A recently as a year ago, simply scanning the sports pages of the newspaper used to be a nerve-wracking experience for Vasco da Gama’s Dede. However, despite struggling to cement a starting spot with O Gigante da Colina and having to face regular speculation about his future at the Sao Januario, the central defender had turned things around remarkably by the end of the 2010 Brasileirao campaign.
Indeed, not only did he become a key figure for Os Vascaínos, Dede was among the contenders for the best right-sided centre-back and best breakthrough performer awards in last year’s Brasileirao. Determined to continue his upward progression at Vasco under coach Ricardo Gomes, a former master of the defensive arts himself, the quiet but authoritative 22-year-old told FIFA.com how he escaped the footballing scrapheap, why potential is not always enough and his dreams of playing for A Seleção.
FIFA.com: It’s certainly not easy to stand out and be tagged as a future star, particularly when playing in defence for a side out of the running for major honours last year. How did you pull it off?
Dede: I didn’t do anything special. I’m just a calm, laid-back person who’s very focused on his goals. I went through far too many tough times during my childhood to let things slip away from me now. So, I think it was my serious approach on the pitch that caught the fans’ eyes. And of course, good performances are also really important when it comes to strengthening that bond still further.
How have you found working with Ricardo Gomes, who was a great defender himself in his day? Does he get time in training to work with you individually?
Ricardo was a great player and knows my position inside and out. I respect him as a coach and as one of Brazil’s best-ever defenders. As I never saw him play in the flesh, I decided to look him up so I could find out more about his career. He’s always talking to me and gives me pointers that have helped my game progress.
Is there any part of your game that you feel needs to improve? Are you working on anything specific in training?
I think that, aside from [Lionel] Messi, who’s in fantastic form, every other player has room to improve. I’m always looking to work on bringing the ball out from the back, my long passing and even free-kicks. If the coach were to give me an eight out of ten for those skills, I have to keep working hard until I get a ten (laughs).
After a lengthy spell in the reserves, last year marked quite a turnaround in your career. Can you pinpoint when things changed for you?
Yes, when I was given the chance to play at the Sao Januario for the first time. It was a match against Vitoria in last year’s Copa do Brasil [Editor’s note: Vasco exited the competition on away goals despite a 3-1 quarter-final second-leg success]. I had a good game and from that point on came a run of matches during which I performed consistently well. As time went on I continued to improve, but that moment in my career is a particularly vivid memory.
I went through far too many tough times during my childhood to let things slip away from me now.
How did you go from being an undervalued member of the Vasco squad to being voted among the best in your position in the 2010 Brasileirao in such a short space of time?
By believing in my own potential. Even though a lot of people didn’t take me seriously, I just kept my head down and worked away quietly. I’ve got no ill feelings towards anyone, though. Once you’re able to prove what you’re capable of, I think that even those who’ve been your harshest critics will hold their hands up and ask themselves if they’ve made the right call.
What about those players believed to have enormous potential, but who never make it to the top? Have you seen many examples of that during your career so far?
I’ve already seen many cases like that, in the Fluminense youth system for example. Loads of players were hailed as potential stars, but some of them don’t even play anymore. Football generates a lot of passion, but it’s also a big business. We players are often treated like commodities, and sometimes a club wants an immediate return on its investment. So, for that reason and many other factors, a player with potential may not get the chance to establish himself.
So, do Vasco deserve special credit for putting their faith in you?
I think that someone at Vasco was able to see potential where others couldn’t. I’m really grateful to Vasco for having that belief in me, because I’d seen my name in the press several times among those players expected to be released by the club. And even if I had been let go, I’d have understood why because I didn’t get off to a good start. But I earned another opportunity and I seized it. You don’t always get second chances in life.
You’re now 22 years of age and considered to be knocking on the door of A Seleção. How do you cope with the burden of expectation now on your shoulders?
Whenever I’ve been asked about A Seleção I’ve always answered, so that creates a certain level of expectation. The truth is I have to keep my feet firmly on the ground. If the chance does come my way I’m going to try and grab it with both hands, just like I did at Vasco. But I don’t want to be waiting expectantly every time the squad list is announced. [Brazil coach] Mano Menezes has said the occasional nice thing about me and he, better than anyone else, will know if and when the time’s right for me. I believe in myself and I’m working hard to make it happen.