When new coach Mano Menezes announced his intention to overhaul the Brazil squad and achieve a more eye-catching style of play, the door was flung wide open to a series of emerging players with the talent and desire to make the country’s flair-obsessed fans smile once again.
The likes of Neymar, Paulo Henrique Ganso, Alexandre Pato and Philippe Coutinho are just some of the exciting youngsters to have appeared in the 48-year-old's first two squads, which has included a hefty dose of irreverence both on and off the pitch – a quality which makes Douglas Costa stand apart from his peers. Not in terms of his on-the-field ability, given the Shakhtar Donetsk attacker’s rare knack for unlocking tight defences, but due to his reserved approach to life and the game.
“I’m someone with a very strong personality, I’m quite introverted,” the 19-year-old told FIFA.com shortly before reporting for international duty at a training camp in Barcelona. “I do like a joke too, in my own way, but I’m someone who likes to work away in peace,” added the Shakhtar Donetsk player, who even admitted to being “a bit short-tempered” on his official website.
This determination to follow his own path can be traced back to 2008, when he first broke into the first-team picture at Gremio. “I had quite a tumultuous start to my career, and I learned from that," he explained. "Now I try not to get involved in any hype whatsoever. I used to have two really good games but then my form would dip. I don’t think people really understood me and I ended up dropping to the bench.”
Unearthed by the Gremio production line that launched the careers of AC Milan’s Ronaldinho and Anderson of Manchester United, the high expectations that had already surrounded Douglas Costa swiftly grew to asphyxiating levels after he exploded on to the scene with a debut goal against Botafogo. Though he subsequently struggled for consistency at the Porto Alegre outfit, a hugely popular club invariably in the hunt for regional and national glory, the playmaker did grow into an influential figure for the Brazil U-20s.
This was clearly illustrated in his displays in their run to second spot at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Egypt 2009, where he was mostly used as an impact substitute to change the course of tight encounters. “I was sold shortly after going back to my club (after Egypt 2009), so I really didn’t have time to show what I could do,” said Douglas, who made the switch to Ukrainian football in January 2010.
Thus denied the opportunity to truly prove himself in his homeland, Douglas will have the ample consolation of a UEFA Champions League campaign this season, with Shakhtar drawn in Group H alongside Arsenal, Sporting Braga and Partizan. Allied to the league and Super Cup winners’ medals he has already bagged in barely eighth months in Donetsk, those who had said “that I’d come over here to hide because they don’t show many of our games on Brazilian TV” must feel foolish indeed.
A key factor in Douglas’s successful adaption to a new country, climate and culture has been the clutch of Brazilian stars already in place at the Ukrainian giants. In the team’s customary 4-2-3-1 formation, he is deployed on the right of the attacking triumvirate, which enables him to cut inside on his stronger left foot.
On the left and centre respectively of said trio are ex-Corinthians man Willian and former Atletico Paranaense player Jadson, while ex-Internacional forward Luiz Adriano is competing for the lone striker’s berth with Brazil-born Croatia international Eduardo da Silva, a recent signing from Arsenal. Meanwhile, sitting just behind Douglas and Co is Jadson’s former Atletico Paranaense team-mate Fernandinho, who has also been drafted into the latest Brazil squad.
“From Fernandinho forward, we’re all Brazilians, which makes communication easier,” said Douglas, who also lives near his countrymen in Donetsk. “I’ve adapted well out on the pitch, and we’ve already shown what we can do to the people that matter. Given that I’m so far away in the Ukraine, it makes it even more pleasing that A Seleção haven’t forgotten me.”
That said, even Douglas’s first steps with Brazil’s senior team will not be visible to the public back home, given that the five-time world champions are not in friendly action. The new coach has instead preferred to focus on spending as much time as possible on the training pitch with his new charges, working on tactics, instilling his coaching philosophy and squeezing in a practice match with Barcelona B.
Given the cracks which appeared in the pressure-cooker atmosphere at Gremio, perhaps this low-profile beginning could be the ideal start to Douglas’s adventure with the senior Seleção. “Things have happened really fast, but I wasn’t surprised [to be called up],” said the man in question as the interview drew to a close, with a confidence that belies his quiet demeanour.
“I feel like a different, more outgoing person once I take the field. I’m one of those players who loves to dribble the ball, to run at people.” In which case, who better to help bring jogo bonito back for Brazil?