Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, November 11, 2020 - When the FIVB Beach Volleyball World Tour began to hold more than 10 events in a season, two Brazilian pairs dominated the international circuit - Roberto Lopes/Franco Neto and Ze Marco de Melo/Emanuel Rego.
Today Franco will be celebrating his 54th birthday and reflecting on his career that produced 16 gold medals, including 13 from 1993 through 1996 for he and Roberto Lopes.
“This year with the pandemic and my birthday being on a weekday, I haven’t made big plans,” said Franco, who competed in 172 World Tour events with 51 podium placements, 65 final four finishes and 90 quarterfinal appearances during his 22-season career. “I’ll most likely stay home with my wife, Suelen, and my son, Bruno, and we’ll order dinner and celebrate it together.”
Franco ranks seventh all-time in World Tour medals and semifinal appearances behind five other players from Brazil (Emanuel Rego, Ricardo Santos, Alison Cerutti, Ze Marco de Melo and Marcio Araujo) and American Phil Dalhausser. Franco and Roberto Lopes are tied for third in team podium placements (31) behind Emanuel/Ricardo (58) and Dalhausser/Todd Rogers (40).
After his international career ended in 2011, Franco said he “worked in the Brazilian Federation’s beach volleyball department until 2017. I took a year off and in 2018 started working with a state representative here in Rio de Janeiro. He was elected and I was hired as his assistant. Right now, I’m also running for the presidency of the Rio de Janeiro State Volleyball Federation, with the elections set to happen in February. I feel lucky now for being able to conciliate two of my biggest passions in sports and politics and I really want to give back to the sport for all the impact it had in my life.”
As for memorable moments in his career, Franco said “there are some. First, when Roberto and I became the first Brazilian team to win a World Tour event in 1993. Playing at the Atlanta 1996 Olympics and winning the bronze medal at the 1999 Pan-American Games were also really special. Winning four Brazilian titles (1993, 1999, 2004 and 2007) was memorable and being able to play on the American domestic tour (AVP) between 1998 and 2000 also helped me evolve as a player and a person.”
Franco competed in 39 AVP events with two wins, eight appearances in finals and 13 top three finishes while advancing to the semifinals 15 times with six different partners. Franco and Roberto Lopes competed together on the American domestic tour 22 times with four seconds and four thirds. The Brazilian pair also won their country's domestic tour titles twice (1993 and 1999).
When asked about the three best players he played against during his career, Franco offered that he was “fortunate to have a long career and be able to play with several fantastic players. Emanuel tops my list for everything he won and his determination. He was among the best both as a blocker and a defender and didn’t hesitate in leaving his hometown behind to pursue his dreams in the sport. Ricardo (Santos) is one of the most complete players I’ve seen and besides winning everything that was out there to be won, he’s also a fantastic person. And Roberto was just phenomenal with his technique in every skill, having him by my side for 15 years was a great inspiration for me to get where I did.”
Franco Neto (right) with long-time Brazilian rival Emanuel Rego.
Playing during both the rally (2001-present) and side-out scoring (1987-2000) eras, Franco said “people ask me this question a lot and I always say that I’ve been fortunate to have what it took to succeed in both systems. The side-out system demanded a lot from players in the physical aspect and I was young at the time, I could handle it pretty well. When the rally system came in and the court was reduced, beach volleyball became more of a mental game and I was more experienced and mature at the time, so that helped me too. I honestly don’t prefer one or another, I think I was ready to adjust to any change in the game.”
Legendary Brazilian players on the Espinho podium in 2007 featuring (left to right) Pedro Cunha, Franco Neto, Emanuel Rego, Ricardo Santos, Fabio Luiz Magalhaes and Marcio Araujo.
As for his success with Roberto Lopes, Franco said “it came down to two main factors: we always had the same goals and respected each other. During the 15 years we were together of course we had our disagreements and difficult moments, but for knowing we wanted the same thing and always respecting one another, we managed to remain together and keep moving forward. I also think that having a strong start as we did, winning basically every tournament we played at in our hometown Fortaleza in the first years of our partnership has put the entire state of Ceará behind us and that left a strong impression in that entire generation.”
As for his favourite World Tour events, Franco said “playing in Brazil was always special and even more in Fortaleza. We got to win two events there and to do it in front of our families and fans was priceless. Klagenfurt was also a fantastic tournament, it really looked like a party there.”