A driving force in Fluminense’s charge to victory in the Brasileirao 2010, Dario Conca was directly involved in 28 of O Tricolor’s 62 goals, weighing in with nine strikes and no fewer than 19 assists. Widely depicted as a shy and reserved off the pitch, the inspirational Argentinian attacking midfielder is anything but, as those close to him would attest.
“He’s very different to how he appears. Shy? That couldn’t be further from the truth,” said Fluminense masseur Julio Bransford, the subject of Conca’s mickey-taking on an almost daily basis.
Nor did his conversation with FIFA.com reveal any lack of confidence in his own ability. “I’m aware of my importance to the team, given the part I’ve played over the course of the whole season,” said the diminutive No11. “But I must highlight the excellent squad we’ve got here at Fluminense and our sensational coach, Muricy Ramalho.”
Enjoying a level of popularity with the Flu fans that goes above and beyond his impressive stats, Conca has won the hearts of the faithful thanks to his consistency, vision, technical ability and sheer will to succeed. “The Fluminense fans value and appreciate the work I’ve put in," he said. "All my efforts, everything I do on a daily basis in training and in matches, are part of my huge desire to always perform as well as possible.
“I’m pleased to be considered a fans’ favourite at Fluminense and I hope to win a lot of titles here,” continued the player, who has flourished in Rio de Janeiro since joining Fluminense, initially on loan, back in 2008. “I’ve had the support of the fans, the squad and the coaching staff. I feel really at home at Fluminense and I’m treated so well here. If it were up to me, I’d finish my career here.”
Another factor in Conca’s love affair with the fans was his resilient displays in the championship run-in, in which he helped his side finish the campaign two points clear of closest challengers Corinthians. With Fluminense hit hard during the season by the injury absences of big-name stars such as Fred, Emerson and Deco, Conca played on with knee pain to ensure his club were not deprived of their most influential and consistent performer.
“When you’re playing in every game, you’re bound to get niggles over the course of a season and you have to make certain sacrifices," he explained. "I try to look after myself off the pitch: I’m careful with my diet and I follow the fitness coach’s advice. We had some setbacks, such as the home defeats against both Corinthians and Santos, which many considered to be decisive at the time. But we were able to stay calm and climb back to the top of the table. That balanced approach was vital.”
The fleet-footed attacker was also quick to recognise that he is in the best form of a professional career that first started with Argentinian third-tier outfit Club Atletico Tigre. Clearly gifted but unable to win over successive coaches concerned about his slight build, Conca subsequently struggled to convince in spells in River Plate’s youth team, at Chilean outfit Universidad Catolica, back in his homeland with Rosario Central or on loan at Fluminense’s Rio rivals Vasco da Gama.
“It wasn’t something that had even crossed my mind, but I’m so grateful for everything that’s happening to me in my career,” said Conca when quizzed on the unlikely scenario of an Argentinian star earning universal admiration on Brazilian soil. “I adapted really quickly to life in Rio de Janeiro. It’s wonderful to play and live here. Playing in Brazil and performing this well is a huge source of satisfaction, because of the amount of great players this country unearths every year.”
On the back of victory in the Brasileirao, Conca has already earmarked a series of new targets to aim for. Chief among them is convincing Argentina coach Sergio Batista of the qualities that have enchanted football followers in Brazil. “I’m going to keep working hard and trying to earn a selection," he stated. "I dream of playing for my country’s national team: it’d be a huge honour.
“And who’s to say that day’s not just around the corner?” said the player, who hails from General Pacheco in Buenos Aires Province, as the interview drew to a close. “I can’t explain why I’ve not been given a chance yet, but to be fair the new coach has only just started in the job. I left Argentina at a very young age and that makes things a bit trickier. But I’m still very optimistic and I’m hoping that Fluminense’s good campaign this year will boost my chances.”