From being just one of the many talented midfielders to come out of Brazil every year, Anderson Luiz de Sousa, better known as Deco, has gone on to become one of the world's top footballers. The diminutive Portuguese is now the type of player most national teams would love to have among their ranks, including, ironically, his native Brazil.
After adopting Portuguese nationality in 2002 and making his international debut the following year, Deco has been a key figure for the Portugal. But 2003/04 was also the season the midfield maestro burst on to the world stage, leading Porto to that year's UEFA Champions League title. Following a trophy-laden spell at Barcelona, he has now brought his finely honed craft to the English Premier League, where he plies his trade with Chelsea. It is a move that has seen him reunited with another Brazilian with strong ties to Portugal: coach Luiz Felipe Scolari. Speaking exclusively to FIFA.com, Deco shares his thoughts on his career thus far, and reveals how he is settling in to his new life in the Premier League.
FIFA.com: Deco, although you are still new to football in England, have you noticed any major difference between the Premier League and other European leagues such as those in Spain or Portugal?
Deco: The main difference is the intensity of the play in England. Even though it might sometimes lack the technical quality of other leagues, in terms of commitment and the level of preparation, it's on a different level.
Does that make it a more difficult league to play in?
In Spain, for example, even smaller clubs invariably have technically gifted players who can make the difference in a game. It doesn't matter who the opposition is, you know that you will be up against one or two outstanding players. In England, on the other hand, the weaker teams always seem to be full of really athletic players. So yes, I suppose that ultimately makes the Premier League a more difficult league to play in.
What is life like at Chelsea behind the scenes? Have you noticed any difference in the work ethic and the day-to-day regime there compared with previous clubs?
One thing that strikes you is the level of professionalism at the club. You see a lot of hard graft and intensity at training sessions which is then reflected in matches. On top of that, we have a great motivator for a coach in Scolari. All of this brings about a very positive atmosphere at the club.
You left your native country of Brazil for European shores back in 1997. How did the opportunity to play in Europe present itself?
It's so long ago now! (laughs). I was playing for Corinthians of Sao Paulo at the time, having just broken into the first team there at the start of 1997. It was around then I received an offer from Benfica in Portugal. As I was not due to be unveiled there until July of that year, some six months later, I went on loan to Corinthians Alagoano in Brazil, before making the move to Portugal. After I arrived, I was loaned out to another Portuguese side, Alverca, where I spent a year, before moving to Salgueiros. Eventually I signed for Porto, and of course, the way things turned out for me there is really the stuff of dreams.
Did the change of continent and way of life affect you much?
At first I didn't want to come to Europe because at 20 years of age I felt I was too young. However, as I was no longer on the books of my club in Brazil, things were out of my hands, but it's not that I was forced to leave. But in the end, when I came to Europe, I adapted well and managed to build a successful career.
You seemed to reach the height of your popularity when you won the 2004 UEFA Champions League with Porto. Would you agree?
Yes, there's no doubt about that, it was like a rite of passage for me. I had been going along steadily with Porto for a few years up to that point, but nothing came close to what we achieved that year. After winning the Champions League, everything changed. It was a defining moment.
Even before that Champions League odyssey with Porto, you received a call-up from Luiz Felipe Scolari to the Brazil squad, but this was met a lukewarm reception in your native country. How things have changed since then!
To tell you the truth, it's not something that ever bothered me. It's only natural that in a country with as deep a well of talent as Brazil, people have their doubts when a newcomer is mentioned. But it was never something that got to me too much. I'm seen in a different light in Brazil now, especially after all I achieved with Barcelona.
Was the decision to play for Portugal a difficult one to make?
I already had the right to become a Portuguese national because I had been resident there for some time, and ultimately, the decision to play for the national team was a way of recognising all that Portugal had done for me. It was a way of showing my appreciation for the support people had given me, so when they asked me to play for their country I responded.
After all that has happened since, have you ever thought that you could be the playmaker that the Brazil team has been missing?
In making the decision to declare for Portugal, I never thought it was because that I wasn't good enough to play for Brazil - I've never had any doubts about that. There were other reasons behind it. Some decisions in life are easy to make. The way things are now, after all I've achieved, it wouldn't be as hard to get a call-up to the Brazil team. However, at that particular stage of my career I made my decision, and I don't regret it one bit.
Over the last few years, you have worked with three successful coaches: Jose Mourinho, Frank Rijkaard and Luiz Felipe Scolari. What can you tell us about each one of them?
The Dutch brand of football that Rijkaard brought fitted in well at Barcelona, which is a club that likes to play good football, even though they have since changed coach. Scolari brings a more typically South American approach. They are two very different personalities, but what they have in common is that both, in their own way, bring a sense of unity to a squad. But I think Felipão is even better at it because he is more outgoing and spontaneous.
Mourinho takes a measured, scholarly approach and is always aware of every aspect - not just the match itself but the build-up, the atmosphere, the psychological pressure. In that sense he is the ideal coach and a very intelligent man.
Finally, looking back on your career to date, which do you think is the best team you have played in?
The Barcelona team which won the Champions League played a stylish brand of football for two seasons that any team would find hard to match. That said, the 2003/04 Porto side was also very strong. However, in all honesty, the current Chelsea team has the maturity and presence to go further still. It reminds me of that Porto team but with even greater quality. I think I won't be able to answer this question fully for a few more years yet.