An ode to Deco

An ode to Deco

“I am not attracted to straight angles or to the straight line, hard and inflexible … I am attracted to free-flowing, sensual curves.” By the time he passed away in 2012, Oscar Niemeyer was one of the greatest architects in world history. The Brazilian’s unique designs, informed by his abhorrence for all things bleak and uniform, were inspired by his belief that form should always come second to beauty. 

Despite the reverence with which he is treated by his trade, the citizens of Brasília are less enthused. Niemeyer had been the inspiration behind the planning of the nation’s capital in the 1950s, and the result was a metropolis which is regularly voted as one of the ugliest places on Earth. This is one prophet who, in his home capital at least, remains without honour. 

Anderson Luís de Souza – or Deco – might know how he feels. Despite a dazzling career that has seen him win the Champions League with two different clubs, the introverted playmaker retired in 2013 with a notable absence of pomp and bombast. 

Deco was born in São Bernardo do Campo on 27 August 1977, the third boy in a family of six children. Like every other kid in Brazil, he grew up with the pig’s bladder tied to his feet. Unlike every other kid, he was blessed with a phenomenal talent with the football, signing his first professional contract with Corinthians when he was just 15.

In 1997, when he was playing at a youth tournament in his native São Paulo, a Benfica scout spotted his immense potential. “I saw what everyone saw,” admitted Portuguese legend Toni, who was transfixed by the scruffy youngster’s delicate ball control and improbable balance. After one viewing he had seen enough. Deco arrived in the country of his grandfather’s birth as a demurring 19-year-old, eager to make a name for himself. 

His new club had other ideas. The writing was on the wall as soon as he arrived, bundled into a car at the airport and driven straight to Alverca on a season-long loan. Graeme Souness had just arrived as manager in Lisbon, adding bristle to his new side by signing Mark Pembridge and Steve Harkness. Deco was a luxury that the fiery Scot had no intention of indulging. 

Read  |  The phenomenal goalscoring exploits and dramatic fall of Mário Jardel

It was an immediate setback, one that the young playmaker struggled to recover from. A series of feeble performances in the south-west meant that, when Salgueiros signed him permanently a year later, Benfica fans were indifferent to his demise. 

The closest Deco’s new club had come to a trophy was a clash against Zinedine Zidane’s Cannes in the 1992 UEFA Cup, but now they had a potential star in the ranks, even if his appearances were limited by injury. 

Fernando Santos dashed their hopes before they’d even begun. Deco’s injuries meant he had played little for Salgueiros, but his talent was unmistakable, and he signed for Porto in 1999. Mário Jardel’s ridiculous tally of 36 goals had secured the Primeira Liga, but it would be their only league success in three seasons under the future hero. By the time that the ambitious young manager of União de Leiria arrived in the winter of 2002, Deco was mulling a move home.

At his unveiling, José Mourinho met the eyes of every reporter in the press room and announced that his team would become champions. Implementing a stern 4-4-2 diamond, the cocky young coach steered his players to a third-placed finish and a spot in the following season’s UEFA Cup, his scientific training methods and ruthless attention to detail energising a jaded squad. Deco danced beautifully at the apex of that diamond. “Before he arrived I was sad as I had gone three years without winning the league title. Mourinho was contagious in his way of being and working. We started winning matches straight away.”

The following season would be one of the greatest in Porto’s history, with the league captured at a canter before a routine win over Mourinho’s former employers bagged the cup. While a domestic double in his first full season was impressive, Mourinho only had eyes for Europe. Celtic’s path to the final warms Scottish cockles even today, but their opponent’s journey was completed with almost corporate ease, Roberto Mancini’s Lazio presenting the briefest of challenges in the semi-final. 

In a showpiece marred by indiscipline and foul play, two players shone brightest. One was Henrik Larsson, the irrepressible Swede whose pair of strikes had forced the game into extra time, and the other was Deco. 

Given licence to attack the Celtic defence, the Brazilian peppered Rab Douglas’ goal throughout the first half, before his cross was fumbled into the net by Derlei in injury time. The pattern would continue after the break, Deco picking the Celtic lock to send Dmitri Alenichev clear for the second on 54 minutes. Both teams settled into the trenches until Derlei secured the trophy with a scrapp