Not the most technically gifted member of the Santos squad, a fact even the player himself would surely not dispute, nor is 30-year-old Edu Dracena the club’s most veteran performer or even its longest serving – given he only touched down at the Vila Belmiro in September 2009.
Yet none of this has prevented the rugged centre-back from claiming and keeping O Peixe’s captain’s armband since shortly after joining the club. Meanwhile off the pitch, as FIFA.com discovered, he is quietly spoken, laid-back and sincere: hardly the classic traits of a stereotypical leadership figure.
“Well it’s because… I don’t know,” said Dracena after a few seconds’ hesitation, when asked why the role of skipper seems to fit him like a glove. And though clearly a man of few words, something in the way he speaks and acts is able to instil confidence and belief in those around him.
“I've always been captain wherever I’ve played here in Brazil: at Guarani, Cruzeiro, at Brazilian youth national-team level,” he said, displaying the same aura of leadership that coaches have seen in him throughout his career. “When I joined this club [then coach] Dorival Junior handed me the role and I’ve kept it ever since, except for the period last year when Robinho came here on loan.”
Respect when due
“I’m well aware that the armband is only a symbol at the end of the day. What I really enjoy is the respect I get from my colleagues, the fact that they listen to what I have to say,” continued the twice-capped Brazil international. “I’m not much of a talker off the pitch, but before games I always say my piece, along with Elano and Leo, who've spent the most time at the club. I say the kind of things that, deep down, everybody already knows, such as to be alert and switched on from the off. But I do think I manage to help motivate the lads.”
And while it is true that the captain’s armband is only symbolic, being named skipper and holding that position within the squad undoubtedly has greater repercussions, something not lost on Dracena. “Since we won the [Copa] Libertadores, I’ve not been able to get that vision out of my head,” said the player, in reference to the image of himself as Santos captain, hoisting the FIFA Club World Cup trophy in Japan this December.
“Before the final of the Libertadores I felt the same way: I spent all my time imagining how it’d feel to lift that cup,” continued Dracena. “Of course what’s most important of all to every one of us is being crowned champions.
"But the fact that you’re the person who lifts the trophy makes you especially proud because, whatever happened before and happens afterwards, you’ll always have a place in the club’s history – you’ll leave your mark. I want to be able to show my children and my grandchildren the official photo of me becoming a world champion. I’d even see it as a reward for overcoming everything I went through.”
When one door closes
That “everything I went through” refers to the turn Dracena’s career took prior to signing on the dotted line for Santos, although his story goes back a good bit further. After cutting his teeth at Guarani the defender spent a season at Greek outfit Olympiacos before a successful period at Cruzeiro between 2003 and 2006. Indeed, his very first year at A Raposa yielded a remarkable treble of the Minas Gerais state championship, the Copa do Brasil and the Brazilian national title.
Another move abroad followed, this time to Turkey, where Dracena joined Istanbul giants Fenerbahce, whom he helped reached the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals for the very first time in 2007/08. Achievements of this nature did him little favours come April 2009, however, when the gifted centre-back tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee for the second time in his career.
“I suffered the injury and my contract was rescinded,” revealed Dracena, the pain of said gesture still visibly fresh. “If it wasn’t for that I wouldn’t have come back to Brazil. It was really tough, it was something that really upset me. But I also think that everything happens for a reason. At the time you might not understand it, but things end up working out.
“Santos believed in me: they agreed to give me a contract despite me being injured, and they waited for me to get back to fitness. Now, in the less than two years since I joined, we’ve already won four titles (the 2010 and 2011 Paulista state championships, the 2010 Copa do Brasil and the 2011 Libertadores) and I’m the captain of a team preparing to compete in the Club World Cup. I think it’s fair to say that everything’s worked out and I’ve repaid their faith in me,” the player concluded.