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Player Profile: Dida
12.10 || Seamus

Nelson de Jesus Silva was born in the small town of Irará in Brazil’s large northern state of Bahia, but spent most of his childhood in Lagoa das Canoas, Alagoas – one of the smallest Brazilian states, nestling north of Bahia and before Pernambuco. He became determined to become Brazil’s goalkeeper after being entranced by the seleção’s own Valdir Peres and Russian stalwart Dasaey in the 1982 World Cup.

Little did he know that this was almost a taboo: the last Afro-Brazilian keeper was Barbosa, the scapegoat of the 1950 ‘Maracanazo’ that saw Uruguay beat hosts Brazil in the eponymous Carioca coliseum. Dida started off in one of the many small clubs bearing names of the giant teams of Brazil: Cruzeiro de Arapiraca. A spotter snapped up the 18 year-old Dida for one of the two greats of Bahia – Vitória.

Barely a year later the already imposing form of Dida was to be seen between the sticks of the under-20 Verde-Amarelo, giving a hand (or two) to the conquest of the South American tournament that proclaimed Brazil three-times champion of the continent in 1993. This led him to a first team place at Vitória, and the agility that belied his bulk was a key factor in Vitória’s conquest of the Brasileirão vice-championship.

In an ironic twist of fate, Dida was sought out by the original Cruzeiro. The Minas Gerais team got him to sign on the dotted line in 1994, and he soon became an idol in Belo Horizonte’s answer to Maracanã; the imposing Mineirão shared between blue Cruzeiro and Badger-striped rivals Atlético Mineiro. His performances in the Mineiro Cup of that year led to him being dubbed as Brazil’s natural successor to Claudio Taffarel (the 1994 WC hero) in the Brazilian goal by none other than Mario Zagallo.

The ‘old wolf’s’ prophecy was fulfilled 24 months later as Dida flew to Atlanta in search of Olympic gold. It was to be a baptism of fire that charred his reputation. He showed a side that occasionally gets spectators to rub their eyes with disbelief – the side capable of ham-fisted howlers (‘frangos’ or ‘chickens’ in Brazil, named after the poor sod who ends up groping at thin air when trying to catch a chicken in a farmyard).

Two goals were suffered in the group phase as he thumped into Aldair, including the embarrassing 1-0 defeat to Japan. Despite his forehead-slapping errors, he was not alone: Rivaldo’s midfield smart-arsery led to a Nigerian counter-attack, leaving Brazil with a depressing lump of Bronze. The bitter disappointment was ameliorated by further conquests with Cruzeiro – Mineiro State Champion three times in a row from 1996 to 1998, Copa do Brasil winner in 96 and 98, the cherry on top being the Libertadores conquest in 1997 with the Raposa.

In spite of the host of trophies, Dida had lost Zagallo’s previous unquestioning faith in his abilities. His call-up for the 1998 World Cup in France was soured by the certain knowledge that Taffarel was now back as Zagallo’s first-choice keeper. Dida was to watch the entire Cup from the bench, sidelined by a goalie who had retired in 1995 and was only back in action thanks to Zagallo’s personal appeal. It appeared that Dida would be condemned to the shadows.

With half of his twenties spent defending the Cruzeiro goal, Nelson de Jesus Silva decided it was time for a change of scenery. His last bash at claiming the Seleção number one shirt – at the 2000 Sydney Olympics – was a distant memory that even his trophy-winning performances in Belo Horizonte couldn’t erase, and Dida was itching for another shot. What could be better than a little foreign adventure?

At the start of 1999 Dida officially told the Raposa management that he no longer considered himself part of Cruzeiro, and that he would be joining AC Milan forthwith. This went down like a bowl of sick with croutons and the jilted management started a five-month legal battle in revenge. Dida hit back with a temporary FIFA ruling that allowed him to keep in shape by playing for Swiss club Lugano in the meantime.

The battle of Dida had three winners: Cruzeiro won money by getting the Italians to part with a transfer sum; AC Milan won by signing a goalie who was to write his name in club history; Dida won his freedom and seed of his Verde-Amarelo dominance. “I want to grow professionally by showing how good I am on the European stage” said Dida at the time. The euphoria that surrounded his ascent to Milan was short-lived.

Dida found he was unable to break into the first team on a regular basis. A young Abbiati had grabbed his chance firmly, so Milan farmed him out to Corinthians in order for him to have regular first-team play. This would be a turning point for Dida as his flair for saving penalties came to the fore; something first seen under the wing of Wanderley Luxemburgo and in front of audiences watching the Americas Cup and The Confederation Cup.

Corinthians fans elevated Dida to the realm of Alvinegro idols after the keeper saved no less than three penalties in the old-fashioned Brasileirão ‘play-offs’ between the top eight clubs in the league. Two of the spot-kicks were in the same game against rivals São Paulo and, as if this wasn’t enough for the Fiel supporters, both taken by Raí, a traditional name in Parque São Jorge defeats to the Tricolor Paulista.

FIFA organised their first World Club Cup in January 2000, trying to improve the damp squib set-up of an Intercontinental Cup that functioned in much the same way as the Confederations Cup: through private sponsorship. Although highly rated in South America this (one match) Cup doesn’t attract even near the same weight in Europe. Corinthians, along with Vasco, were the ‘home’ teams as the tournament was played in Brazil.

In the first phase he saved the Timão from a defeat against Real Madrid by stopping an Anelka penalty, and as the final game – played against Cariocas Vasco – was decided in a penalty shootout the ‘muralha’ (wall) showed his skills again to help Corinthians become the first FIFA World Club Cup champions. It wasn’t surprising when AC Milan decided to bring him back to Italy for a second crack of the whip.

A whip cracks both ways; the first blow was a series of seleção slip-ups in the defeats against both Paraguay and Chile. Dida was replaced first by Rogério Ceni, who bowed out after a short stint as well, then by 2002 World Cup winner Marcos of Palmeiras. At least it seemed that Dida was heading for a resurgence at Milan; nothing could go wrong, could it? Yes it can if your passport is forged.

In June 2001 he ended up being the first Brazilian to be charged with using a fake European Community passport. After confessing to using illegal methods to gain the crucial Bosman-dodging document, FIFA slapped a one-year European and national ban on Dida. Corinthians snapped him up for the Parque São Jorge, part of a strategy to make the Fiel fans forget the sour exit of idol Marcelinho Carioca by the triumphant return of another. Would the risk pay off?

2002 started well as Dida helped Corinthians to winning both the (now defunct) Rio-São Paulo Tournament and the Copa do Brasil. This led Dida, normally a shy and slowly-spoken man, to predict that he’d win every competition that year. His game had been lifted by big improvements to his tactics and skills when leaving the line – a major defect that still occasionally pops into view and tarnishes his image.

The year kicked off on a high note that would end up being sustained through twelve months. Dida kicked off with a sterling performance that helped Paulista giants Corinthians to a welcome trio of trophies: the state title (the ‘Paulista’ or ‘Paulistão’) the (now-defunct) Rio-São Paulo tournament and the Copa do Brasil.

His work at Corinthians with Parreira was peppered with daring moved that saw him risk injury on a weekly basis and the notable improvement to his aerial work paid off handsomely in silverware. Dida even ventured forth into the previously unknown territory of leadership, overcoming his sometimes crippling shyness and conducting his team-mates from behind.

These final adjustments to his game and on-pitch style won the cynical Luiz Felipe Scolari over, and Dida was on his way to his second World Cup: the 2002 campaign in South Korea and Japan. Like the previous, unhappy 1998 tournament in France Dida would be relegated to the bench alongside Rogério Ceni as Scolari’s old Palmeiras prodigy Marcos was given the number 1 shirt.

He was also paired with Ronaldo in the hotel rooms the seleção shared during the Cup. The Fenômeno benefited from Dida’s help to chase away demons that haunted the still-Inter striker. With memories of the disastrous final against France still fresh in his memory, Ronaldo was distracted from his worries by the easy-going goalkeeper. This continued for most of the hours before the final against Germany, and the results speak for themselves.

With the conquest of the longed-for ‘penta’ (fifth WC), the sub label stung a lot less as Marcos proved impeccable in the Canarinho goal. Dida chalked it down to experience and the hot competition from Marcos, not to mention the Coach’s personal foibles. These foibles were to hit the sweet spot with Parreira, but first there was the little matter of Scudetto and European titles to take care of.

From World To European Cup - And More...

Immediately after the World Cup triumph, Dida began to monopolise both the Brazilian and AC Milan number 1 jerseys. His game had now reached full maturity: Dida was in his prime and ready to shoulder the responsibility in two of the most demanding leagues in the world – the Champions league in its 2002-2003 edition and the Italian league the following year.

Milan lifted their sixth European Cup thanks to a remarkable display of penalty-stopping mastery from Dida, repeating the blend of an uncanny agility that defies his substantial size and sort of soothsayer predictions of a player’s kick that enables him to foil so many spot-kicks. Such deft skill was evident as he stopped Trezeguet, Zalayeta and Montero from scoring for Juventus.

The Juventus players were magnanimous in defeat, praising Dida’s key role in keeping the Cup from Turin. “Dida is a specialist at penalties and showed that throughout the penalty shootout” said a dejected, yet polite, Thuram. Juventus Coach Marcelo Lippi joined in: “Everybody knew that Dida would be difficult in a dead-ball situation and today he was excellent.”

Dida was also the first-choice Milan goalie as the Rossoneri fought their way to the 17th Scudetto at the end of the following season. With fellow countrymen Kaká, Cafú and Serginho – the latter being one of Ancelotti’s high-powered subs – Dida let in 20 goals in the 32 (out of 34) games that he played as number 1 for the Champions.

This did much to erase horrific memories of their inglorious exit from the CL; eliminated by Deportivo La Coruña in a 4-0 drubbing that the overwhelmed Milan’s 4-1 first leg advantage, giving lethal weight to the Spaniards’ away goal. After handing the Vecchia Signora the Scudetto on a silver platter the year before (a 3-3 San Siro draw against Palermo on May 20th), Milan needed the title that Dida had yet to win.

Istanbul’s Ataturk Olympic stadium was a return to the cruel vagaries of reality for Dida. Milan went off for the break with the warm glow of three goals scored against Liverpool, and it appeared that Dida would soon be pocketing his second CL winner’s medal in as many years. Fate would see the Mersey club come back and force a penalty shoot-out that would see a goalie pull off miracles.

Unfortunately for the Bahian the keeper that shone that night was his opposite number: Dudek. The Polish veteran saved both Pirlo and Shevchenko, whereas Serginho put his chance wide. Dida wasn’t able to repeat his 2003 feat and Hamann, Cissé and Smicer put theirs away to ferry the Cup back to the Mersey.

Dida is now guaranteed as Brazil’s first-choice keeper for Germany 2006: the last man standing in a line-up that has been tipped to play like the legendary 1970 Brazilian team. The child who marvelled at the 1982 World Cup will soon be the first Afro-Brazilian keeper to defend the Verde-Amarelo sticks in a World Cup since the ill-fated Barbosa in 1950.

Fact File

Name: Nélson de Jesus Silva
Nickname: Dida
Birth Place: Irará (Bahia, Brazil)
Birth Date: 01/10/1973
Clubs: Vitória, Cruzeiro, Lugano (Switzerland), Corinthians and Milan (Italy)


1992 – Bahia State Champion (Vitória)
1993 – Under-20 World Champion (Brazil)
1994 – Minas Gerais State Champion (Cruzeiro)
1996 – Minas Gerais State Champion (Cruzeiro)
1996 – (Copa do Brasil Champion) Cruzeiro
1997 – Minas Gerais State Champion (Cruzeiro)
1997 – Libertadores Champion (Cruzeiro)
1998 – Minas Gerais State Champion (Cruzeiro)
1999 – Copa América Champion (Brazil)
1999 – Brasileirão [Brazilian League] Champion (Corinthians)
2000 – FIFA World Club Champion (Corinthians)
2002 – Rio-São Paulo Tournament Champion, Copa do Brasil Champion (Corinthians)
2002 – World Cup Champion (Brazil)
2003 – Champions League Champion (Milan)
2003/2004 – Serie A [Italian League] Champion (Milan)

Aaron Marcus

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