Borussia Monchengladbach centre-half Dante was true to his word when his side completed a narrow 2-1 win over Bochum in their two-legged Bundesliga relegation play-off last May. The fuzzy-haired Brazilian had said he would shave his curly locks off should The Foals stay up, and no sooner had they secured their top-flight status, coming from a goal behind to secure their precious aggregate win, than he let his team-mates loose with some clippers.
“It felt great to have all my hair shaved off,” the Brazilian, a cult figure at the German club, told FIFA.com. “We were all so happy at avoiding the drop and it was a real party.
Times have changed since Monchengladbach’s narrow escape. While Dante’s hair is still recovering from the ordeal, the team has gone from strength to strength, climbing up to third in the current Bundesliga standings, just two points behind in-form leaders Bayern Munich.
Adapting to change
Hailing from Salvador de Bahia, Dante arrived at the Borussia-Park in 2009, having made a circuitous journey to Germany. Turning out for a number of youth teams in his home town, he eventually made the move down south to Juventude, a world away from his north-eastern homeland. That would prove to be the first of many upheavals in his eventful career, one in which he has successfully negotiated every obstacle in his path. “It makes you stronger when you come up against problems,” he said.
He made his Brazilian first-division debut with Juventude in 2002. Coming up against opponents of the calibre of Romario, Kaka, Robinho and Luis Fabiano, the 18-year-old rookie acquitted himself well and gained valuable experience that has stood him in good stead ever since.
The move to Europe came in 2004, when he joined Lille for what would turn out to be an ultimately frustrating two-year stay. “I’ve got some good memories but I had a few problems too,” he recalled. “I was very young at the time and found it hard to settle in. Getting used to changes was tough for me, though I think I dealt with it pretty well in the end.”
A fresh start would come in Belgium. Spending a season with Charleroi, he then signed for Standard Liege, winning the championship twice with Les Rouches.
Laying down some roots
The switch to Germany came two years ago, and thanks to his travels, and despite the difficulties encountered along the way, Dante has grown on and off the pitch, learning French and German and adapting well to the European way of life. “Life’s good here in Germany,” said the central defender, who is married with two children. “I’m very happy here and I get on really well with everyone.”
And after helping his side out of relegation trouble last season, the happy-go-lucky Brazilian is delighted to see Borussia fighting it out at the top of the table, having kicked off the season with victory at Bayern Munich no less. “That’s what we’re fighting for,” said Dante, in answer to whether his side can maintain their current form and continue developing after their narrow escape last season. “Everything that happened last year has made the team stronger and has given us a lot of confidence. We went into this season full of belief in our abilities, and events have shown that belief was justified.”
Dante’s effervescent character and combative approach on the field of play have been instrumental in Monchengladbach’s fast start. An inspirational presence for his team-mates, he has also become something of a folk hero in the stands, with many a Borussia fan sporting an afro wig in his honour, an amusing trend that began last season.
The Brazilian is considered a vital cog in Lucien Favre’s team and has just signed a contract extension that runs until 2014. That commitment to the Borussia cause, symbolised by his hair-shaving antics, is much appreciated by directors and fans alike. All that remains to be seen now is whether The Foals can maintain their lofty status and whether Dante will restore his hair to its previous splendour. “I haven’t made my mind up yet,” he said, pondering his shortened locks. “I’m going to let it grow for the time being anyway. We’ll just have to wait and see how it looks.”