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Deco: The Story Of A Football Player Who Failed To Reach His Full Potential

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Anderson Luis de Souza, popularly known as Deco by football fans, is a sportsperson who hasn’t lived up to his full potential. In spite of his impressive football abilities, he hasn’t achieved the stardom and fandom he deserves.

Recently, Argentine superstar Lionel Messi joined the Paris Saint-Germain football club. It’s natural to wonder about Messi’s jersey number, as Neymar is the one who is currently in possession of Messi’s iconic number “10” jersey.

Football player Lionel Messi
Argentine footballer Lionel Messi is arguably, the greatest football player of our time. Representational image. Photo credit: Indian Express.

Neymar offered to give Messi the number 10 jersey, but Messi turned down the offer. Instead, he took the number “30” jersey, for which the club had to break tradition.

Everyone knows the reason behind Messi picking “30”. Messi’s first jersey’s number (when he played for FC Barcelona, or Barca) was 30. So, it’s a “weird” loyalty thing… maybe.

The Three Musketeers?

When Brazilian superstar Ronaldinho’s career at Barca was one year old, Portuguese footballer Deco had just joined the team. Messi joined Barca in the same year. The two became friends with the quiet Messi, giving him confidence on and off the field—in the dressing room and during practice sessions.

Both became Messi’s guardians angels… Maybe more. Ronaldinho’s jersey number was “10” then, Deco’s “20” and Messi’s “30”.

When hearing Deco’s name, two things come to mind. Firstly, it was a pity that he retired. He had so much to give. Secondly, even after living an uncontrolled life, he would give his best on the field.

Anderson Luis de Souza, known to the whole football world by one name: Deco.

Deco is one of the few people whose names are always mentioned when looking at the beginning of Lionel Messi’s career. Along with Ronaldinho, Deco gave Messi confidence, motivation and courage.

Football players Messi, Deco and Ronaldinho caught in a happy moment during their time together playing for Barcelona.
Deco (center) and Ronaldinho (right) gave Messi (left) the confidence he needed, on and off the field. Representational image. Photo credit:

Deco was born on August 26, 1986, in the city of  São Paulo. Naturally, like many other children in Brazil, he had an inclination towards football right from his childhood. From ball control to balance and dribbling, he could do everything. This made him catch people’s eye at a very young age.

Although he was born in Brazil, the country of football, he did not wear its jersey. But, more on that later. There are some other stories I want to tell first.

Despite wearing Portuguese jerseys in international matches, his youth career was dominated by Brazil’s Nacional Atletico Club, which lasted from 1995-’96. Deco also wore the Corinthians jersey in his youth, in the 1996-’97 season. He made his debut for the Corinthians at the age of 19.

Deco’s Ball Control Was Impressive

Portuguese club Benfica’s scouts noticed him. Deco caught their eye during a youth tournament in São Paulo in 1997. Portuguese legend Tony was probably most surprised by Deco’s ball control and impossible balance. He had commented: “Everyone saw what I saw!”

Deco then signed with Benfica, moving to Portugal. The 20-year-old midfielder was sent on loan to another Portuguese club: Alverca. Deco scored 12 goals in 32 appearances for Alverka that season. Alverca got promoted to the top league.

He returned to Benfica after a year, but he was no longer wearing the Benfica jersey. This is because he was sold to Salguiros. For Deco, almost the entire season went down the drain due to an injury. He played only 12 matches in one season and scored just two goals.

He couldn’t settle anywhere, till the biggest turning point of his career came his way. His club Salguiros sold him to FC Porto for 6 million. However, there is no substitute for a good performance. If you want to survive in Porto or make it to the starting eleven, you had to perform.

Deco was successful in performing there. Coach Fernando Santos helped him with his remarkable pass accuracy, skill and ball control. Although it was a bit of a challenge at first, he later became one of the most important members of the team.

When Santos was fired, Octavio Macado was in charge of the team for a long time. Deco continued to give his best.

When Deco Met Mourinho

Then came young coach José Mourinho. Mourinho-Deco continued to bring one success after another to Porto, taking it to a unique height. Deco was the lifeblood of Porto’s attack in Mourinho’s 4-4-2 formation. The formation was arranged to suit him.

Football manager José Mourinho is widely regarded as one of the best in the business. Representational image. Photo credit: Ronnie Macdonald, Flickr.

The pair gave Porto a taste of winning the Super Cup for the first time, in the 2002-’03 season. In the same season, Porto won the Portuguese Cup and the Portuguese Champions League.

On March 29, 2003, another memorable chapter of Deco’s life began. The then world champions i.e., Brazil and Portugal were facing each other at a stadium called the Estádio das Antas. It would have been a time of mixed feelings for Deco.

For the first time in his international football caller, he would set foot on the field against his homeland. The 25-year-old replaced Sergio Conceição in the 62nd minute.

At the end of the 72nd minute, when the game was on its way to a 1-1 draw, Deco gave Portugal a 2-1 lead with a goal from a direct free-kick. He scored a goal and the team won. Again, it is to be noted that this was against his native country of Brazil!

On the other hand, 2003-’04 made the Mourinho-Deco pair more colourful. Supporters should not forget those memories so easily. First, the Portuguese League title; then, the Portuguese Super Cup; and finally, the much-coveted UEFA Champions League: where the biggest contributor was Deco.

Deco’s Barcelona Chapter Begins

He had the most assists in the Champions League, a total of two goals and eight assists, including the final goal. Mourinho then started his Chelsea chapter, while Deco began his Barca chapter.

Deco joined Spanish club Barca for €21 million, in the 2004-’05 season. Ronaldinho had spent just one season at Barca, with Puyol, Xavi and Iniesta. Deco-Ito-Messi were then added. Due to his innate skill and perfect passing ability, Deco adapted very quickly.

Football player Deco wearing a Barcelona jersey, from a match he played for the club in 2006. Photo credit: Wikipedia.

Also, a different kind of friendship developed with Brazilian star Ronaldinho, on and off the field.

At the same time, Deco was having a great time in the national team. Luis Figo, Rui Costa, Nuno Gomez, Ronaldo: all had a different time with him in the Portuguese jersey. They took the team to the Euro finals, but couldn’t touch the title. The Greeks wrote a new history!

Best Midfielder Of The Year

All in all, Deco’s name appeared on the Ballon d’Or’s shortlist for the 2003-’04 season. He was the runner-up. Despite losing the Ballon d’Or to Ukrainian forward Shevchenko, Deco was named the best midfielder of the year.

There was no big success in the first year. The club didn’t win the La Liga title. The team was also eliminated from the last 16 in the Champions League. However, come next season (2005-’06), Barca saw a change of fortune.

The Ronaldinho-Ito-Deco trio presented Barca with the Champions League title, the La Liga title and the Supercopa. Deco’s contribution to the Champions League win is undeniable. He won the Barcelona “player of the year” and the UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) “best midfielder of the year” awards.

Deco is the only midfielder to have won the UEFA “best midfielder of the year” award for two different clubs.

However, when the lights went out, he had the best time. He has Brazilian blood in his body and I think that like many other Brazilians, he had an uncontrolled lifestyle. He was close to Ronaldinho. They would be seen at parties at nightclubs, drinking and flirting—all of these things were disrupting Deco’s performance.

Just as Barca did not do well in the following season, Deco also failed to do justice to his skill. The same thing happened two years in a row and coach Rijkaard was fired, along with Deco. That was the end of his four-year chapter with Barca. He scored 20 goals and had 45 assists in 181 matches.

He Played Hard But Partied Harder

However, Alexander Hleb, a Arsenal-based footballer, said the main reason for selling Ronaldinho and Deco was:

“Barcelona sold Ronaldinho and Deco to defend Lionel Messi, as the pair often came to training under the influence of alcohol.”

European football journalist and writer Graham Hunter thinks so too. He openly wrote about Deco-Ronaldinho’s lifestyle and how Messi could be influenced by it. According to him:

“If Messi had tasted the joy of the night, Barca could have lost three great players, instead of just two. So, the Brazilians had no choice but to go.”

Football player Deco decked in Chelsea blues
Deco had a fairly unsuccessful stint with Chelsea. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Deco joined Chelsea in 2006 for €10 million. By then, the golden time of his career has passed. However, coach Louis Felipe Scolari was quite optimistic about him. He said:

“Deco isn’t exactly Zidane, but he’s the same. To me, like Ronaldo and Messi, he’s one of the best in the world.”

On August 17, 2008, Deco made his Chelsea debut against Portsmouth, with a goal and an assist. He was selected for the Barclays Premier League’s “best player of August” award.

He Had A Tough Time With Chelsea

Even though it started out well, he could not vibe with Chelsea. Just as the Chelsea-chapter was not as pleasant on paper-pen, so mentally, he was not ready to play here. However, he wanted to join the Italian club Inter Milan.

The Portuguese star was as desperate to move to Inter Milan and to reunite with Mourinho, as he was frustrated with not being able to perform at Chelsea due to an injury. He opened up:

“Chelsea had a tough season for me. I had a serious injury and I couldn’t play my best football. My agent talked to the club and said I was not happy at Chelsea. I know very well I have a contract here, but I want to leave. What is my preferred destination? Yes, I am waiting and I want to sign a contract with them. I chose Inter because they are a club with a rich history and I want to work again under a coach like Mourinho.”

His biggest achievement for Chelsea was winning the English Premier League title in the 2009-’10 season. He has also won the FA Cup twice. He has played 56 matches in two seasons, with five assists and six goals.

However, after leaving Chelsea, Inter Milan did not include him in their team. He was next seen as a free agent in the Brazilian club Fluminense.

The End Of His National Career

Deco’s time in the Portuguese national team didn’t end well. He played in Portugal’s first match at the world cup (2010), against Ivory Coast. But, he did not play against South Korea and Brazil due to an injury.

However, despite recovering from the injury, the coach did not field him in their last match against Spain. And, this is where his career for the national team of Portugal ended. He was never called up to the national team again.

He achieved the following for the national team in the 2004 Euro finals: five goals and 17 assists in 64 matches.

He spent the last three years of his career playing for Fluminense. He played 69 matches there, with four goals and 17 assists. And in 2013, one day before his 36th birthday, he said goodbye to football. It was over for him because his body no longer tolerated him like before:

“I am announcing the end of my professional career with great sadness and emotional distress. Having had a great time in Fluminense, I wanted to contribute more. But, my body is not responding that way.”

There are many names who left football before their time. Deco is one of them. He could have been a famous star like Xavi or Iniesta. He could have been the main fighter of Barca’s golden age. But, nothing like that happened to him.

Deco got derailed very quickly. However, his intelligence on the field, his passing skills and ball control— will remain in the hearts of football fans forever.

Featured image is for representational purposes only. Photo credit:
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