Lee Davy sits down with the Brazilian World Cup winner, and 888Poker Ambassador, Denilson, to ask what it’s like to be the most expensive player in the world, who he sees as the future of modern football, and much more.
A few days ago, Paul Pogba became the most expensive transfer in world football when he moved from Juventus to Manchester United for £89m.
Do you know the name of the first player to go for a fee more than £20m?
You’ve guessed it.
In 1998, Real Betis paid a world record £21.5m to Sao Paulo for the signature of the Brazilian winger, and now 888Poker Ambassador, Denilson, and I sat down with him to ask him a few personal questions about his life, football and poker.
You made your debut aged-17. I always wonder whether the youngsters are physically hurt and bullied on the pitch. What was it like, physically, for you to compete against men when only still a boy?
“It would be harder nowadays because football today is more about strength than technique. Back in my time, it was the opposite. So, because of my technique, I could stand out.”
You became the world’s most expensive footballer when you signed for Real Betis in 1998. How did you manage the fame and accolades that came with such an honour, in particular keeping your ego on the ground?
“It was never easy. I was very young, and my transfer to Real Betis increased my responsibility as a man and athlete. My parents being around was fundamental to keep my feet on the ground. They were always by my side to show me the way and remind me of my past.”
You have played football all over the world. Where did you feel most at home and why?
“I love Seville, a beautiful city with happy people. It made me adapt quickly to their lifestyle. It was the best place I ever played. I also liked to play in France very much.”
What big clubs could you have joined during your career?
“I had many offers from all the leading footballing countries. Real Betis’s offer for me was the biggest proposal Sao Paulo FC had received, and they decided to sell me.”
Who were your mentors in football?
“Telê Santana was the one who saw in me the possibility of becoming a professional player. Muricy Ramalho also had an important role at the beginning of my career.”
What is your one abiding memory from the 2002 World Cup?
“There are many memories, but the one that I most often have in mind is me holding the Brazilian flag and thinking about everything I had been through so far.”
What player’s impress you the most today?
“I watch football because it is part of my job today. I have been working on a sports show for six years. It is very important to keep track of as many games as possible. Lucas Lima, Gabriel Jesus and Gabriel are our future in the Brazilian national team. They impress me for their technique.”
At what time in your life has your confidence been at its lowest and why?
“My confidence was low when I got injured. Upon my return, it was hard to reach my previous level. Without confidence, you can’t do your best. For me, those were always the hardest moments. I went through four surgeries on my right knee.”
What is the most challenging aspect of poker for you to master?
“The most challenging aspect of poker for me is to know my opponent. It challenges me all the time, trying to know and read what my opponent is thinking, what is his hand, what move will he make.”
What are you most grateful for today?
“I am grateful for the family I have built. That is my greatest fortune: my wife, my children and my parents.”
When you look at the world what do you see?
“I see that the values are getting lost day by day. It seems that being honest, earning your money without crossing anyone is wrong. It’s like you need to do something bad to thrive. It’s sad!”
What are you best at outside of football?
“It’s hard to tell what I’m best at outside of football. Football was my life, and everything I did was in football. But I guess I am doing a good job on TV.”