Vasco da Gama have had a memorable 2011. Brazilian Cup winners earlier in the year, the Rio de Janeiro side came close to adding the national league title and the Copa Sudamericana to their trophy cabinet, a resurgence that had much to do with a new-found team spirit and the return to form of a clutch of key players, including Diego Souza.
The all-action attacking midfielder is glad to be back in the limelight, especially at a club that boasts a special relationship with its fans and even attracts the admiration of supporters of neighbouring sides.
It was not very long ago that Souza had fell out of favour at Palmeiras, becoming a fringe player at Atletico Mineiro and dropping out of the reckoning for a place in Dunga’s Brazil squad for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
Yet having now resurrected his ailing career, earned a return to the Brazil set-up and helped Vasco regain their national and international stature, Souza is determined to continue the good work in 2012. “When I signed here I said that I’d come to win titles and get back into the Seleção,” he told FIFA.com. “I've achieved both goals and I hope things carry on this way next year. I hope Vasco keep fighting for trophies.”
Silverware has come for O Bacalhau just two short years after climbing out of the Brazilian second division, at which point Souza was turning out for O Verdão and staking his claim for a seat on the plane to South Africa, representing his country in a FIFA World Cup qualifier against Bolivia in La Paz.
That claim would ultimately come to nothing, though, with Souza’s subsequent spell in the doldrums only ending when Vasco turned to him after failing to make much of an impression on their return to the top flight. The decision has been beneficial for both club and player, the former delighted to be in the frame for trophies again and the latter, who previously turned out for Vasco’s city rivals Flamengo and Fluminense, just happy to be a part of it all.
“Vasco wanted to be challenging for titles again and the team has really bought into the project,” said the midfielder. “On a personal level it’s been a great year. I did my bit for the side, was one of our top scorers and picked up an award from the Brazilian Football Association. It’s important to get recognition like that.”
On a personal level it’s been a great year. I did my bit for the side, was one of our top scorers and picked up an award from the Brazilian Football Association.
Slotting into a line-up combining old heads such as Felipe and Juninho Pernambucano and young guns of the calibre of Dede and Allan, Souza has been given the opportunity he needed to get back to his best form. Thanks to the versatility of the players around him, he has been freed from the pressure of performing a specific role.
“I play wherever my coach needs me to,” he said. “I enjoy pushing forward from midfield and if I’m breaking forward with the ball at my feet then so much the better. I don’t have any problem operating closer to the box either.”
Doing it for Gomes
Souza has also been back on international duty, earning a recall from Mano Menezes for the second of two superclássico matches this year against Argentina, setting up Neymar for a goal in Brazil’s 2-0 win in Belem.
That return to the Selecão side added to the workload the 26-year-old has had to shoulder this year. Battling on two fronts in the first half of the season, in their victorious Brazilian Cup campaign and the Rio state championship, Vasco then took Corinthians all the way in a gripping tussle for the Brasileirão crown and also reached the semi-finals of the Copa Sudamericana.
And though they were unable to add to their cup success, it has all been worthwhile as far as Souza is concerned. “The most important thing is that everyone’s recognised the work we’ve put in. We fought all the way to the final minute and the fans were right behind us and showed their appreciation for our efforts. That’s something that will definitely stay with me.”
Those achievements were put into perspective by the stroke suffered by coach Ricardo Gomes in August, though, with many people, Souza among them, hoping he will one day take the Vasco reins again. “I think the nucleus of the team will stay the same and we’re all pulling for him (Gomes) to be back by our side,” said the player, launching a message of hope for club and coach. “We all want to see Ricardo make a rapid recovery. He played a huge part in the year we’ve had, and we all have big expectations for 2012 as well.”