Displaying the same poise and composure with which he faced down opposing penalty-takers, Dida decided to play a waiting game. After his contract at AC Milan expired in July 2010, the keeper stayed in Italy, hoping for an offer to continue his career in Europe, preferably with an English club.
No agreement could be reached, however, and he returned to the city of Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais – where he had once starred for Cruzeiro – and patiently bid his time for another opportunity to arise. Determined not to put away his gloves just yet, Dida’s two-year wait finally came to end when he signed for Sao Paulo-state outfit Portuguesa.
The 39-year-old has since been proving he has lost none of his famous reflexes during his time away, swiftly becoming a key figure in his new club’s Brasileirao campaign. Still in fine physical condition, the imposing custodian took the time to talk to FIFA.com on a range of subjects, including his lengthy national-team career, Flamenguinho – the team he helped found as a youngster growing up in Lagoa da Canoa in Alagoas state, and the goalkeepers that inspired him.
FIFA.com: What made you return to Brazil and try and reignite your career over there?
Dida: Well, first of all, there were family reasons. That’s because, when my Milan contract expired, I stayed on in Italy for another year trying to find a club in England, since it was my dream to play in English football. That didn’t happen for me, as being a non-EU player made the situation even more difficult. So, after that I decided to move back to Brazil with my family. I love my country and I’d always planned to live here once I'd retired from football. But then an offer came along and I signed a contract. I had the opportunity to join Portuguesa and play in the Brazilian top flight. Now I’m just hoping to keep that going.
You've had a long and successful career so far, which has featured many games for A Seleção and being part of the squad at three FIFA World Cups™, one of which was won. Looking back, how can you describe an experience like that?
Your first World Cup definitely leaves it mark on you. You have to ready to do what’s necessary to help your team-mates. I know that I wasn’t directly involved in [France] 1998, because I was just training and sitting on the bench, but even so you can still make a big contribution to the squad. The same thing happened the second time too, in Japan and South Korea [in 2002]. When you win a World Cup, even as a substitute, it’s a huge thrill. It makes you even more motivated to be part of A Seleção and to represent your country.
Even though Brazil were unable to defend their crown at Germany 2006, it must have been a very special feeling to take part, right?
It’s something you can’t put into words. Just being there, playing your part. It was something I’d dreamed about since I was little. Of course I’d participated in other competitions and travelled to other World Cups, but I’d always been on the bench [at the World Cups]. So, it was like a dream come true. Unfortunately we weren’t able to become world champions, but I think playing at a World Cup is a unique experience for any player, and I’m thankful to God for having achieved that.
Is it true that when you were a child you set up a team named after Rio de Janeiro giants Flamengo?
It wasn’t just me who organised that team; my brothers were involved too as well as other people from my city. The team was called Flamenguinho (little Flamengo) and it was pretty much the first side I played for, all that time ago. We probably chose that name because we were all Flamengo fans: we all really liked Fla. I can remember going and knocking on the doors of each of the players to get a team together so we could play in tournaments. We won some and lost others, but I think that was the starting point of my footballing career. That’s because, before that, I’d only ever played on the patch of land behind my house or in a few games of futsal.
Which goalkeepers most inspired you?
One of my heroes was [Rinat] Dasaev. I saw him play at the World Cup and he was a great keeper – he used to make incredible saves. You’ve got Taffarel too, who I watched play for A Seleção for a long time and I later even had the opportunity to work alongside him at several competitions. He was a great friend to me. I think that [training with Taffarel] had a huge contribution on my development and my growth as a player.
One of your main qualities has always been your penalty-saving ability. Can you tell us the secret to coming out on top in those situations?
It’s all about preparation. You need to train well on a daily basis, be happy in yourself and always stay fully focused. I think that everything you work on helps. I really enjoy being able to help my team on those occasions, because it’s not easy for [outfield] players to handle the pressure, particular when it’s a shoot-out. I don’t think that keepers have as much responsibility on their shoulders as the other players at times like those, but we're still expected to do something. With God’s help I’ve been very dedicated throughout my career, and I still am today, so I’m able to do a good job. I don’t think it’s any different when it comes to penalties. You have to be focused if you want to save as many penalties as possible.