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Hilton is Montpellier's 43-year-old hero: "Playing for Guinness Book of Records reasons may be for Kazuyoshi Miura – but not me"

Hilton Montpellier
(Image credit: PA)

This feature originally appeared in the January 2021 issue of FourFourTwo. Subscribe to today and save 37%: all the exclusive interviews, long reads, quizzes and more but with more than a third-off normal price. 

You began the season as a regular at Montpellier, and the team got off to a good start. Do you still love football as much as ever?
No doubt about it. I’m only playing at 43 because of my passion – that’s the same as when I grew up with a ball at my feet in Brazil. I wake up every day with a smile, knowing I’ll play football one more day. My original plan was to play until I was 40 – I didn’t expect I’d go beyond that, and still be a starter and captain. There were 40-year-olds still in the game, but not playing every week. The one who really inspired me was Ze Roberto, who became a proper athlete in its literal meaning.

What’s the secret of your longevity?
My healthy diet has helped a lot. It’s more than 10 years since I stopped eating fast food. From time to time, I eat pizza or cook a burger at home, but I haven’t touched industrialised burgers or other types of food for the past decade, and ended up having far fewer muscular injuries. I don’t drink alcohol either. By and large, the mind is the main secret – my brain can take me anywhere. I tell my wife that I only know how old I am when other people mention it. Occasionally they will say, “You’re 40 and still play football.” My usual answer is, “It’s been three years since I was 40, mate!”

How do you deal with training?
Usually managers preserve the oldest players from their toughest training sessions. But in my opinion, the less you exercise, the more you’ll struggle to keep up with physical conditioning. I train even more than others – I arrive before everyone else to do my muscle strengthening session, then sometimes I’m mad enough to do more at home!

What’s it like marking players such as Kylian Mbappe (left) at your age?
I used to be quick for a centre-back, and I’m not as slow as people usually think, considering my age. Obviously, I’m not going to challenge Mbappe for a sprint – not even the 20-year-old defenders can catch Kylian! The only way to stop him is to get to the ball first, to anticipate. 

You’ve earned a couple of red cards recently – one on the same day you became the first 43-year-old to play in Ligue 1 for 64 years...
Yes, I have to blame VAR for that! The first red card was against Lyon. I made a sliding tackle and touched the ball, but I got the player too. Despite that, I was very proud to become the oldest player in Ligue 1.

How do you find having team-mates young enough to be your son?
Sometimes they bring in boys from the academy, 16 years old... you’ve got to be kidding me! But inside the dressing room, everyone’s equal. They called me ‘papi’ (grandpa), but it’s with affection and admiration. 

Have you heard about Kazuyoshi Miura in Japan? Still going at 53...
Yes, I’ve heard about Miura – I think I should pay him a visit in Japan and see what he’s eating, so I could play for another 10 years! I did some research on him, though, and if I’m not mistaken, he had played only four matches in the past five or six years. That’s clearly for Guinness Book of Records reasons – that’s not for me. 

You won the league with Marseille in 2010, but left after someone broke into your home and pointed a gun at your head. How scary was that? 
I grew up in Gama, close to Brasilia, and saw too much violence. I played in Switzerland, then for four years in northern France, and never witnessed any sort of violence. On that day in Marseille, I had a few guests over: my sister, brother-in-law, nephew and other relatives. My dog started to bark, and when I looked outside, I saw the guys wearing balaclavas. I just had time to tell my family what was going on. Everyone was scared – they broke the door in and pistol-whipped me. I was bleeding and told them to take whatever they wanted, but not to touch anyone. After that, we moved.

Then you won the league again, in your first season with Montpellier.
When I was unveiled, I said we were Ligue 1 contenders and some people said I was insane. But we went on to have a perfect year. When we started to win and went top, I kept pushing the players who hadn’t experienced a winning streak like that, because I’d lived it with Marseille. Winning that league title with Montpellier was the greatest achievement of my career.

Did you deserve a Brazil cap?
If I’d stayed in Brazil, I would have had better chances. When I was at Parana [from 2000-01], there were rumours about the national team. Something happened when I was with Servette, though, and I still don’t know if it was true or a prank. A woman rang me, introducing herself as the secretary of Luiz Felipe Scolari. She talked to me about the qualifiers and their plans for the 2002 World Cup. I was injured at the time, however, and never knew if they contacted the club about me. But I don’t have any regrets – lots of players get one cap, then go downhill.

How tough will it be when you finally have to retire?
I haven’t thought about it yet – I don’t want to suffer in advance! I’d like to play for one more year, although I’m trying to prepare my mind for potential retirement when my current contract ends [in June]. I want to be completely satisfied with my career, knowing that I took that decision at the right time.

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