Before FC Porto won the UEFA Champions League last season, coach José Mourinho said: "When things look too hard, then players who take risks appear. Deco is the best one at that; he is the brave one, the one who takes his chance when nobody else wants to."
Deco's story is full of symbolic moments, like scoring against Brazil in the shirt of his adopted country to give Portugal their first victory in the fixture in 37 years. Or his strike in the Champions League final against AS Monaco FC: "The goal I scored against Monaco was my best moment in that competition, because it was in the final and at 2-0 sealed the game," he said.
But before those two nights, he had to resuscitate a career that others had given up for dead. Rejected by Brazil and SL Benfica, when Fernando Santos signed him for Porto from SC Salgueiros in 1998, the club was taking a risk on a player with question marks over his physique and discipline.
The gamble paid off. "My career has not been easy," Deco said. "I have played in small teams where it is difficult to reach your potential. I have worked hard and I have had to overcome many obstacles, but now I am happy. I have won titles with Porto and played for [FC] Barcelona. The effort has been well worth it.
"I arrived in Portugal being very creative, very technical," he added. "Finally at Porto, Santos showed me the way and convinced me that I had to work for the team, to improve defensively." Mourinho just added the finishing touches. "Mourinho is the best manager I've had," concluded the 1.7m-tall player.
Deco was born in a district outside São Paulo 27 years ago. Known as 'Little Maradona' as a teenager, he moved to Benfica after spells at Nacional São Paulo and Corinthians Alagoano. However, his dreams of European success soon foundered as he was moved to Benfica's feeder team, FC Alverca, and then transferred to Salgueiros.
"I did not think I was good enough to succeed in Europe, but it's true too that I was young and I didn't know how far I could get if properly taught," he said. "
Once I had signed for Porto, I thought for the first time that I could climb the ladder."
Having since won three Portuguese titles, three Portuguese Cups, the UEFA Cup and the Champions League with Porto, he has scuttled up the ladder in no time. Having been named as the most valuable player of the Champions League in 2003/04, some have called him the complete midfield player.
That was enough to earn him a move to Barcelona last summer, and while there was some initial wariness of what his role would be in Frank Rijkaard's side, the doubters have been silenced. "The building of every move passes through his feet," wrote the sports newspaper El Mundo Deportivo recently.
For Deco, playing at Camp Nou remains a dream come true. "Barcelona showed an interest in me last season, but Porto wouldn't let me go and the president asked me to stay another year," he said. "I was dying to come here. If I could choose between Barcelona and any other club, I would still come here."
This an abridged version of an article which appears in the latest issue of Champions magazine, the official magazine of the UEFA Champions League. Click here to subscribe.
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