DENER: The ‘Neymar’ that fate took away
It is the first of May 1993.
We are playing for the ‘Paulistao’, the regional championship of the São Paulo area.
The stadium is the ‘Canindé’ of São Paulo where the hosts Portuguesa host Santos.
Despite the fact that Guga and Axel’s whites are favoured by the odds, the red-green Portuguesa, a small club accustomed to going up and down between the major and minor leagues, are giving the more titled opponents a run for their money.
After a one-sided first half in favour of Pelé’s ex-team, which ended with Santos leading 2 goals to 0, the team that appeared on the pitch in front of their fans in the second half was completely transformed.
Portuguesa put Santos on the ropes and a few minutes into the second half shortened the gap.
It was a great header from Bentinho that revived the hopes of the fans of ‘LUSA’, this being the name by which the club is known among its supporters and throughout Brazil.
Bentinho himself levelled the match.
The action develops again on the right flank where Dener, the number 10 of Portuguesa and undisputed idol of the ‘Lusa’ torcida, after jumping a man in dribbling ‘calls’ a triangle with a team-mate, gains the back line and then puts an inviting ball inside the small area that only has to be pushed into the net.
Bentinho is still there, in the right place at the right time.
Halfway through the second half even came the overtake.
It was Tico, who, on the edge of offside, was caught alone on the edge of the area.
He advances towards the goal and with an outside right touch mocks Edinho, the number 1 of Santos and son of the great Pelé.
There are endless protests and the match suddenly heats up.
Santos obviously does not take it.
These are crucial points in the race for the regional title, even though Palmeiras and Corinthians seemed to objectively have something more that season.
The whites poured into the attack.
There is a free kick in favour of the men coached by Evaristo de Macedo from the three-quarter line.
The ball is headed back outside the area, picked up by Tico who passes it to Dener.
The Portuguesa number 10 receives the ball, with his back to goal, when he is no more than ten metres inside the opponent’s half.
And at this point he invents ‘something’ that to this day, in the accounts of Portuguesa fans, is considered THE GOL in the club’s history.
With one touch, he stops the ball, turns and with his second touch passes the ball between an opponent’s legs.
He launches himself towards the goal, which is, however, at least 40 metres away.
He jumps over another opponent, sprints past two, arrives in front of the Santos goalkeeper, makes him sit down with a feint and then pushes the ball into the now empty goal with the outside of his foot.
The ‘torcida’ of the little ‘Estadio do Canindé’ literally goes mad.
It is the goal that definitively closes the match … and it is the goal that consigns Dener Augusto de Souza to the Portuguesa legend and definitively opens the doors to a career that, at 23 years of age, has already seen him make his debut for the Brazilian senior national team.
It was April 1994.
Less than five months have passed since that goal.
At the beginning of the year, Dener moved on loan to Vasco de Gama, who spared no expense in securing the services of the young talent from Vila Ede for that season’s ‘Campionato Carioca’ (Rio de Janeiro’s regional championship).
Dener’s performances were of the highest level.
His debut with Vasco de Gama is in a mini-tour in Argentina where Sebastiao Lazaroni’s team also faces Diego Maradona’s Newell’s All Boys.
Dener’s performance is so spectacular that at the end of the match ‘El Diego’ wants to personally congratulate the boy.
In that ‘Carioca’ league, Vasco’s roster is impressive.
In the qualifying round for the final quadrangular for Vasco there were eight wins and three draws … and no defeats.
Dener is finally playing with the continuity that had so far been lacking in him and is one of the main protagonists of this triumphant ride.
So much so that practically all observers agree that the Portuguesa-owned striker is a certainty among the 22 players who will be part of the expedition to the USA for the upcoming World Cup.
Dener, who acts mainly as a second striker behind the ‘globetrotting’ bomber Jardel, has literally made Vasco supporters fall in love with him.
What is most impressive about this tiny striker (168 centimetres for 60 kilograms) is his ability to dribble at full speed, and even those who try to stop him with the ‘bad’ ones soon discover that his balance and agility are truly off the charts.
The ball doesn’t seem to want to leave his feet, he sees the play, is good at the last pass and scores with regularity.
The Vasco Torcida has coined a refrain especially for him.
‘Ê cafuné! Ê cafuné! O Dener é a mistura de Garrincha com Pelé!’
If the word cafuné is almost untranslatable (it is more or less a caress, a gentle gesture) much clearer is the second part of the lyrics ‘Dener is a mixture of Garrincha and Pelé!’ the greatest compliment imaginable in Brazil, since it mentions the two greatest champions in the football history of this country.
On 17 April, Fluminense – Vasco da Gama will be played at the Maracanà.
It will end in a draw, a 1 to 1 that will certainly not be remembered in the annals either for the spectacle itself or for Dener, who will be sent off during the match for an argument with Brazilian full-back Branco, an old acquaintance also of Italian football.
However, no one can imagine that this will be the last match for Dener, the tiny talent destined for a very bright career.
Immediately after the match, played on 17 April, Dener returns to São Paulo.
It is not just a pleasure trip to his city.
In São Paulo, together with the directors of his Portuguesa there are those of Stuttgart, at that time one of the most important and competitive teams in the Bundesliga.
Advocating his purchase with the German team is none other than Carlos Dunga, who had arrived in Stuttgart the previous summer after six seasons spent in Italy with Pisa, Fiorentina and Pescara.
It is a very important step for Dener’s career and the economic proposal is very attractive for this young man who, despite his very young age, is already the father of three children.
Dener has had several disciplinary problems in the past:
Skipped training sessions or arriving late, a few violent arguments with some coaches (with former national team goalkeeper Leao in primis) and, in any case, various behaviours that were not exactly professional.
For some time now, however, he seems to have matured, more responsible and disciplined, and his performance on the pitch is the clearest proof of this.
On 19 April, Vasco resumed training for the final phase of the Carioca championship and Dener, together with his inseparable friend Otto Gomes Miranda, left São Paulo to return to Rio de Janeiro.
It is precisely his friend Otto who, at dawn on 19 April, is driving Dener’s car, a Mitsubishi Eclipse.
They left São Paulo during the night, almost six hours earlier, and are now near Rio de Janeiro (exactly at Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas).
Not even fifteen minutes and they are at their destination.
At a certain point, something unpredictable happens.
The car leaves the carriageway and crashes into a large tree on the side of the road.
The impact is tremendous, both because of the high speed and because it probably caught them both in their sleep.
Otto Gomes Miranda will survive even though his lower limbs will be amputated, while for Dener there will be nothing to do.
He will die instantly, suffocated by the seat belt.
The subsequent investigation will establish that Dener was asleep at the moment of impact with the seat completely reclined backwards and the seat belt, instead of protecting him, practically strangled him.
The condolences throughout Brazil are immense.
Seeing Dener’s pictures on the Internet today can only make us think of another immense Brazilian talent of today who will perhaps achieve all that DENER AUGUSTO DE SOSA could only dream of.
His name is NEYMAR.
ANECDOTES AND CURIOSITIES
Like many other Brazilian boys, Dener’s childhood was on the threshold of poverty. Orphaned at the age of eight, life for Dener was for years going to school in the mornings and finding odd jobs in the afternoons to contribute to the meagre family budget.
He could only play at the famous ‘futbol sala’ (indoor five-a-side football) where, however, no one could fail to notice the great talents of this small and skinny boy.
At the age of eleven, Portuguesa put him under contract, but at fifteen, family needs forced him to leave football. For him there is a return to indoor football where he manages to scrape together some money. He would return two years later.
This is the story of Antonio Gomes, the Portoguesa coach who made Dener’s debut in the first team.
‘A club manager told me about this skin-and-bones kid and convinced me to try him out in a training match. He arrived at the camp and I told the warehouseman to give him his shirt and shorts.
The game had already started several minutes before I realised that Dener was still on the sidelines. He looked like a lost chick. I invited him onto the pitch. The first ball he touched he passed it over a defender’s head, stopped it and then took off like lightning. The second was a ball between him and another player, roughly twice his size physically. The latter slipped in, also in a very hard and uncoordinated manner. Dener arrived a fraction of a second earlier on the ball, touched it with the tip of his foot and then jumped with his feet together to avoid the opponent’s tackle.
At that point I turned to the management and told them ‘don’t let that boy leave before you get him to sign a professional contract!
The consecration for Dener came in 1991 during the famous ‘São Paulo Junior Cup’ tournament, the most important Under-20 tournament in Brazil and at the time an authentic showcase for young talent.
Dener led Portuguesa to a 4-0 triumph in the final against Gremio and was elected Best Player of the Tournament.
Before the historic goal against Santos, Dener scored another very similar one in 1991 against Inter de Limeira, again for the Paulista league.
On that occasion he jumped over four footballers in dribbling and at speed before hitting the net with an ‘under’ touch past the goalkeeper.
Making his debut for the Brazilian national team was none other than Paulo Roberto Falcao during his brief tenure on the Brazil bench. Two appearances, both against Argentina.
“A wonderful player. The kind that can change the outcome of a match in a single second. Those like him are a pleasure for anyone who loves football,’ these are the words of the Eighth King of Rome.
Jose Macia, known as Pepe, one of the greatest strikers in the history of Brazilian football, was Dener’s coach at Santos in a career that saw him act as a coach to the great Pelé at Santos and later around the world as a coach at more than 20 different clubs.
“Of all the footballers I have coached in my career, he is the only one who has come close to Pelé in any way. That guy had an extraordinary talent’.
Also in Pepe’s recollections there is another peculiar and very emblematic tale from the time he was Dener’s coach at Portuguesa.
‘Dener was often late for training, or he didn’t even show up. I was about to lose patience with him when Capitao, the most experienced player in the team, came to me,’ says the great former Santos centre forward.
‘I come on behalf of my teammates Mister. Please have some patience with Dener. We know that he doesn’t always perform well … but he is the one who makes us win games.”
Pepe recalls that ‘it was the first and last time in my coaching career that I made an exception for someone’, adding later that ‘Capitao and his teammates were indeed right!
The last anecdote concerns the player who for Brazilians who remember Dener encapsulates most of his characteristics, Neymar Junior.
It is said that during his early years at Santos Neymar suffered a lot from the harshness of opponents’ interventions (not that he has changed much!) and often ended up reacting badly by getting himself expelled.
One day, Santos Sporting Director Paulo Jamelli decided to lock Neymar in a room to show him how the great champions reacted to opponents’ fouls … that is, without showing weakness, getting up after a foul and ready to start again for a new play.
The videos shown that day were of Pelé, Maradona, Messi and … DENER.
The story of Dener is one of the 43 told in https://www.urbone.eu/products/matti-miti-e-meteore-del-futbol-sudamericano