Regarded by many as the best right-back ever to have played the game, former Brazil international Djalma Santos has died at the age of 84. A FIFA World Cup™winner with A Seleção at Sweden 1958 and Chile 1962, Djalma was admitted to the Hospital Helio Angotti in Uberaba, Minas Gerais, on 1 July with a severe respiratory infection and passed away on Tuesday following complications.
Twice a Rio-Sao Paulo Tournament winner with Portuguesa, Djalma Santos would later shine in the great Palmeiras side of the 1960s, a team known as A Academia thanks to its cultured play. During his stay at Palmeiras he won the Taça Brasil twice, the Roberto Gomes Pedrosa Tournament and Rio-Sao Paulo Tournament once each and the Sao Paulo state title three times. In 1968 he left the club to join Atletico Paranaense, where he won his last trophy, the Parana state championship, in 1970.
Despite all his triumphs on the pitch, Djalma was as down-to-earth and as laid-back as they come, assuming his status as a world champion and a legend of the game with modesty and humility. That much was clear in an interview he gave to FIFA.com in 2010.
“I’ve always tried to lead a normal life,” he said on that occasion, reflecting on how he had managed to stay grounded after becoming a world champion at Sweden 1958 and being voted the best full-back of the tournament. “I always respected my opponents too and the fans who came to watch. Thanks to God I went through my whole career without getting sent off. Why? Because there was respect and because I played fairly.”
He added: “Obviously doors were opened to me as a result. I can’t deny that. I’m able to do what I do today because of that time, when Brazil became world champions. The respect has lasted to this day and I feel nothing but gratitude for football.”
Djalma started out as a midfielder, and after enduring a frustrating start to his professional career he was switched to the right-back position, one he made his own during an association with Portuguesa that lasted over a decade
“I played for them for 11 years and never won the Sao Paulo championship with them,” he said after retiring from the game. “I’ll always cheer them on, hoping they can do it one day. They deserve it.”
In 1959, by which time he had made his name overseas, he swapped Sao Paulo’s Portuguese community for its Italian colony, joining Palmeiras, where he would go on to form part of one of greatest teams in the club’s history. At a time when the Pele-inspired Santos seemed unbeatable, the men in green won three state championships.
After exactly ten years with Palmeiras he joined his third club, Atletico Paranaense. Though he had nothing left to prove when moving to the Curitiba outfit, that did not stop him from playing a part in their 1970 state title win, O Furacão’s first trophy in fully 13 years. One year on from that triumph, the right-back played his last match for Atletico-PR and retired from the game for good.
Djalma began his Seleção career at a time when the country’s football fans were still trying to come to terms with Uruguay’s shock win at the Maracana in the final match of the 1950 FIFA World Cup Brazil. The right-back made his debut in a draw with Peru on 10 April 1952 and got his first taste of international success in a 5-0 defeat of Panama.
He started all three of the national team’s matches at Switzerland 1954 and scored from the spot in the quarter-finals against the mighty Hungarians, though it was not enough to prevent his side crashing out 4-2. Four years later in Sweden he sat out Brazil’s first five matches, making his only appearance in the Final, when he came into the team in place of the injured De Sordi of Sao Paulo. He would go on to have an outstanding game.
“That win over Sweden was the high point of my career,” he later said. “There we were taking on the hosts in their own back yard and with their king looking on from the stands.”
Djalma was Brazil’s first-choice right-back in the next two world finals, helping A Seleção retain their title in Chile in 1962 before lining up in England in 1966 as part of a side whose challenge was ended by Eusebio’s Portugal in the group phase.
Thanks to his consistently outstanding performances, the right-back became the first player to make 100 appearances for Brazil, his international career ultimately spanning four FIFA World Cups and those two world titles.
The scorer of three goals for his country, Djalma won the last of his 110 caps in a 2-0 defeat of Uruguay at the Estadio Pacaembu on 9 June 1968. Five years earlier, in a match organised by FIFA to commemorate the English Football League’s centenary, he had the distinction of being the only Brazilian to appear in the Rest of the World side that lost 2-1 to England at Wembley.