THE GREAT WALL OF BRAZIL

BACKGROUND

Born into a poor Sao Paulo family in 1929, Djalma's dream, since he was a child, was to become an airplane pilot like his father (who already had a military career behind him). However, Djalma's family lacked the money to be able to enrol him a flying school and so, the young Djalma Santos, began to work as a shoemaker while on the weekend he would dedicated his time to his true passion, that for football.

A severe injury to his right hand prevented him from achieving his dream of becoming a pilot. Instead of dwelling on this tragedy, the head strong Djalma redoubled his efforts on the football field in order to carve out a career in the game. His excellent performances at centre-half for Internacional, a small club in the province of São Paulo, immediately captured the attention of the big clubs. He performed well at trials for Ypiranga and Corinthians but he opted for Portuguesa who allowed him the flexibility to work part-time as well as train. He could not afford not to work and negotiated an agreement which allowed him to train during the day and continue to be a shoemaker at night.

EARLY CAREER

PORTUGUESA FC FC (1948-1959)

As a 19-year-old in 1948. Djalma Santos had a frustrating start to his professional career in the sense that he had to start his career as a midfielder, due to his strong technical qualities. The purchase of the then Brazilian rising star, Brandaozinho, forced him into the role that would cement him as of the defensive icons of the game. It was decided that with his all-round ability he needed the scope to surge forward, so he was finally switched to the right-flank role in which he was to flourish and make his own.

During the era in which Djalma played full-backs were expected to be very static, hardly making it past the halfway line. Djalma Santos took advantage of his grounding as a box to box midfielder and combined physical strength with technical adeptness to become a pioneer alongside his compatriot Nilton Santos in establishing the idea of a swash-buckling attacking full back. It is important to remember that by modern standards, both of these players were still too defensive for the likes of Guardiola or Klopp from a tactical perspective but for their era they were certainly ahead of their time and Djalma's technical skills in particular stand the test of time.

After being re-positioned to right-back Djalma quickly became renowned for his clever passing out from the back and thrilled the crowd with his composed ball-carrying even in tight situations inside his own area. Even his throw-ins became a devastating weapon inspite of the long standing injury to his right hand.. His ability to catapult from range, allowed him to turn final third throw in situations into genuinely dangerous attacking set piece scenarios. The change to right back also yielded immediate tangible success as he helped his side win the Rio-Sao Paulo tournament in 1952 (a traditional Brazilian football competition contested between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro teams from 1933 to 1966, in 1993 and from 1997 to 2002).

That year, Santos made his first appearance for Brazil, striking up a polished full-back partnership with his eminent and slightly older namesake Nilton Santos – to whom he was not related – which would last for a decade.

PEAK PHASE

BECOMES BRAZIL'S FIRST CHOICE RIGHT-BACK

Djalma made his debut in Santiago in a 0-0 draw with Peru in the Pan-American Championship, which Brazil won, and the newcomer shone so brightly that he was voted player of the competition. He was a fixture in the side come the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland; the Brazilians exited at the quarter-final stage, losing 4-2 to the brilliant Hungarians, “The Magnificent Magyars”, in a contest so badly marred by violent play that it was dubbed “The Battle of Berne”. At least Santos emerged with some credit, scoring from the spot and acting as something of a peace-maker as players fought on the pitch following three second-half dismissals, the conflict spilling over into the dressing rooms after the final whistle.

BECOMES CHAMPION OF THE WORLD IN 1958

Djalma's international place appeared impregnable for the next three years but in 1958 he was suddenly ousted by the younger Newton de Sordi for the World Cup in Sweden, not being called up until the final against the host nation. Eventually the Brazil coach Vicente Feola felt Santos’s sharp football brain and shrewd positional sense would be the best way of combating the penetrative winger Lennart Skoglund who had been on fire all tournament. The experienced defender excelled, virtually nullifying his menacing opponent and finding time to attack exhilaratingly as Brazil triumphed 5-2, with Pele the teenage wunderkind scoring twice.

PALMEIRAS FC (1959-1968)

In 1959, after more than 400 games for Portuguesa, Santos was transferred to the powerful Palmeiras, whom he would help to that term’s Sao Paulo state league title, their first for 10 years. There followed a slew of further trophies with the club over the course of the next nine years and some 500 appearances including three editions of the Paulista Championship (1959, 1963 and 1966) and two Brazilian Cups (1960 and 1967). The greatness of Djalma Santos was, and still is, tangible throughout the carioca country. A survey conducted a few years ago among 100,000 supporters of Palmeiras, saw him triumph as the best right-back in the history of society with 75% of the preferences, relegating to the second place a certain Cafu.

BACK TO BACK WORLD CUP WINNER IN 1962

Back on the international front he was consistently superb as Brazil retained the World Cup in Chile in 1962, linking to dazzling effect with the fabulous but eccentric right-winger Garrincha. Santos demonstrated his nous to canny effect in the final against Czechoslovakia, flighting a cross into the box knowing that the sun would be in the keeper’s eyes, causing a fumble from which centre-forward Vava scored to complete a 3-1 victory. His stock never higher, the right-back played for the Rest of the World against England at Wembley in 1963 to celebrate the Football Association’s centenary.

LATE CAREER AND RETIREMENT

1966 WORLD CUP AND PREMATURELY RETIRING IN 1968

Three years later, though past his best at 37, he was picked for his fourth consecutive World Cup, in England, playing twice before being dropped as one of nine scapegoats following a gruesome group-stage defeat by Hungary on the way to early elimination. There followed a brief stint as youth coach with Palmeiras before Santos, who enjoyed his 98th and final outing for his country in 1968, came out of premature playing retirement to join Atletico Paranaense in 1969.

By now he was forty, but he did not seem it. In the field he always gave one hundred percent and utilised the enormous experience he had accumulated over the years. Whenever he met an opposing left wing who was too fast, he was humble and astute enough to exchange positions with Julio (then Atletico's left-back) and carry out his responsibilities at left back.

With him in the team, together with his former teammates Dorval and Bellini, Atletico conquers the Paranaense Championship in 1970. His farewell to football arrives on January 21st 1971 after a race against Gremio. Also to the Aletico Paranaense are in love with him, as evidenced by the fact that the Rossoneri fans voted him as the best player of the twentieth century who has dressed the club's jacket. Finally, as a 41-year-old in 1970 he laid aside his boots, although not before being voted domestic football’s defender of the season.


POST RETIREMENT

BRIEF COACHING CAREER AND CONTRIBUTION TO HUMANITARIAN CAUSES

After hanging his shoes Djalma become coach of Atletico, and then continue his short coaching career in Bolivia and Peru. However, this proved to not be his cup of tea and he decided to leave behind the world of competitive football to teach football to children first in Saudi Arabia, then in Italy, precisely in the surroundings of Bassano del Grappa where, with his former partner Cinesinho, he decided to found and start a school Football foundation.

In Brazil, in the municipality of Uberaba, he founded another Football School for the poor boys of the country. Children and girls who decide to pursue a career in sport, provided they met their respective commitments in their studies. The professionalism and humility shown throughout his career, was self-evident even at the end of it.

TACTICAL ANALYSIS

MY STYLE IS IMPETUOUS, MY DEFENCE IS IMPREGNABLE

Built like a super-heavyweight with the nimbleness of a middleweight, Djalma Santos was a formidable defender who had the muscular athleticism of a Thuram with the intelligence and litheness of a Maldini - which allowed him to read the game effortlessly, and win the ball time and time again through a mixture of power and flawless defensive technique.

Djalma possessed an unheralded two-way game which was superior to his more famous and glamorous compatriot and namesake Nilton Santos. The first responsibility of a full-back is to defend, and he fulfilled that impeccably with his strength, durability and resolution. He was unyielding in the tackle, effective in the air, quick to cover the ground with his distinctive scuttling run and perceptive in his distribution, usually preferring a simple pass to one of his more extravagantly talented team-mates.

Santos could be a thrilling attacker, too, capable of rampaging down his touchline on swashbuckling overlaps and joining in with flowing team moves, occasionally displaying flair with the ball worthy of the most artistic midfield general. He was also a dead-ball specialist, taking penalties in the early part of his career, and he was blessed with an even temperament, retaining his composure in the most hectic of situations and never being sent off in more than 1,000 games as a professional.

He has a joint record where he is only 1 of 3 men that has been selected for three consecutive World Cup Teams of the Tournament, also known as X1’s – which feature the best players of that respective World Cup. He was chosen for this for the 1954, 1958 and 1962 teams of those World Cups. The other two men who share this golden distinction with Santos are: German legend Franz Beckenbauer and fellow German Phillip Lahm. In short he was the most complete defensive full back of all time.

IN HIS OWN WORDS

I only knew two days before the final to play. The news surprised me a bit, I spoke to De Sordi who told me he could not play. Being included in the training of the best of the tournament was a big surprise. Who chose was a friend of mine

Djalma on his selection for the 1958 World Cup Final

I have always lived perfectly normally, I have always respected the opponent, respected the public who came to see the matches, and thank God I have never been excluded from a football field. that I had respect, I played in the rules, "he answered in 2010 when FIFA.com asked him what the title of world champion in 1958 and the fact of being elected best right side that year in Sweden had changed to his career. "Logically, it opened up a few doors, I can not say the opposite, I could have the career I had thanks to these titles of world champion with Brazil, I respect that and I am grateful to football for giving it to me. "

Djalma Santos talking to FIFA

I was 37 years old, the body no longer responded as before. There were probably players who could have done more

Djalma on his selection in the 1966 World Cup