Borussia Mönchengladbach need passion to save them from relegation says Dante

Dante, the supreme poet of Brazil and Borussia Mönchengladbach, is the latest convert to The South American Football in association with The Independent. We embarked on a pilgrimage with Dante through football’s heaven and hell as we talked about his journey so far, his Jackson 5 perm and his ambitions for Brazil 2014.
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Well Dante, it’s great to see you back on the pitch and playing for Borussia Mönchengladbach. How much of a relief is it to put last year’s injury behind you and how did you cope with being sidelined for over two months?

For me, it’s a great feeling to be playing again. Last year I suffered a complicated injury that meant I was out for the first time in a while. It was a hard time to endure but now it’s over and I can do my job on the pitch again. I couldn’t be happier that the injury has been overcome. Now I expect to play the final games of the season and help Borussia Mönchengladbach get out of the difficult situation we are in.

Your team needs you now more than ever with Borussia Mönchengladbach currently occupying the relegation places in the Bundesliga. How is the team going to get out of this mess?

Of course, we have to work really hard and we need to take into account the feelings the fans have for this club. We can’t rely only work hard, we have to draw inspiration from the fans and from within. We must feel like “we can not allow this house to fall to the ground”. Showing passion for the fight will be very important.

Last season the Borussia Mönchengladbach fans named you the club’s Defender of the Year. You also underlined your commitment to the club by signing a new contract last summer. What can you tell us about your relationship with the fans and the cult status you have in the stands?

After my first year here there was a full section of fans wearing afro wigs in the crowd. That was totally unexpected, but I loved it. It felt like recognition for my work. After that came the new contract to take me up until 2014. I’m very happy to know that the people of the city appreciate what I do. I hope to play more great matches and give joy to the fans. I keep this thought with me as a positive motivation.

And we understand the afro wigs are still selling like hot cakes in the club shop?

It’s incredible! In the past games, I’m not sure if it was related to carnival season, but many more fans were wearing the wig! It makes me laugh. Like I told you, it’s gratifying and makes me very happy.

You mentioned prior to joining Borussia Mönchengladbach you were excited to play in the Bundesliga. Have the challenges you have faced in Germany matched your expectations of playing there?

I always thought of the Bundesliga as a league that appealed to me. I saw it then and I see it now as an open league in which every team can win any match. There are games with lots of goals, great players and, I think, the best pitches and stadiums in the world. We have fifty thousand fans in the stands at every game and that is really great. I think back to what I thought before coming here and I realize that in reality it’s actually much better in Germany than I thought it would be. The league is also very well organized and I love playing here.

You signed for Borussia Mönchengladbach from Standard Liege where you won league and cup titles after joining from rivals Sporting Charleroi. What can you tell us about the Belgian league?

The Belgian league doesn’t have many contenders, there’s about three or four teams that can be champions. It’s certainly not as strong a league as La Liga, the Bundesliga or the Premiership but it has some great players. Every year you see five or ten exciting players coming out of the league and joining top clubs all over Europe. I think it’s a great place to play.

Would you recommend a move to Belgium for other South American players hoping to make their mark in Europe?

I think I would. People in Belgium are welcoming people. They are quite peaceful compared to Brazil but they like to hang out and have fun. Also, there are a lot of foreigners in the country so there are always lots of friends close by. It’s a good place for South Americans to land in, the amount of South Americans who have thrived there is proof of that.

You’re first destination in Europe was Lille in France but you found your opportunities limited under head coach Claude Puel. What kept you motivated to succeed during this difficult time in your career?

I’m a player that works harder when the situation gets tough so I can turn things around. I get stronger when facing difficulties. With Puel I had next to no chance to play, it was a very complicated situation. So I told myself “I’m going to fight until the last second with this team, because, when I get to a new team I want to be physically fit, tactically aware and fully ready to play”.

What ambitions do you have left to fulfill during your playing days in Europe? Would a move to England interest you?

I came to Borussia Mönchengladbach because I thought it was a great place to showcase my work. I believe I could still play at a bigger club and people mention me as one of the best defenders in Germany. I always think of playing Champions League or Europa League, always, it’s a constant ambition in my career. About England, I played against Liverpool and Everton, so I know it is a very fast league, with strong passions involved. The fans are wacky about football there, crazy, they love it, and the games are incredible. The best players in the world play there these days, and the overall standard is very high. It’s a shame I don’t have the European passport, but we never know what our destiny brings, it’ a fantastic league without a doubt.

To complete the history of your footballing journey we must mention Juventude in the deep south of Brazil. You joined the club during the most glorious chapter of their history. What can you tell us about some of the great players you played with and against during your time with Juventude?

I was just 18 when I played with Juventude in the Brazilian first division, those were great times! So many big players were also in the league at that time. I got to face Kaká, Luis Fabiano, Romario, Julio Baptista. A great experience to say the least. Back then I also faced Grafite, now with Wolfsburg, and Alex, now with Fenerbache. Alex was and is one hell of a player. I remember when we faced Romario, we managed to prevent him from scoring and he was so upset! I have beautiful memories of those days and the players involved.

As a defender, what preparations do you make before each game to make sure the strikers don’t get the best of you?

To guess what the striker is going to do is very hard. You need to prepare intensively during the week, thinking about how to defend well. In the game you need total focus, because at any second you could give a chance to a striker and the ball will be in your net. For example, you give players like Drogba, Anelka, Rooney a second without your full attention and they’re off and scoring.

Despite being a defender you are capable of scoring goals yourself, any special strikes stick in your memory?

There was one goal, actually a couple of goals not long after I joined Borussia Mönchengladbach that I really enjoyed. The team was in a hard situation with two games to be played. We visited Cottbus in need of a victory and I scored the winner in the last minute. We won the three points and that put us just one point shy of avoiding relegation. In the last match of the season I scored again, in a 1-1 tie against Borussia Dortmund and the point meant we stayed up. Those goals helped me to settle here and I hope I can keep on scoring decisive goals like these for the team.

Your home city of Salvador da Bahia in the north of Brazil is getting a brand new stadium for the 2014 World Cup. Do you hope this will help decrease the dominance of the teams from the east and south of Brazil in Serie A?

You’re talking about Salvador, my city! I can only tell you it’s beautiful, with lots of sandy beaches, lots of sun. A vast and very beautiful area. With a better stadium there, better players will want to play in the city. I expect when this happens we will see the Brazilian league becoming more even across the whole country.

Why would you recommend football fans to come to Salvador da Bahia during the 2014 World Cup. Do you think the town will be in full party mode when the cup comes to town?

Why come? Why you ask me? Well... Salvador has between 50 to 60 kilometers of beaches, there’s beautiful sunshine all year long and the coldest it gets in winter is 20 degrees! Just perfect. People are really friendly, they like to talk, to help you out. There’s everything to recommend the place to people because it’s got everything people love: beaches, sun, helping hands and so much music! Carnival is intense there, the place has everything!

And finally Dante, do you think you will be making the trip home in 2014 to represent your country at the World Cup?

My friends, that is the dream. I work hard every day waiting for that dream to be a reality. I’m a player with clear objectives, a strong one of these is to play with Brazil in 2014. I work hard to keep this dream alive, I know I’m 27 and not that young, but when you have a clear objective, why not try to make it happen?

Dante was speaking to Alejandro Pérez and Tim Sturtridge, hosts of The South American Football Show in association with The Independent. Click here for more details .