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Djalminha: The Man who would be King

Djalminha could have had it all and very nearly did. One of the hottest talents to come out of Brazil in the 1990s, sadly his legacy is now marred. Conor Heffernan explains all.


In the 1999/2000 La Liga season, Deportivo de La Coruña travelled to the Santiago Bernabéu in a must win game against Real Madrid. Deportivo had begun the season well, Madrid less so. The Castellans were struggling to find their form but few fans expected Deportivo to win the game. Even fewer fans expected Deportivo’s Djalminha to be the game’s talking point.

Yet that night in the Bernabéu everything clicked. Djalminha proved a constant menace to his hosts, even having the audacity to execute a rainbow pass to a fellow team mate in the lead up to a Deportivo goal. The replays of the goal focused on Djalminha, more so than Roy Makaay the goalscorer. That night in the Spanish capital saw Djalminha secure his place in the hearts of Deportivo fans. He had been in Spain for two years at that point but 2000 was the year of Djalminha.

Less than two years later, Djalminha had fallen out with Deportivo’s staff, players and fans. Like so many of football’s geniuses, the Brazilian’s talent was only matched by his bellicose behaviour. His tendency towards the excess and the flamboyant may have seen him celebrated on the pitch, but off it, it made Djalminha almost unmanageable.

It hadn’t always been that way. Born in Santos in 1970, young Djalma Feitosa Dias or Djalminha, was taken on by Rio de Janeiro side Flamengo at the tender age of 16. By 1989 he had established himself in Flamengo’s first team, becoming noted for his tremendous skill on the ball and his accuracy from the set piece. Soon Djalminha gained recognition as one of the most promising talents of his generation by pundits across Brazil. At this time, the young Djalminha was learning his trade but Flamengo knew they could only hold on to him for so long.

They were right. By 1993, Djalminha was on the move to São Paulo side Guarani were his maturation continued. A brief loan spell to Japanese side Shimizu S-Pulse in 1994 was followed by the biggest move in Djalminha’s career to date. In 1996, Djalminha secured a move to Brazilian giants, Palmeiras. It was here, with the Alviverde, that Djalminha truly came of age. Despite playing only 22 league matches that season, Djalminha notched an impressive 12 goals from the centre of midfield. It was a record a striker would be proud of but for Djalminha, it was just part of his game. He was so much more than mere goals. Djalminha was about entertainment, about skill about giving fans a show. Such was Djalminha’s excellence on the field that he was awarded the Bola de Ouro that season and called up for the Brazilian national squad.

As so often happens in Brazilian football, Djalminha’s success lead to interest from European clubs. National newspapers began to speculate about where Djalminha would end up. Would he move to Italy, England or Spain? In 1997 the question was answered, when Deportivo La Coruña spent roughly €10m to bring Djalminha to the north-west of Spain. It seemed like the perfect match. Deportivo were a rapidly improving side and with Brazilian manager, Carlos Alberto Silva at the helm, Djalminha would have a compatriot to confide in.

In 1998, Silva was replaced by Javier Irureta in 1998, but Djalminha barely noticed. On the field he produced some of the most scintillating football Os Turcos had ever seen. His pace, his movement off the ball and of course, his impeccable control, electrified audiences across Spain. His crowning acheivement came in Depor’s 1999/2000 title-winning season as he scored 10 goals in 31 games from the centre of midfield.

It seemed as if Djalminha would go down in Depor’s history books as a fan favourite.

Sadly however Djalminha was subject to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and was often the author of his own troubles. Petty squabbles with team mates and public outbursts became a regular occurrence. In 2002, matters reached a boiling point when Djalminha head butted Depor coach Irureta at the club’s training ground. It was a moment of madness that derailed Djalminha’s career.

The Brazilian was loaned out to German side Austria Wien for the remainder of the season before being released from his contract in 2004. Worst of all, Djalminha’s decision to head butt Irureta resulted in him missing out on a place in Luis Felipe Scolari’s 2002 Brazilian World Cup winning squad. For a Brazilian who lived and breathed samba football, missing out on Brazil’s success left a lasting hurt.

In 2004, Djalminha joined Mexican side Club América but only lasted five games before calling time on his career. He was 34 years then. Since then Djalminha has managed to repair his  relationship with Deportivo. Nowadays, turning out regularly for Depor’s indoor football side alongside former team mates Fran and Naybet.

So how can one sumise Djalminha’s career?

A player of substantial talents, who on his day, was arguably at a level similar to Rivaldo and Ronaldinho. Despite his flirtation with greatness, Djalminha never had the career he truly deserved. He had the potential to be the greatest player of his generation and at times came so close to living up to the hype. Yet like so many other stars, his light went out too fast in the face of moments of sheer madness.

In a career spanning over twenty years, Djalminha won titles nearly everywhere he went. Djalminha entertained fans and Djalminha terrorized opposition defences. Sadly however, Djalminha’s legacy is marred by his actions off the pitch. Nevertheless, his ability will live on in the hearts of anyone fortunate enough to see Djalminha tear Real Madrid apart in the 99/00 La Liga.

Conor Heffernan, Pundit Arena.

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