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Praveen’s latest “The Arsenal Annals” column.
Former Arsenal player Denilson found his loan move to Cruzeiro terminated after making just two starts earlier this month.
Having returned to UAE side Al-Wahda, his parent club, his future now looks bleaker than ever before.
Born in rowdy favelas in Sao Paulo, Denilson earned a move to Arsenal in his late teenage as manager Arsene Wenger labelled him “a little bit in between Tomas Rosicky and Gilberto [Silva]”.
In an era that saw the Gunners bank heavily on homegrown talents and unproven youngsters, he enjoyed as much first-team participation in his first season at Emirates Stadium as proven stars such Lucas Perez and Mathieu Debuchy do today.
Thanks to his versatility, he played every game in Arsenal’s League Cup campaign in his first season as he guided his side to a place in the finals.
In the subsequent season, despite being ridiculed for being the master of wayward passes, the Brazilian midfielder found himself in the starting lineup in most cup games.
His third season at the club saw him rise in prominence as he managed 49 starts for the club in 2008-09; no other Arsenal player made more.
With the club struggling to keep their head above water, he formed a superb midfield partnership with Cesc Fabregas and Alexandre Song.
Arsenal proceeded to reach the semi-finals of both Champions League and FA Cup whilst they were one of the last eight teams in the League Cup; finishing fourth, they also ensured Champions League participation for yet another season, with Denilson being the breakout star of the season.
Beginning of his decline
Song’s dirty work and Fabregas’ wizardry helped him thrive; however, Denilson’s lack of a strong framework and inability to be as inventive as an archetypal Arsenal central midfielder meant the Arsenal manager demoted to the second string upon the arrival or emergence of a more Arsenal-esque player.
With Abou Diaby and Tomas Rosicky both impressing, he found his first team chances reduced by half as he made just 25 starts in the following season.
The 2010-11 season saw Jack Wilshere return from a successful loan at Bolton Wanderers; Denilson, thus, became a laughing stock of sorts as he managed just 20 starts, with 11 of those coming in the domestic cup competitions.
Accordingly, in his final season, the then-23-year-old Denilson became as influential a figure as his 18-year-old self was.
After 153 competitive appearances, Arsenal sent him on a one-year loan – the loan deal was later extended for one more season – to his childhood club Sao Paulo.
However, by the time he returned to London, in June 2013, Arsenal had signed world-class players such as Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil to adorn their midfield.
As a move that saw the club free up a spot in the senior roster, the London club cancelled his contract in the summer of 2013 although his contract ran until June 2014.
Not as bad as he was made out to be
Thanks to football fan’s perennial penchant for revisionism, he left as an average player despite proving a solid central midfielder, who recycled possession like only a few in the English top-flight did during his prime.
His knack for sticking to his role was forgotten as he is now remembered as the most un-Brazilian Arsenal midfielder, who lacked the creative vision, proper reading of the game, engine and the ability to steal possession
Denilson was hardly the player the fans make out him to be, but he is currently a far cry from what he could have been.
Written by Praveen Paramasivam
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