A relative unknown outside Germany before arriving at Bayern Munich in April 2012, Brazilian centre-half Dante has enjoyed such a quick rise to prominence that anyone unfamiliar with his career would think he has had it easy. Yet, the fact is that the defender has travelled a long and circuitous route in becoming a first-choice player in one of the most feared sides in world football and in breaking into the Brazil team.
Indeed, it comes as a surprise to many people that the defender from the state of Bahia is already 29. From his early days in Salvador and a spell with Juventude through to his travels in Europe, which began in 2004 and took him to Lille in France, Charleroi and Standard Liege in Belgium and Borussia Moenchengladbach in Germany, Dante has had to adapt to a great many changes and ups and downs. In that time, however, he took everything in his stride, nurturing a relaxed approach that has become one of his greatest virtues.
As he readies himself for the biggest challenge of his career – Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final against Borussia Dortmund – the Brazilian spoke to FIFA.com and reflected on his experiences to date and the pressure of playing at the very top.
FIFA.com: During your stay at Borussia Moenchengladbach you earned respect in Germany, though recognition around the world and in Brazil has only come since you moved to Bayern Munich. Is that because you’re with a bigger club now or because you’re playing the best football of your career?
Dante: Listen, I can’t deny that I’ve learned a lot in the time I’ve been playing for Bayern. When you play for such a big team you’re faced with situations you’ve never dealt with before and the pressure is different. But I think it’s true to say that Bayern decided to sign me because I was playing very well, even if my profile wasn’t that high. What I did have was confidence in myself. When I came here I realised it was my big chance and that I was ready to take it.
Are you aware of the impact that playing well for a big club can have on your profile? After all, you came in for a lot of praise in Bayern’s 7-0 aggregate win over Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final.
I got the feeling in those games that a lot of people who didn’t know me were looking for confirmation in some way. It’s like they were saying: “Let’s see if this Dante guy can play just as well against great players.” For the people who didn’t know much about me, I think it was the ideal chance to show that I can do well in big games.
You’ve got an even bigger game this week, with the final against Borussia Dortmund. Does the fact you’re up against a team you know inside out make it a different kind of challenge?
I don’t think it matters who you’re up against because it’s a Champions League final. Obviously neutrals would see it as more of a European final if Real Madrid or Barcelona were in it, but for the players it doesn’t make any difference. Dortmund really deserve to have got this far. They’re an excellent team and they’re very combative, no matter whether they’re in possession or hitting you on the counter, when they can be very fast and dangerous.
Marco Reus, a former team-mate of yours at Borussia Moenchengladbach, is one of the reasons why they’re able to play that high-tempo game. Do you keep in touch?
(Laughs) Do we keep in touch? All the time! I’ve just been texting that crazy guy. (Laughs) He’s a friend. He loves to make fun and joke around, which I like to do too. We’re always winding each other up with text messages. He arrived at Borussia just after me and we had some great times at the club. We’ve had a great friendship up to now.
As well as responding to the challenge of playing for Bayern you’ve also broken into the Brazil team. You looked very much at ease on your debut against England at Wembley too.
Yes, I’m known for being laid-back. And there was a good reason for me being relaxed that day. I knew my time had come and I was ready for it. I’d worked hard for it and I’m still working hard now. I sensed it was my chance to show I was in the national team to stay and I knew it was a decisive moment for me, that it was a case of either showing I was ready and keeping my place in A Seleção or never going back again. I didn’t want to go away afterwards and feel that I hadn’t made the most of it, and psychologically I felt ready for it.
You’ve given Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari something of a problem now, what with Thiago Silva and David Luiz also in the team. Do you think there’s any way the three of you can play together, with Luiz a little further forward? Have you played in defensive line with three centre-halves before?
Don’t put me in a tight spot. It’s up to Felipão. I just do my job (laughs). I’ve played as one of three centre-halves before – a few years ago with Juventude and for a spell at Borussia Moenchengladbach. It’s quite a fluid formation too, especially when you have defenders who can move fast. Even at Bayern you get [Bastian] Schweinsteiger dropping back a lot of the time alongside the two central defenders to offer some protection and get moves started. David Luiz does pretty much the same at Chelsea, for example. It’s just a question of how the team’s meant to play, and I’m ready to help with that, both with Bayern in this big final we’ve got coming up and with Brazil in the Confederations Cup.