Footballing Failures

Fallen Star

Moment 1:20 May, 2004 France played Brasil and Ronaldinho impressed
Moment 2: on 58’, picking up the ball forty yards from goal, flooring Andrea Pirlo with a shuffle and whipping in a magnificent reverse,
Moment 3: a stunning bicycle kick against Villareal on 25 November, 2006 and an ingenious ‘under the wall’ free-kick against Werder Bremen on 7 December, 2006)
Moment 4: Ronaldinho had a poor European campaign and was, previously, easily marked by Khalid Boulahrouz in Chelsea’s 1-0 Group A victory on 18 October, 2006); and lost out to Internacional in the Club World Cup final on 17 December.

Niggling muscle injuries, poor form and the first XI emergence of Messi saw Ronaldinho restricted to thirty-eight appearances (twelve goals and nine assists) for Barcelona in 2007/2008. The season had a poignant feel, despite Ronaldinho’s poor attitude, and this was evident in the 19 September match against Lyon. Following a subdued display, Ronaldinho was substituted – just like he had been against Osasuna in his 200th appearance (by no means a joyous standing ovation in a 0-0 draw) for Barcelona on 16 September – and replaced by Andrés Iniesta. It was Iniesta who set up Messi for the crucial second goal – in an eventual 3-0 win for Barcelona – and the camera quickly panned to Ronaldinho, who – for one of the first times in his career – had a blank expression, as he applauded the Argentine’s 82’ goal. Still, yet again, it was not a serious wake-up call for the Brazilian and Ronaldinho’s poor application in training irked Rijkaard to such an extent that in the 15 December match against Valencia at the Mestella, Ronaldinho – whose cameo appearances were becoming commonplace – was snubbed by Rijkaard when Messi came off injured and instead, the then eighteen year old, Giovani dos Santos was brought on […] The ultimate word, though, would go to Barcelona’s new manager, Josep Guardiola, at his unveiling on 17 June, 2008:

“If I felt that he [Ronaldinho] wanted to be the player he was again, he would be here. But the situation has deteriorated and the solution is to build a strong dressing-room.” This quote also rang true for Deco and Eto’o but in pre-season – which the Cameroonian took part in due to a lack of intense interest from other clubs, because of wage demands, in his signature – Eto’o’s pressing, work-rate, attitude and goals proved his worth.
Leonardo’s departure in the summer of 2010 and Kaká’s move (in theory, Ronaldinho should have relished being the main man) to Real Madrid in the summer of 2009, though, saw Ronaldinho lose faith in the Milan project and Massimiliano Allegri did not tolerate his laissez-faire attitude

On 19 June, 2011. During a 0-0 derby against Botafogo, Ronaldinho was ‘needlessly’ hauled off on 88’ by Luxemburgo for the sole purpose of giving Ronaldinho the brutal booing wake-up call that had evaded him in Europe. It led to a remarkable transformation. In the immediate aftermath, Ronaldinho looked motivated, re-energised and the needless and excessive feints and flicks that he had so often showcased to please crowds over the years were dropped. The Brazilian, almost inadvertently, became an all-round player due to his lack of pace and Luxemburgo realised this. Instead of relying on Ronaldinho for his once trademark bursts of magic, Luxemburgo re-converted Ronaldinho to a second striker. After all, rather than banishing him to a deep-lying regista or ‘quarter back’ role, which would accentuate El Gaucho’s often underrated creativity and lofted passes, Luxemburgo knew that Ronaldinho made his name at Grêmio, all those years ago, for scoring as much as anything else. This timeless attribute is one thing that is yet to desert Ronaldinho and he netted an impressive fourteen goals and seven assists in thirty-one games in the 2011 Brasileirão, including an inspired hat-trick in the 5-4 defeat of league favourites Santos on 27 July after Santos had gone 3-0 up in just 30 minutes.

Even the relaxed Santana grew exasperated and punished Ronaldinho for a sloppy mistake in the 3-3 draw against Internacional on 26 May by substituting and subjecting him to yet another hostile reception at the Engenhão. This was Ronaldinho’s last game for Flamengo,

From this, in ultimately assessing football’s elite pantheon, Ronaldinho’s career will be looked back on as a mere footnote, with just three thoroughly consistent seasons (2003-2006), and the man, himself, will be viewed as the architect of his own downfall: the fallen star.

“Ronaldinho had opponents who magnified his peak even more – he was up against Zidane, Figo. He also earned me many titles. “Messi has much more help at Barcelona. If I had to chose between Ronaldinho at that time or Messi now, I’d chose Gaúcho.” Belletti

What Could Have Been: Denílson


It’s not difficult to argue that it’s the backbone of football. The greatest managers in the world swear by it. “Consistency wins things, there’s no question about that.” Not my words, but those of Sir Alex Ferguson. If Fergie isn’t your cup of tea, then how about Arsene Wenger? He claims that “every game is difficult and as soon as you drop your level a little bit, you are in danger“. If you prefer your footballing philosophy to come from those on the continent, then feel free you take your pick from Guus Hiddink (“I think that’s what we need, we need consistency“), Josep Guardiola (“Ensuring concentration and consistency in my team is not only my job; it is my responsibility“) or Carlo Ancelotti (“We were top of the league for eight months because we played with consistency”).

You can trawl through Google’s archives and find the biggest names in football either praising their team’s consistency, or lamenting the lack thereof. Either way, these managers have taken charge of some of the most talented footballers of all time, so one thing is clear: for all the talent in the world a player may have, consistency is equally as important. Case in point? Let’s take a 61 times capped Brazilian World Cup winner who was once the most expensive player in the world. And we still know nothing about him.

Okay, so it doesn’t take a genius to realise the importance of consistency. Take a look at Cristiano Ronaldo and Ricardo Quaresma for a quick-fix example. Both players of (arguably) equal talent, their careers went in opposite directions since they secured their big money transfers from Sporting Lisbon to Manchester United and Barcelona respectively. Speaking of big money transfers, that brings us nicely back to our subject at hand. Denílson de Oliveira Araújo joined Real Betis from Sao Paulo in August 1998 for an inflation-adjusted €34.5 million, becoming the world’s most expensive player at the time.

Before I make the following point, let me categorically deny that I doubt Denílson’s ability. Anybody who had the pleasure of seeing him play on one of his good days knows that he had the chance to go down as one of the greatest of all time. I would not include him in this series if I questioned his talent. But it can be argued that Betis were perhaps counting their chickens before they had hatched, having seen the success of Romario, Bebeto and Ronaldo in La Liga who had previously been heralded for their performances in Brazil.

A record of more than a goal every two games for Sao Paulo, followed by some stellar performances for Brazil in the Copa America, had seen Denílson heralded as destined for great things, but it never quite worked out for him at Betis. Indeed, his debut in the green and white shirt would sum up his eventual seven years at the club. A 0-0 draw with newly-promoted Alaves failed to capture the Verdiblancos faithful’s imagination.

Betis failed to make any improvement upon their previous season, dropping three places to 11th and out of the European qualification spots. Things got catastrophic in Denílson’s second season, with Betis finishing in 18th place and finding themselves relegated to the Segunda Division. Denílson moved to Flamengo on loan the following year, partly in an effort by Betis to reduce their wage bill, and partly because of Denílson’s demand for top tier football before the 2002 World Cup. However, after only 11 appearances, Betis recalled their record signing due to the Brazilian club’s inability to keep up with agreed payments.

Over the next 5 seasons, Betis reclaimed their La Liga status, and consistently won European qualification, culminating in a 4th place finish in Denílson’s final season at the club. However, Denílson himself was no longer a first team regular. He had also helped himself to a World Cup winners medal in 2002, having made a handful of substitute appearances for Brazil in Japan/Korea.

In the summer of 2005, Denílson moved to French club Bordeaux. His arrival coincided with the club’s meteoric rise up the table, climbing from a 15th place finish in 2004/2005 to a runners-up spot to Lyon the following year. Denílson’s form was typically inconsistent during his time in France, and rumours of excessive wage demands saw the Brazilian leave for Saudi Arabian club Al-Nasr the following summer. He became the ultimate journeyman after his Betis career, playing for 9 clubs in 5 year. These ranged from obviously obscure paydays in the form of FC Dallas and Xi Măng Hải Phòng (where he became the highest paid player in Vietnamese history, only to leave the club after one game), to homeland returns such as Itumbiara and Palmeiras.

Most recently, Denílson was seen plying his trade for Greek side Kavala, but was released in April having only been with the club for 3 months despite signing a 2 year contract. Probably the most unbelievable aspect of Denílson’s story is the fact that he is still only 32 years old – the same age as Thierry Henry and Raúl, and younger than the likes of Michael Ballack, Francesco Totti and Mark Van Bommel who are all still playing at the highest level.

Denílson’s story is one of caution, or rather a lack of caution, displayed by both Real Betis and the man himself. Betis bought into the hype of “the next big [Brazilian] thing”, which further allowed Denílson to do the exact same thing. He may have had the same technique, close control and dribbling skills as some of the all time greats, but Denílson lacked the mentality, determination and consistency to be truly ranked alongside his heroes. While stories of the fame and success of his compatriots Ronaldo and Romario will forever capture the imagination of young fanatics worldwide, Denílson will unfortunately remain a permanent fixture in “Where Are They Now?” sections across the internet.


Sao Paola (Brasil) 1994-1998
Real Betis (Spain) 1998-00
Flamengo (Brasil) 2000-01 (alongside Edmundo, Romario)
Bordeux (France) 2005-07
Al Nassr (Saudi Arabia)
Palmeiras (Brasil) 2008 (trial with Bolton, Jan 2009)
Itambiara (Brasil)
FC Dallas (America’s United States)
Vicem [Xi Mang] Hải Phòng (Vietnam, V-League)
Kavala (Greece) 2010 – released without playing a match
April 2010, he retired, after debut of 1994, Oliveira Araújo, Born 24.08.77
He is now working as a sports network on Brazilian TV for Rede Bandeirantes, for whom he is a sports commentator.

…it is ultimately fitting that Denilson took his final curtain call long before his legend had begun. But this was no tragedy, no epic tale of regret and remorse. This tale is one of celebration and joy, for what is football if it is not a spectacle, to be enjoyed by one and all. Just think of Denilson for a moment and do not ponder what might have been. Instead, ask yourself just one thing. Were you not entertained?

Further reading on Rivaldo, cf
On Second Thoughts: Rivaldo
He is in danger of being remembered as a cheat and a mardy bum, but Brazil’s bandy-legged genius was the most unstoppable footballer since Maradona
Rob Smyth,, Thursday 19 June 2008 14.06 BST
… when we discuss soccer’s AM (After Maradona) greats, Zinedine Zidane invariably comes out on top, with Rivaldo well back among the pack. While it would be dubious to argue that Rivaldo was a better technician than Zidane, it is arguable that, if you took everyone playing at the absolute peak of their game, Rivaldo was the best and most unstoppable footballer since Maradona.
Top 3 Footballers: Pele, Maradona, Zidane
Zidane Voted Best Ever European Player

“anger, fury, hatred, resentment, bitter discontent … [it was] his motivator, his fuel, his driving force”.

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