Since assuming the Brazil reins in July, Mano Menezes has focused heavily on the Premier League’s menu when selecting central midfielders. Indeed, Liverpool’s Lucas and Ramires of Chelsea have started each of the 48-year-old’s three games in charge, while Tottenham Hotspur new boy Sandro has also found room in the squad. Manchester United's Anderson, who has recently recovered from injury, will also feel confident of earning an opportunity, particularly after a string of appearances under previous coach Dunga prior to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
But the list of England-based midfield candidates does not end there, with Arsenal’s Denilson also keen to throw his hat in the ring. In spite of the fierce competition for places at the Emirates, the 22-year-old has been a regular for the Gunners since arriving in north London back in 2006, and continues to grow in stature under the watchful gaze of Arsene Wenger.
“Wow, I’ve learned so much on and off the pitch,” Denilson, a Sao Paulo youth product, told FIFA.com when asked about the most valuable lesson picked up over the past four years. “I’ve grown up so much here that I can’t single out just one thing.”
Although Barcelona are currently the team most cited by football purists as an example to follow, thanks to their technically adept, free-flowing style and senior squad packed with youth-team graduates, Wenger’s Arsenal have been blooding young hopefuls from across the globe and playing a sparkling brand of football for at least a decade.
Denilson showed up on the radar of the Gunners’ scouting network after earning the captaincy at various levels of Brazil’s youth set-up, including the squad that finished second at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Peru 2005. Signed in August 2006 at the tender age of 18, and finding himself far from home and separated from his family, the teenager greatly appreciated Wenger’s nurturing and support.
“He’s helped me a lot, he’s a wonderful coach,” said Denilson of the Frenchman. “I owe this club a lot, especially for the chance to have worked with him. I feel very relaxed with him,” added the player, whose strengths include shooting from distance and accurate distribution, whether simply keeping possession or launching attacks with clever through-balls.
The latter skill was no doubt honed by the Arsenal manager’s emphasis on improving his emerging stars' fundamental attributes, and a determination to train with the ball wherever possible. “It’s not often you get a coach like him,” said Denilson.
“Whether you’re one of the more experienced players or one of the lads coming through, everybody is treated the same. That approach is better for the morale in the squad. The exercises we do on the basics of the game are also noteworthy in that we always work with the ball, even when doing fitness work. It’s a good thing and helps us gain the confidence we need to play nice football.”
Arsenal last trophy was the FA Cup in 2005, and they are eager to turn expansive football into results against the best teams in England and the UEFA Champions League. “Of course you’re always going to lose games, but we have to cut down those losses and stop giving away points stupidly, which has happened in recent seasons," said Denilson.
"We’ve got the quality and we’ve got a lot of responsibility too. Chelsea and Manchester United have that as well, but they’re different as they’ve also got experience. That said, I think we’re much more mature going into this season.”
Moreover, Arsenal victories over the likes of the Blues or the Red Devils would no doubt boost Denilson’s chances of breaking back into A Seleção. “Mano is there to see what’s best for the team. I hope I can get back involved, because it’s been a long time,” said the player who in 2006 was called up to the senior squad for a friendly against Switzerland, though he remained an unused substitute.
Denilson also agrees with Wenger's assessment that his talent is "underestimated". “He's got a point there," said the Paulista. "I think I’ve already proven myself enough to get a chance [with Brazil].
"The thing is, a lot of players have the same dream, such as the lads who are here in England and who are very good. Even so, I believe that it can happen for me too if I can put in consistently good performances and really show what I can do.”