When speaking to FIFA.com about his relatively short but intense time at the Vila Belmiro, current Santos coach Muricy Ramalho chose to highlight a particularly pivotal moment in the charge to 2011 Copa Libertadores victory. The date was 14 April, Ramalho had been unveiled as O Peixe coach just one week earlier and was preparing for his second match at the helm: a trip to the Paraguayan capital Asuncion to take on Cerro Porteno.
Lying in third spot in their section and needing a win at all costs, yet without two key men in Neymar and Elano, Santos pulled off a vital 2-1 success to begin an unbeaten Libertadores run that culminated in the continental title. What's more, that display gave Ramalho a valuable insight into the steely character of one of his young charges. “That was where I saw that Danilo was a lad I could rely on,” said the coach on the then 19-year-old, who scored Santos’ opener against Cerro with a fierce strike from outside the box.
Fresh from underlining his ability to shoot from distance with a fine free-kick effort that sealed O Peixe’s 3-1 semi-final win over Kashiwa Reysol here at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2011 on Wednesday, the versatile right-back is determined to sign off in style in Sunday’s final in Yokohama. “It’s incredible. It feels like everything’s fallen into place, as if it was destined that my final game in my first spell at Santos would be nothing less than a World Cup final against Barcelona,” Danilo told FIFA.com, referring to his imminent departure for FC Porto, who paid around €13 million for his signature back in July.
A remarkable transformation
That goal against Kashiwa in the Toyota Stadium goes a long way to summing up just how much has changed in the career of Danilo Luiz da Silva in the space of a year. Having barely featured for the Santos first team in 2010, the 20-year-old now has the self-belief to take command in a set-piece situation in the last four of the FIFA Club World Cup.
“It was my first, but I’ve been doing well in training,” explained Danilo, on his first ever free-kick goal in the Alvinegra jersey. “Even though we’ve got the likes of Elano, Ganso and Neymar in the side, players who all strike the ball very well, I thought it was worth a try since I’ve been scoring quite a few in training.”
The player’s eye for goal comes as less of a surprise when you discover that, though currently deployed by Santos at right-back, Danilo himself prefers to play as the more attacking member of a deep-lying midfield duo. In fact, this was the role he performed with such aplomb during the Libertadores, when Os Santistas used Jonathan – now of Inter Milan – out on the right flank.
Up against the mighty Barcelona in the final of Japan 2011, however, Santos’ No4 may have to curb his natural willingness to burst forward, given Barça’s lethal ability to exploit any spaces at the back. “Well yes, we need to be able to adapt to each opponent,” said Danilo, on how to approach the clash against Lionel Messi and Co. “On the one hand, we mustn’t change the way we play, which in essence isn’t a possession-based game. But of course, given how much talent they have, we’ll have to be a bit more cautious. There’s only one thing I’m certain of: if we have a good day we’re in with a chance of winning.”
Though still a shy young man, Danilo’s confidence levels have reached a point where such bullish statements sit comfortably on his shoulders. Indeed, allied to his feats at club level, he was also a member of the Brazil squad that won August’s FIFA U-20 World Cup in Colombia, before subsequently breaking into Mano Menezes’ senior Seleção set-up.
As if that were not enough, shortly after Sunday’s final he will join up with a team that swept all before them in Portugal last season, as well as claiming the 2010/11 UEFA Europa League crown. Not bad for a player who has been a first-team regular at Santos for less than 12 months.
That said, his earlier mention of “my first spell at Santos” suggests Danilo does not intend the Japan 2011 final to be his last-ever game for O Peixe. “That’s right. I’m so grateful to everyone here, I can only hope that I get to come back one day,” he said, as the conversation concluded. “The fact that I’m now in the Seleção and heading to a big European club is all down to Santos and Muricy, who showed total faith in me.”
Such faith, as we know from also speaking to Ramalho, was mutual. And, when all is said and done, a stellar 2011 for club and player may not have turned out nearly as well had Danilo not been “a lad who you can rely on”.