When Denilson went from next big star to big money flop

Team 33's Raf Diallo looks back at the former Brazil star hitting the skids at Real Betis

Denilson, Real Betis

Picture by: Matthew Ashton / EMPICS Sport

When you have a World Cup winner's medal, any criticism of your career probably becomes mute regardless of the role you played.

Take the uber-talented Mario Gotze, whose career has not quite hit the heights it should have for Bayern Munich after an acrimonious move from Borussia Dortmund in 2013.

He will always be remembered as the player that won Germany a fourth World Cup with that unforgettable extra-time winner over Argentina almost two years ago.

Gotze had been tipped as a sort of German Messi at the start of his career, but ex-Brazil star Denilson was also tipped for great, great things when he emerged on the scene for Sao Paulo back in 1994 as a teenager and shone brightly.

The winger, who did go on to win 60 Brazil caps as part of the Selecao's last great generation of talent including Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos and Rivaldo.

Heading into the 1998 World Cup, Ronaldo was the biggest magnet for attention but a little way behind was Denilson, as a winger in a country where another wide-man, Garrincha, is revered as a deity alongside Pele and Zico.

In July 1998, Sevillan side Real Betis secured his services for £22 million, which probably seemed like a good investment on future talent.

In one sense, he did afford them some longevity as he stuck around at Betis for seven years. But in terms of productivity he did not match the price tag and notched only 13 La Liga goals in all that time, which even for a winger and provider was a parsimonious amount for a player of his potential.

In his final season in 2004-05, Denilson appeared in just 10 La Liga games, with all but two showings being off the bench.

What went wrong? Well, according to BBC South American football expert Tim Vickery, who regularly appears on our own Off The Ball and is an authority on anything to do with players from South America and he says that Denilson "was all left foot" or in other words one-dimensional, and the worse sin of having "believed all the hype about himself" until reality set in.

He was also joining as the leader of a club like Betis which at the time had been in the Top 8 for four seasons in a row, but had not enjoyed much tangible success over the years.

They would slip to 11th in his debut season and Betis were even relegated in his second campaign, then going off on loan to Brazilian club Flamengo before helping the club back to La Liga.

Fighting a successful promotion battle was certainly not what he would have expected and one wonders whether he would have fared better if he had been signed by Barcelona instead, who had made the first offer for him.

The winger's proposed move to the Catalan club had fallen through for financial reasons, despite the fact that the pressure would have been less intense in a team packed with other talent.

Instead, Betis came in with an extra-ordinary bid which Sao Paulo accepted and as Denilson would later tell Don Balon

"I went to sleep thinking that I had signed for Barcelona and woke up and found that I had signed for Betis The first official proposal that I received was from Barcelona. The negotiations were then practically completed. One detail about who would pay the taxes for the transfer meant that talks stopped and I ended up not going. They came in with an offer that Sao Paulo could not refuse. Economically it was very good for me too and I chose to accept it."

Perhaps there's a part of him that wishes he had kept sleeping a little bit longer, although winning the 2002 World Cup was some consolation I'm sure. 

You can read more from Raf's The World Is A Ball series every Wednesday on Newstalk.com. To find past articles, head to the Team 33 show page.

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