary and Liam Moore. Emi Martinez too, who had come in in the same situation as me. I was made to feel very welcome and I knew straight away I had made the right choice.”
Oliveira would score two more goals for Reading - a vital late winner at home against Blackburn Rovers and the opening goal away to Ipswich Town. As a former Norwich man, the striker’s celebration in front of the home fans, as they barraged him with abuse, became iconic.
“I never had an easy relationship with Ipswich fans,” he says. “One time playing for Norwich I said that we should win the derby because Norwich is a bigger club. Maybe I didn’t look at the stories of both clubs, as I know Ipswich is also a good club. But I still think Norwich is bigger.
“I have love for the people of Norwich and for the fans. In my opinion, Norwich will always be a much bigger club than Ipswich. So when I scored that goal, my yellow and green heart came through. I celebrated with a little bit more passion, and it helped us get an important win as well.”
Ipswich Town fans yesterday:— The Real Casuals (@RealCasuals) March 3, 2019
“He stamped on your face...Tyrone Mings he stamped on your face”
Nelson Oliveira: hold my beer! pic.twitter.com/6A62Q4I8cs
In the same game, Oliveira suffered a serious hamstring injury that looked to have ended his season prematurely. But incredibly, he returned to the pitch just a month later after visiting Brazilian physio Eduardo Santos. Santos has been nicknamed the ‘Miracle Doctor’, after gaining a reputation for helping players such as David Luiz and Radamel Falcao return from injuries ahead of schedule.
“I knew some players that had worked with him,” says Oliveira. “So I thought, why not? The physios at the club helped me a lot as well, and we made the decision for me to go to China for a few days.”
However the striker remained tight-lipped when asked about the magic behind the Miracle Doctor’s methods:
“I worked hard and had good treatments.”
Oliveira played four more games for Reading before another injury, this time to his hand, did put an end to his time at the club. In total he made 10 appearances as a Royal, scoring three goals. The striker himself proudly suggests that the club would have finished “ninth or tenth” if the season had started in January, when he signed on loan alongside Ovie Ejaria, Lewis Baker, Emi Martinez and Matt Miazga. It certainly cannot be understated just how big of an impact that quintet had.
In June, a video emerged on social media of Oliveira training with Reading’s fitness coach, Rui Santos, ahead of pre-season. It sparked rumours that a return to the Madejski Stadium was on the cards, but the striker admits he was ready for a change.
“I trained with Rui because he lives near me and is a good professional. There were a few conversations to join Reading permanently, but it was difficult to stay in England. My wife wanted a change, and so did I. England is the best place to play football, but it is not always easy to live in and adapt to the lifestyle. We Portuguese people need good weather!”
It was Greek side AEK Athens that provided Oliveira with the transition that he needed, and he signed a two-year deal there last July.
“It was a good opportunity to come to a big club in Greece and play in European competition,” he says. “It is a similar standard to the Portuguese league. But there are some very big clubs. Along with AEK, there is Olympiacos, PAOK, Panathinaikos. It is very competitive and the country is amazing to live in. I’m very happy here.”
In January, Oliveira was heavily linked with a move Wolves, and although he doesn’t rule out a return to England at some point, he insists that AEK is the only club he cares about at the moment.
“I think I have the quality to play in the Premier League. If that opportunity came about, it is something I would analyse with AEK to see if it was good for both parties. But my main focus right now is to stay with AEK. We are building an amazing new stadium, the club is growing and we want to become champions of Greece.”
Our chat comes to an end with a discussion on the coronavirus situation in Greece (he praises how well the government have responded), and all my preconceptions about Oliveira have gone out of the window. His time at Norwich in particular portrayed him as somewhat of a disruptive influence, but he appears simply to be a player who likes to speak his mind and stand up for what he believes in - and not get stamped on in the process.