For someone who left home at the age of 17 and has played in three European countries over the last ten years, Dante Bonfim Costa Santos – or plain old Dante as he is known in the game – is still very much the boy from Bahia. That much is clear in his easy-going manner and the passion in his voice when he talks of Salvador, the city where the Bahia-supporting centre-half was born and grew up.
Once a regular at the Fonte Nova, where he would cheer his beloved team on from the stands, Dante is now an established figure in global football, having drawn on his experiences in France, Belgium and Germany to become a first choice with the all-conquering Bayern Munich.
His outstanding form with the German giants could earn him a return to the newly reopened and refurbished Arena Fonte Nova in the very near future, this time on the field of play. A member of the Brazil squad at the upcoming FIFA Confederations Cup Brazil 2013, Dante will be vying for a place in the side when A Seleção take on Italy in Salvador on 22 June.
Discussing his memories of his hometown and his imminent return with Brazil to the stadium he once frequented as a boy, the Bayern man spoke exclusively to FIFA.com.
FIFA.com: You spent your childhood in Salvador, didn’t you? After ten years developing your game in Europe, do you still have good memories of the city?
Dante: I do. Really good memories. I remember playing football all the time (laughs). We’d play anywhere and we’d use anything to make a goal you could shoot at. It’s a city with plenty of beaches, so there’s always lots of space to play in. I lived in a part of town called Binoculo, which had these twisting streets, and I’d play football everywhere: on the pitch, behind it, by the side of it.
Do you think people coming to Salvador for the FIFA Confederations Cup will enjoy the city? Do you have any recommendations for them?
How could you not enjoy it, with this wonderful temperature and the tropical climate? When you’ve lived in a place where it’s very cold, it’s something you come to appreciate even more. The people at Bayern ask me about Bahia and when I tell them what the weather’s like they go crazy (laughs). I’d tell people to go and visit our beaches, which are beautiful and nice and quiet. The Barra-Ondina carnival route is great too.
You began your career as a youngster at Catuense, outside Salvador, didn’t you?
Yes, I went to Catuense when I was 13 and a little while later I joined Galicia. It’s an interesting club, founded by Spanish people, and it’s got a good record in youth football because it’s based in Salvador too. The kids who can’t get a place at Bahia or Vitoria end up at Galicia. It’s the easiest way.
Did you ever consider supporting them?
No way. Are you kidding? (laughs) Everyone knows I’m a huge Bahia fan. I used to be there on the terraces week in week out, cheering my Bahia on. I caught Bobo at the end of his career and then I sang out loud for Ueslei, who was an amazing set-piece specialist, and the keeper Jean, who kept goal really well for us. To my mind, any player who’s been on the other side as a fan and who’s followed a team passionately has a different view of things on the pitch. At least that’s the way I feel. I shouted and suffered so much for Bahia that I’ve got a lot of respect for the fans of the team I play for. I know the difference they can make.
Have you seen how the new Arena Fonte Nova has turned out?
Yes. I went to the first Ba-Vi (the name of the derby between Bahia and Vitoria). It looks so good you can hardly recognise it. The old stadium had a charm about it but the new one looks fantastic.
Have you thought about the chance you'll have of playing for Brazil in your hometown?
It’s been a while since I’ve thought about anything else (laughs). That’s the truth. I learned the match schedule for the Confederations Cup off by heart a while ago and I’m dying to have the chance to be there in Salvador for the Brazil-Italy game on the 22nd. My family will more or less all be there: my mother, my brothers and sisters, and my father’s going to come from Belem. It would be impossible for me not to think about it.