Donato passes test of time

Age is no impediment to RC Deportivo La Coruña's veteran defender Donato Gama.

By Luis Arconada Lamsfus

When Donato Gama says that football is like a box of surprises, his assessment of the beautiful game evokes one of the hit movies of the 1990s, Forrest Gump, and its eponymous hero. Like Gump, the RC Deportivo La Coruña defender has a seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy. And in recent weeks, at any rate, the former Spanish international has also revealed a happy knack of uncovering the sweet things in life.

Record breaker
Last month, on 30 December, he celebrated his 40th birthday. Last Sunday, meanwhile, he became the oldest goalscorer in Primera División history - his 50th-minute header in the 2-1 league win against Athletic Club Bilbao breaking a 43-year record held by the former FC Barcelona player César.

'Not the quickest'
But then age was never going to be a hindrance to a footballer who, by his own admission, was "never the quickest". "As a defender," he said, "you have to think more quickly than the forward, and maybe I've been cleverer, if not quicker." Nor was it ever likely to weary a player who has had to wait for success in his chosen profession. "Now that I have the opportunity, I want to take advantage of it and attain the highest level I can," he said.

Title triumphs
Donato was in his mid-20s by the time he reached Spain's top flight in 1988, joining Club Atlético de Madrid from Brazilian club CR Vasco da Gama. He might have won two Spanish Cups during his stay in the capital, before a transfer to Deportivo in 1993. But it was not until the 1999/00 campaign - after a near miss in 1994 - that he laid hands on the main prize as the Galician club claimed their first Spanish league title. "Winning titles normally provide the best memories, especially the league title," he said. "There is nothing else I could really ask for."

Numbers game
Nor, however, does the numbers game end with an honours list that includes two further Copa del Rey successes with Deportivo and three Spanish Super Cups. Though born in Rio de Janeiro in 1962, Donato gained Spanish citizenship in 1994 allowing him to play 12 times for his adopted country, including at EURO 96™. He has also made 459 Spanish league appearances, scoring 48 goals, including the Riazor score against Athletic.

Carry on learning
It will not, he insists, be his last. "I want to score at least 50," he said. "I want to carry on working hard and taking whatever chances the coach gives me. You can always learn new things, even at 40, and I am still learning. Perhaps the secret is in not thinking you know it all." With six months left on his contract, and the likelihood of a one-year extension at season's end, you would not bet against Donato achieving his goal. "I still have the energy to stay another year but we will have to wait and see what happens," he said. It is a story that looks set to run and run.