Life could have been so different for Anderson Luis de Souza, better known to football fans across the world as Deco. At the age of 19 he left Corinthians, in his native Brazil, to sign for Lisbon giants Benfica, but he never wore the famous red shirt in a competitive game, and his personal road to footballing stardom turned out to be of a different hue. Blue in fact, as the playmaker went on to enjoy success across Europe with Porto, Barcelona and Chelsea, along with a series of fine performances in the red of his adopted country, Portugal.
In spite of never playing for Benfica, however, Deco has good reason to be grateful to the club’s legendary scouting system. They were the first to spot the potential of the young Corinthians midfielder, and moved quickly back in 1997 to bring the Brazilian playmaker to the Stadium of Light. However, his new team did not immediately see the best of the man who eventually became known to fans in Portugal as o Magico. Deco went out on loan to Alverca and after the Benfica coach blocked his return to Lisbon, he signed for Porto club Salgueiros, where he caught the eye of their illustrious neighbours FC Porto.
The Porto fans took the little magician to their hearts, even singing that he was 'better than Pele.' Slightly exaggerated, perhaps, but there was no doubting the sentiment behind the claims as Little Maradona, or ‘Maradoninha,’ as he was known in Brazil, became the creative force behind an all-conquering Porto team that dominated Portuguese and European football for two memorable seasons. Between 2002/03 and 2003/04, Jose Mourinho’s men won two Portuguese championships, the UEFA Cup and the UEFA Champions League.
By now the toast of Portuguese football, Deco’s career had come a long way from that ignominious spell at Benfica. Hungry to test himself at international level, and apparently with little chance of being called up to the Brazil squad, the midfielder was granted Portuguese citizenship, making his debut for the equipa das Quinas in November 2003, under fellow Brazilian, coach Luiz Felipe Scolari. Almost poetically, Portugal’s opponents that day were Brazil, the game took place at FC Porto’s Estadio das Antas, and Deco stunned the then-world champions by scoring the winning goal for his adopted country.
In summer 2004, he came within a whisker of adding a UEFA European Championship medal to his UEFA Champions League success, as the Portuguese finished runners-up to a stubborn Greece side. But Deco had already attracted admirers at other top European clubs, and it was Barcelona who captured his signature. In a successful spell at the Nou Camp, he went on to add another UEFA Champions League honour to his footballing CV.
By now an important part of Scolari’s talented Portugal side, Deco was called up for the FIFA World Cup finals Germany 2006™. Although he was injured as the tournament began the skilful midfielder recovered in time to play a crucial role in helping his team-mates to fourth place in the competition. Later that year, he also played for Barcelona in the final of the FIFA World Club Championship, as the Catalans lost out in the final to the Brazilian side Internacional, from Porto Alegre.
The Portuguese playmaker went on to play in UEFA EURO 2008, and South Africa 2010 will be his second FIFA World Cup finals. After the tournament, he will take a well-deserved retirement from international football.