Brazil and Bayern Munich central defender Dante cuts a distinct figure with his athletic build and mop of hair. Recent years have been highly prosperous for Dante who moved to European powerhouse Bayern Munich, made his national team debut and featured in a FIFA World Cup™ on home soil for Brazil.
Here the 31-year-old Bahia native speaks frankly with FIFA.com about his experiences for club and country, and notably about Brazil's erratic World Cup campaign.
FIFA.com: You’ve had a whole season with Josep Guardiola at Bayern Munich now. How does this team differ from Jupp Heynckes’ side?
Dante: I think the biggest difference is the one people most expected. With Heynckes we played a more direct game, whereas now we’re working on being more patient and keeping the ball for longer.
As a defender, what does this style of play involve?
The team has to be focused the whole time to play that way. If we’re focused, and we find space between the opposition’s defensive lines and get our passing right, the onus is more on us defenders to get moves going. If we switch off though, then we leave ourselves open to counter-attacks. The more we look to attack and push our lines up, then the more accurate we have to be, because we’re running a greater risk. For a defender though, it’s always good to have possession. If we’ve got the ball, then the opposition can’t attack us.
It goes without saying that having a goalkeeper like Manuel Neuer behind you also helps, doesn’t it?
No doubt about it. We can afford to push up the pitch a bit more because we’ve got a keeper who’s not scared to come out of his area and who always makes himself available for a pass when necessary. And then there’s the fact that he’s a great shotstopper too. He’s got this incredible belief in himself, which filters through to the rest of the team.
You often see players who work with Guardiola speak very clearly about tactics. Does he make a point of passing tactics on in detail?
Always. That’s another of the things that make him the coach he is. He points out all the options available to the players and makes them clear. With any group of players you have to go over things again and again before everyone takes the idea on board. He doesn’t have just one plan to show you, though. He sometimes has two or even three options in case something doesn’t go right. He’ll say: ‘We’re going to do this, but if this happens, then we’ll change and do this instead’. It’s pretty amazing.
He doesn’t have just one plan to show you, though. He sometimes has two or even three options in case something doesn’t go right.
Many people have been surprised to see Guardiola settle in so quickly in Germany. You know for yourself what that involves, having left Salvador in Brazil for the Bundesliga five years ago.
People often talk to me about that, about facing up to the cold and the language barrier, but I’ve honestly always seen them as easy hurdles to overcome. Lots of people learn German so why couldn’t I? I was ready to overcome that kind of obstacle and to get where I’ve got.
So what were the difficult barriers?
The hardest to my mind was preparing myself in every sense so that I could be at the top for a period of several years, week in week out, playing well every three days. Playing to a high standard is not so hard. The big challenge is overcoming every hurdle you face in trying to stay at that level. A little bit of cold weather is nothing compared to that.
At Bayern there’s the added pressure of having won the lot in 2012/13 and becoming one of the most highly regarded teams in world football. Isn’t it the case now that a lot of people just expect you to win?
Yes, that’s right. Like I said, the hardest thing in sport is to maintain a high standard over a period of time, which is exactly the reason why I don’t understand it when people think it’s easy for us to win trophies, as if we don’t have any opposition in winning them. It creates a negative energy and we have to be on our guard to make sure it doesn’t affect us. Football is a lot harder than some people think. It doesn’t matter how many talented players we have. We have to work hard all week just to be able to entertain the idea of winning a title.
On a personal note, you’ve kept your standards high and have just been voted by the players’ union as the best defender in the Bundesliga for the third season running. Coming from your fellow professionals, that’s a pretty special award isn’t it?
It is very special. I have a lot of respect for sports reporters, but it’s great to get the recognition of the people who are out there with you day after day, watching videos of our team and facing us on the pitch. To have their approval tells me that I’m doing a good job and makes me very proud. But like I said, the hard thing now is to maintain that level.
I learned that if you don’t control yourself psychologically, there comes a time when words like ‘love’, ‘determination’ and ‘emotion’ are not enough.
Inevitably, we have to talk about the FIFA World Cup semi-final against Germany. Have you watched the game again? What’s your view of it now that a few months have gone by?
I’ve seen it, and I don’t have a problem talking about it either. I’m not scared of criticism or hearing negative things. I’m never going to forget it and it still hurts. It hurts a lot when I think about that day, and the only way we can make that pain go away is by winning more titles in the future. I’m calm about it, though.
My view on it is that we didn’t prepare for the World Cup in the right way psychologically. We should have looked on ourselves as favourites and felt that need to win, all while having respect for the game and all the unpredictable things it can throw up. When we let the second and third goals in we didn’t want to see what was happening. We didn’t think. We didn’t think that we needed to face up to the situation and be more intelligent. Instead we just thought: “This isn’t possible. It can’t be happening. We have to win the Cup. Let’s attack.” After that we went into a state of shock, and the 7-1 scoreline was the result. The thing is, we all know that when you have a bad spell in a match, the normal thing to do is to tighten things up and slow the game down a little. And a lot of the time you get a goal back from a free-kick or a corner. How many times have we seen that with our clubs?
The scoreline didn’t reflect the difference in quality between the two teams, but it did reflect our psychological state heading into the World Cup. We weren’t prepared for things going wrong, and that was down to the pressure. We went ahead in every game we played from the Confederations Cup onwards, almost always early on. The only exception was the Opening Match of the World Cup against Croatia, which was a really tough game. Our preparations were focused on us becoming the champions but not on how to handle things if they went wrong. There are times when having a ‘We have to win’ mentality can work in your favour, but in a psychological sense you need to have more vision that that.
It’s been said that no team has ever played under as much pressure as Brazil did in the World Cup. Do you agree with that?
That might be true. The Brazilian national team is a unique case and there’s no other tournament like the World Cup, so to play in one in Brazil is not something that everyone can handle. Every minute of it was an intense experience for me, regardless of the final outcome. It was a great experience, in both a positive and a negative sense. I learned a lot.
That football can also bring you disappointment, both on and off the pitch. I learned that if you don’t control yourself psychologically, there comes a time when words like ‘love’, ‘determination’ and ‘emotion’ are not enough. You need to have that ability to stop and think.
Have you spoken with your team-mates about the game?
I have, yes. We spoke about it a lot in the days that followed, and I’ve spoken with other people outside the squad since then, like Roque Junior, who’s an experienced and very intelligent guy. You talk and you learn. I’m not someone who doesn’t want to talk about it or pretend it didn’t happen. It hurts, but if there’s one reason why I’ve got this far in my career, it’s because I’ve been able to face up to things and to work hard to overcome them.
Are you fearful that being part of that team will leave you scarred?
I’m not fearful of anything. If I’m scarred by it, then so be. I have faith in God. If he put me in that situation, it’s because he knows that I’m capable of handling it. And if I am scarred, then it will just be in the eyes of a few people because I know what I’ve had to do to get this far. I’ve won all there is to win in football apart from the World Cup. No other player in world football won more big trophies than me in 2013, and they didn’t put up a statue to me or anything, so why should I start believing all this negativity now.
It doesn’t make sense. It’s only going to make me sad if it hurts my family and my children. And even if it does hurt them, then I can make them feel better by showing them how many trophies I’ve won. If they want me to be scarred, then I’ll be scarred, but I’ve been through too many battles in my career to let it all be summed up by 90 minutes, let alone that 20-minute spell we had.
You know as well as anyone just how good the Germans are. Did you expect them to be that good at the World Cup?
Yes, absolutely. I said before the World Cup that they were the favourites along with Brazil, Argentina and Spain. I really believed in them because they had seven Bayern players in the team, and every time they came back from Germany games I could see them talking among themselves about what worked and what didn’t work. There’s a lot of hard work and self-analysis behind their success. They’re all very flexible and willing to improve. People like Neuer, (Bastian) Schweinsteiger and (Philipp) Lahm are always talking and they always do everything they can to make the team better.
You almost talk of the Brazil team as if it were a thing of the past. Do you have any ambitions left at international level?
I work first and foremost for Bayern. That’s the way it has to be. I totally understand that when a new coach comes in after a World Cup that younger players are going to get a chance. That’s only natural. But it goes without saying that if I get called up again, I’ll be delighted to go. A Seleção has given me a lot and it makes me and my family feel very proud, which is why I’ve got no right to say no to the Brazilian national team.