A tear trickled down the face of Denilson Martins Nascimento as he headed for Dubai International Airport in 2005. Publicly, he welcomed the opportunity to parade his genius in an alternative environment; privately, he was consumed by torment. The radiant, enrapturing Arabian Peninsula federation had been the Brazilian striker’s base for six ambrosial years. It was his “second home”; it was his “paradise”.
“I loved living in the United Arab Emirates,” Denilson explained to FIFA.com. “My family was very happy. I loved the weather, the lifestyle and particularly the people. I’m a footballer so I had to do what was best for my career, but I was very, very sad to leave.”
That is why, thereafter, Denilson has holidayed there every year without fail. That is why he and his wife have incessantly fantasised about making the United Arab Emirates their permanent home once he hangs up his boots. That is why they have bought an apartment in Dubai. And that is why, with Abu Dhabi elected host of this year’s FIFA Club World Cup, he was vehemently fixated on firing Pohang Steelers to AFC Champions League glory. And that the charismatic No10 did, finishing as the competition’s third-leading marksman – and wowing audiences in the process - as the South Koreans conquered the continent for a third time.
“The fact that the United Arab Emirates is hosting the Club World Cup was a big incentive for me to help Pohang win the Asian championship,” the 33-year-old, who believes he is at the zenith of his career, continued from Abu Dhabi, where the Steelers, coached by his compatriot Sergio Farias, are preparing to face Congo DR’s TP Mazembe in Friday’s first quarter-final.
“I missed this place so much. I’m very, very happy to back here. I’ve many friends here, people I really like. I’m really excited about getting the chance to play in front of them once again. I’m also very pleased that my family and friends back in Brazil will be able to see the matches on television.”
Pohang will kick off as the favourites to book a semi-final date with Estudiantes, but Denilson is taking nothing for granted. “There are no weak sides at the Club World Cup,” warned the scorer of 44 goals in 107 K-League appearances for previous club Daejeon Citizen and Pohang. “Without knowing too much about Mazembe, they’re obviously a quality side. Look at who they beat to get here. It will be a difficult match but we’re very focused on winning. Reaching the semi-finals is our target, at the very least.”
And beyond that? “We’d obviously love to win the tournament, but that will be very difficult,” he reasoned. “Barcelona and Estudiantes are top sides, a level above us right now. We’ve also had a long, exhausting season. But we’re a good team. We have a very good coach. We are well organised and we work well as a unit.
“Barcelona are the team to beat at this tournament. Most people would say it would be impossible for us to beat them, but this is football and anything can happen. I think we’d have a better chance against Estudiantes. It would be wonderful to reach the final. Right now, though, we’re just concentrating on Mazembe. We know it won’t be easy.”
Denilson, who hails from Salvador, the birthplace of former Seleção forward Bebeto, is renowned for a unique, elaborate goal celebration akin to someone from the self-acclaimed party capital of Brazil. And this is something he is desperate to showcase at UAE 2009.
“I have two special celebrations in store: the first for the people of Korea Republic, and the second for the people of the United Arab Emirates. That’s why I have to score at least two goals. The people here mean so much to me, so I really hope I can dedicate a goal to them.”
The Emirati people will, especially following the elimination of local side Al Ahli, be urging their beloved adopted son to oblige.