Why Retiring Deco Was the One That Got Away for Brazil

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Why Retiring Deco Was the One That Got Away for Brazil

For a number of years, Brazil has regularly seen players leave for pastures new and, in the knowledge that they will be unlikely to ever represent the selecao, pull on the shirt of their adopted country at international level.

It is rarely a problem that overly concerns Brazilian fans and authorities. After all, there is such enormous depth to the ranks of selecao hopefuls that the loss of an Eduardo da Silva (Croatia), Alex (Japan) or even Marcos Senna (Spain) is not seen as a major issue.

While Senna, or even Portugal's Pepe, could have amassed a number of caps for Brazil over time, it is unlikely that either would have been seen as essential to the cause at any point in their playing career.

There is one player, though, who stands out as being a major loss to Brazilian football in recent years, with his style of player sadly lacking among the ranks of international hopefuls—former Porto, Barcelona and Chelsea star Deco.

When Deco announced his retirement at the age of 35 on Monday, the inevitable was confirmed. The last 12 months have not been an ideal swansong for the playmaker, suffering from injury before serving a suspension for a failed drugs test in April.

The stuttering end to his career, though, should not detract from the brilliance that he demonstrated for a number of years at the top level—right through to helping Fluminense to the Brasileirao title in 2012. He was a winner with every club he has represented.

What made Deco different to so many in Brazil was his ability to distribute the ball from midfield. In recent years Brazil has had many dribblers in attacking midfield areas and a number of fine box-to-box midfielders, but a dearth of distributors.

Hernanes is the closest that Brazil have at present, while Oscar is also a very good creative hub for club and country. But, for a long period in recent years, it has been a dimension sorely lacking across the spectrum.

It was a point raised by the BBC's Tim Vickery when analysing Santos' defeat to Barcelona in the 2011 Club World Cup. Santos, and indeed Brazil, have Messi-style players, but there is no Xavi or Iniesta. Deco, in theory, could have been that man.

The diminutive playmaker, though, was never valued by his home country. After a brief spell at Corinthians, Deco was sold to Benfica in 1997 where his career in Portugal would begin.

It was with a 1999 switch to Porto that Deco's career would begin to gather pace, however. Having established himself as a regular member of the first team, the Brazilian would go on to become the leading creative figure of Jose Mourinho's UEFA Cup and Champions League-winning sides of 2002-04.

Deco, who was the top assist-maker in European football that season, would be one of the most prized assets in the ensuing fire-sale. Following his switch to represent Portugal ahead of Euro 2004, a fine tournament with his country would earn the midfielder a move to Barcelona.

It was the intelligence of Deco's play that attracted the Catalan club to part with significant money to secure his services. 

"Deco, obviously, is not Zidane, but he is very similar," was the view of former Portugal manager Luiz Felipe Scolari in 2008, per The Telegraph, upon signing the midfielder for Chelsea. "You expect one thing and then it changes. That is very important.

"For me, he is one of the best players in the world, with players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi."

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Such high praise may be expected from a manager who has just parted with significant sums of money to make a player his first signing at a new club, but Scolari was far from alone in his assessment of the Portuguese's talents.

"Deco is one of the most important players in recent Portuguese history. He is now living through a special moment in his career," was the view of now Tottenham coach Andre Villas-Boas last year, per Goal.com, when discussing Deco's claims to a Euro 2012 place after hitting form at Fluminense.

Such praise is commonplace when discussing Deco's impact, and his retirement has brought a flood of tributes—with teammates and coaches from across his career bemoaning his loss to football.

"I am sad, because we are attached to players who play with such quality. Football has lost a lot," was the view of former Barcelona and Chelsea teammate Juliano Belletti, speaking to Brazil's Sportv (Portuguese).

"Today is a day to thank and praise Deco," Fluminense striker Fred commented on Facebook, per Globo Esporte. "It was a pleasure to play alongside him."

But, it was perhaps Scolari who once more best captured the moment, telling Globo: "Deco was one of the best that I have worked with. Football has lost a great player but moreover a great man."

Deco may not have been everybody's favourite, but he was a firm favourite with every side in which he has played. Even at Chelsea, where he endured a tough start, Deco came to the fore under Carlo Ancelotti to add a Premier League title to his collection.

With eight league titles won in four different countries, two Champions League successes and a UEFA Cup also to his name, Deco's place among modern greats is secure. It is difficult, though, not to wonder whether he could have achieved even greater heights representing Brazil.

Brazil will never know how things may have worked out if Deco had been available for selection at the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, but it is clear that a player with his innovation and quality would have been of great use.

Perhaps it would have been better for the star to have bowed out on a high after title success last campaign but, ultimately, the woes of 2013 will soon be forgotten.

There is real affection for Deco and his special talents felt the world over, and, in the wake of his retirement, that respect and affection has shone through.

He may have played a secondary role to some of Barcelona, Portugal and even Chelsea's stars, but he left a deep impression upon supporters.

Brazil must now learn from their experiences with Deco and ensure that, in the coming years, such players are embraced into the selecao fold. Special talents of his ilk will not emerge again overnight.

That is ultimately what Deco was, right up to the final days of his career at Fluminense—a truly special talent and a born winner.

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